Part I: Can you Beat the Rake?
By Ashley Adams
A rake is a cut of the pot that the House takes. Many players don’t pay much attention to it. Since it’s taken out of the pot, to the untrained eye it’s invisible. You only pay when you win. And when you win, well, you’re happy to have the pot. Who cares if it’s diminished by a few bucks.
A rake is different from a time charge. A time charge is an amount paid to the house every half hour for the privilege of being in a game. Typically, in casinos and poker rooms rakes are taken from games below $10/20 and time is charged for games of $10/20 and up. $7.00 a half hour is a typical charge for a $20/40 game, though casinos vary. Some casinos have gone to a rake for $10/20 up to $20/40.
Some of you might not care about this. The rake’s a small amount, you figure, so why worry. Well, you should care. Take the following quiz and you’ll see why.
Eight guys who normally play poker in each other’s homes decide to go to the nearby poker room one Saturday night. They figure it will be a fun night out. They each take $100.00.
They decide to play together. They get a table. They play a $1-5 spread limit Stud game. It’s just what they’re used to playing at home. In this poker room the house charges a 10% rake with a $4.00 maximum.
They arrive at 5:00 PM. They average 25 fully raked hands an hour. (They actually play more than 25 hands an hour – but some are too small for the maximum rake of $4.00).
The best player is 50% better than the worst player. The other players are equal in ability. How much more money will the best player have at the end of their session than the worst player?
The answer is: the best player will have no more money than the worst player. In fact, ALL the players will have exactly the same amount of money. That’s right! They will each have exactly $0.00!
You see, the house will have raked every single dollar from these players. How can that be? Well, it’s simple math. They played 8 hours. The house raked the maximum $4.00 a pot for 25 pots an hour. That equals $100 an hour for 8 hours or $800.00. They brought a total of $800 for the evening. So by the end of the evening it is all gone.
Now this hypothetical example couldn’t really happen of course. In a casino, games are constantly getting infusions of new players and new money. Bad players who go broke leave and are replaced by players with full bankrolls. But you can see how devastating a rake can be on a game. It’s so devastating that many people argue that a rake like the one I’ve described can’t be beaten in a low stakes game – it’s just too much money being taken out of a pot for even a good player to overcome.
The percentage taken by the house is actually a much greater share of a player’s winnings than it initially appears to be. The House says that the rake is 10%. That’s true, but most people don’t realize that taking a 10% rake of the pot is often like taking 20% of your winnings. So if the pot is heads up and reaches $40 and the house takes $4.00 then it is actually taking 20% of the winnings. Half of that $40 is yours to start with. When you are pushed the $40 pot you are actually only winning $20.00. Yet the house rakes 10% of the entire amount.
That 20% tax is pretty tough to beat. You have to be 20% better than the average of the players against you. If the other players are all pretty good, it’s unlikely that you are sufficiently skilled to be 20% better than they. In my opinion, you’ll normally need a couple of really bad players in the mix for you to show a profit after the rake in a game like this. Compare this with your typically unraked home game. If you’re the best player – even if you’re only 5% better than your average opponent – then you’re in a position to win some money over the long run. But in a casino you’re edge has to be considerably greater.
The effect of the rake is different on different types of games. So you must analyze the game with the rake in mind to decide if it can be profitable for you. Consider the following examples. As we said in high school English class, compare and contrast.
The first game is a $1-5 Stud game with a 10% $4.00 maximum rake. It’s short-handed. The players are very, very tight – rocks really. They rarely raise the bring in. They typically check around for one or two streets. And they fold as soon as they see any strength. The pots seldom get much about $20.00 and are never contested by more than two people.
The second game is a rockin $15/30 Stud game with the same rake. It’s a full game with 8 players, two are maniacs and three are loose fish. The bring-in is not only completed every hand, it’s usually raised and reraised – if not capped. And there are never fewer than three people who call all the way to the River. The pots rarely are less than $300.00.
The former game of $1-5 is raked to death, The latter game has a rake that won’t bother the good player. And yet the structure of the rake is exactly the same. How can this be?
Well, the percentage of your likely winnings in the first game is nearly always going to be 20% because of the tiny pot size. The house will always take 10% of the pot, which will nearly always be about 20% of your winnings when you win the pot. That’s tough to beat – especially against rocks.
But the second game has a relatively tiny rake. $4.00 is less than 1.5% of the typical pot of $300.00 in that game. And if the pots are 3 or 4 way then it’s only about 2% of your winnings when you win the pot. That’s not too much tax to beat.
Rakes differ in other ways – especially in lower stakes games. We’ll examine them – and how to decide if a game is profitable – in Part II of this two part series on rakes.
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