The easiest way to understand the rake is to think of it as a tax you pay to play poker. The rake comes in several different forms, but the point of the rake is always the same: To make the room money.
In fact, it’s the rake that provides the sole source of income for casinos from poker. As there is no “house” in poker – players compete against each other – there’s no house edge, which is the standard way that a casino makes money from a game.
That’s what we call a tangent, so let me return to the topic at hand: Rake. We’ve already covered what it is, and now we’re going to tackle the different forms it takes and – perhaps of most interest to the typical reader – how you can pay the least amount of it possible.
Different Forms of Poker Rake
- Percentage cash game rake – In this model, the house takes a small percentage of the total of the pot up to some predetermined maximum amount. The house may not take a cut under certain conditions (such as everyone folding before the flop). Percentages and maximums vary by game type, stake and room policy.
- Time-based cash game rake – Here the room takes nothing from the pot. Instead, players pay a set amount for a set amount of time. Generally time is “taken” every half hour or hour. Time rake is generally only used for higher stakes games, especially at live poker rooms.
- Tournament rake – Tournament rake is simply the “fee” attached to the buy in for the tournaments. If you enter a tournament described as having a buy in of $100 9, the second bit represents the fee – a charge that does not go to the prize pool and is kept by the room. Rooms do not rake individual pots at tournaments. Some tournaments may withhold additional rake beyond the fee.
Paying the Least Rake Possible When Playing Poker
Rake matters. Rake matters a lot. Therefore, paying as little rake as possible also matters a lot. There’s no magic trick to paying less rake – it basically comes down to comparison shopping and exploiting the promotions a poker room offers.
Every online poker room lists their rake structure somewhere on their site. Some make it a little easier to find than others. Identify the games and limits you expect to play and make a simple spreadsheet (use Google Docs if you don’t have a program). Locate the rake structures at the rooms you’re considering, and fill in the spreadsheet. You might be surprised by how much rake can vary from one site to the next.
TIP: If you’re having trouble locating a site’s rake structure, scroll to the footer of their website. You’ll often see a link to it there, or a link to a sitemap that will lead you to the right page.
How much rake a site charges is only part of the equation. Online poker rooms primarily reward players by refunding them a portion of their total rake paid. This means you can play at a site with higher actual rake but end up paying lower effective rake thanks to promotions.
I know that sounds a little thick, but it’s just like a retail store. Store A may have higher list prices to make products seem exclusive, while Store B prices things closer to actual value. However, Store A is always having sales and offers frequent shopper coupons, making their effective prices lower than Store B – even though Store B maintains a lower sticker price.
Both stores could be more creatively named, that’s for sure.
Anyway, bust out your spreadsheet again and do a little quick math regarding the major promotions that sites use to refund rake to players. You can also do a Google search and find someone who has already done the work, but a word of caution: a lot of the information you’ll find with such searches can be biased or simply out of date. Best to do the work yourself, it’s not that much trouble and you’ll be a smarter poker consumer for it.
Here are the major promotions to evaluate:
- First deposit bonus
- VIP / Rewards Program
- “Ironman” or other participation-based monthly promotions
- Leader boards
Once you’ve got that spreadsheet good n’ full, it’s a snap to figure the effective rake each site charges. This work is literally some of the highest-paying you’ll have in your career as a poker player – even shaving 5% off of the amount of rake you pay can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your playing lifetime.
Images: Rake – Public Domain