In poker, the rake is a “necessary evil,” if you will. Whether you’re a tournament player or spend your time grinding cash games, there is no way to avoid paying poker rake, unless you are only playing home games with your friends.
No matter how good of a player you are, rake influences your overall win rate, so you have to understand how it works to make more educated decisions.
Simply put, the rake is a fee you are paying for a casino or poker room for organizing the game. It can be in the form of a percentage of the pot (capped or uncapped – yikes!) taken in cash games or a certain amount tacked on to a tournament buy-in (that doesn’t get added to the prize pool).
While there are different models, casinos and poker rooms tend to employ, everyone ends up paying their share. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to lessen the blow, and that is why it is vital to make some adjustments to your play in different rake environments and even choose the games based on that.
Hopefully, with these simple tips, you’ll be able to offset the influence the rake has on your poker bankroll.
1. Always get a good rakeback deal when playing online
When it comes to poker rake, online players are in a somewhat favorable position because they have access to various rakeback deals and programs. Simply put, these allow you to claim a portion of your rake back at the end of a certain period (anywhere from one day to one month).
Thanks to rakeback, you can significantly offset the impact of rake on your ROI or win rate in cash games. If you’re getting 40% of your rake back every week and pay 10% on average for tournament fees, for example, you’re effectively only paying 6%. In other words, for every dollar you pay in rake, you’ll get 40 cents back.
Nowadays, rakeback programs aren’t as good as they used to be, especially due to some new rules certain online poker rooms have adopted, but they’re still quite valuable. So, if you’re playing online poker, you should always look for a site where you can get a good deal to improve your bottom line.
2. Avoid heavily raked live games
There are different types of poker rooms out there. Some of them are trying to build a long-term business with happy customers. Others, however, are looking to make as much money as they can in as little time as possible. If you care about your bottom line, you should steer clear from the latter at all costs.
These joints will often have an extremely high rake, especially at the lower stakes, and very high caps, taking upwards of 10% from every pot and making the maximum cap very high.
These are the types of poker games where there are almost no winners because the rake eats up so much money in a few hours of play that there is almost nothing left to win!
Not all players have the freedom of choice, of course, and sometimes you’re stuck with one casino, and they do whatever they want.
That being said, sometimes it is better to skip the game entirely and just stick to home games than play in a place that has very unfavorable rules. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid uncapped games with a huge rake, unless your competition barely knows what they are doing at the table.
3. Play as high as you can afford
The way the rake in poker works, in general, is that the percentage that gets taken from the pot and the maximum cap is the highest at the lowest stakes. While this may or may not be necessarily fair, it does make mathematical sense, since the casino’s costs are virtually the same whether they spread an NL200 or NL5,000 game.
So, with that in mind, you should always look to play as high as you can afford, assuming you can still beat the games, of course. By moving from NL200 to NL500, for example, you’ll be saving a lot in rake, so even if your win rate is somewhat lower at that level, you’ll still be saving more money at the end of the month (on average, mathematically speaking).
Remember, the most important figure you should count is $/hour, since that is much a better measurement of your actual results than a “naked” win rate.
The same goes for poker tournaments. At the lowest levels, you’ll often pay 20%+ in fees. As you move up, this number will start to drop. So, if you have the bankroll and the skills, you should always be looking to move up as soon as possible, significantly cutting down on the overall rake paid.