Can You Beat the Rake Part 2
By Ashley Adams
A while back I wrote an article on the rake in poker. This is the house charge, usually taken directly from the pot. I promised a second part, to look at variations in how the rake is collected. Unfortunately, as one of my readers reminded me a few weeks ago, I never got around to writing that second part of the article. Well, here it is at long last. I hope it was worth waiting for.
The rake is usually expressed in two ways, as a percentage of the pot and with a maximum dollar amount. Hence, it might be listed as 10% $4.00 maximum, meaning that 10%, but no more than $4.00, is taken out of each pot. Both of these figures are important. If, for example, in a 10% $4.00 max game the pot is $100 and the maximum rake is $4.00 then the pot is not raked at 10% but at 4%.
But there are other factors that determine how significant the rake is that are not as readily apparent. It’s critically important to know how and when the rake comes out of the pot. This will often dictate your strategy especially at the lower stakes tables.
In one casino, for example, in the $1-5 spread limit game, the rake is 10% with a $4.00 maximum. The rake comes out in one-dollar increments when the pot hits $10.00 the house takes a buck. When it hits $20 the house takes the second dollar. Etcetera. So if the game has a $.50 ante and a $1.00 bring in, the pot is frequently under $10.00 on Third Street. Accordingly, if the hand is brought in for $1.00, and the pot is raised by $5.00 and everyone folds then there is no rake. The pot won by the raiser is only $5.00. The house rakes nothing. The raiser gets it all.
In another casino, the exact same $1-5 spread limit games has exactly the same rake of 10% with a $4.00 maximum. But the house takes the rake in $.25 increments: $.25 at $2.50, $.50 at $5.00, $.75 at $7.50, and $1.00 at $1.00. In that game there is a steep rake for the raiser. He is only awarded $4.50 after the rake, 10% less than in the former game.
You might say that those differences aren’t really that significant. Well, you’d be wrong about that. The difference between no rake and a 10% rake in a low stakes games is often the difference between winning and losing for a session. But the differences are often even more pronounced.
In a third casino the house has the same 10% $4.00 max but they take the first $2.00 right out of the antes. So in this game the house rakes $2.00 out of the initial $5.00 in the pot. The raiser would win only $3.00. That’s a rake of 40%!!!!!
In the third case surely, and in the second case probably, it rarely makes sense to attempt an ante steal. The possibility that someone will call you or re-raise you with a legitimate hand combined with the tiny reward if you succeed makes an ante steal a bad bet. On the other hand, in the first casino, if the players are tight enough to fold to an initial raise, the ante steal is one of the best bets you can make, since the house takes no rake whatsoever for your efforts.
There are many ways that the rake is varied even between casinos that have the same percentage rake and the same maximum rake. I’ve given you those that take place on Third Street. But here are some examples of rakes that differ throughout the game.
In some casinos, the higher the stakes the lower the rake. In Part I of this article I explained how that is the case as a percentage of your winnings. But now I’m talking about rakes that are lower in absolute dollars. Some casinos actually take out the money slower as the stakes go up. In $1-5 and $5/10, for example, they may take out $1 at every ten dollars of the pot. But at $10/20 they may not take out the third dollar until the pot hits $80 and not take out the fourth until the pot hits $160. At $20/40 they wait until the pot is at $120 before they take the third dollar and $220 before they take the final fourth dollar.
When this is the case, all other factors being equal, there is an incentive to play the higher stakes games. They are raked at significantly less than 10% after the second dollar comes out. So if the typical pot is $200 in $20/40 you’re only being raked at 1.5%. That’s a far cry from 10%. Unfortunately, all other factors are rarely equal.
Though the pots are raked at a lower amount, the players are usually better and the games tougher. Similarly, though the absolute amount that is raked may be less, this can be at least a little deceiving when you’re considering how much of your winnings are raked.
Here’s what I mean. In the lowest stakes games of $1-5, if the pot gets to $100 it’s almost certainly going to be a multi-way affair often five handed in fact. If that’s the case then the percentage of the pot that is your money is 20%. If $4.00 is raked that’s 4% of the pot but 5% of your winnings (Since you’re only winning $80 from the pot having contributed $20 of it yourself). In a typical $20/40 game, a $100 pot is usually heads up, meaning that $50 of the pot is your money. If you win then you’re only winning $50 the rest was yours to begin with. If the rake is $2.00 that’s 2% of the pot but 4% of your winnings. The difference between the amount that your winnings are taxed is not really that much different between the two games.
Oh, and if you’re asking why the house would rake a lower stakes game more steeply than a higher stakes game the answer is simple. Because of the slow pace of the lower stakes games (both because of slow players and the total number of players who stay in and require more cards) the house needs to charge more to make the same money per hour. They deal more hands of the higher stakes game so they can collect less per hand and make the same amount of money.
The bottom line is that as in many matters related to poker, the more knowledge you have before you play the better your ability to select the right game to play in and to use the proper strategy at the table. Don’t make the serious mistake of thinking that all rakes are the same or that the rake doesn’t matter. Your wallet will thank you for your knowledge and discretion.
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