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The Definitive Guide to Poker Rake

When you play in any type of poker cash game, the house has to make money to be able to justify running the table. They do this through what's known as the rake. To give you a concise poker rake definition, it's a small amount of money taken out of most pots that goes to the house instead of the player who wins.  The rake is calculated at around 5% for cash games and 10% for tournaments, however this estimate can vary widely.  

Minimizing the effects of the rake is one of the key ways to help keep your win-rate up, and it can be the difference between being a winning player and a losing player. To use this guide effectively, you'll want to consider the games you play and the stakes you are comfortable with and use those variables to determine the best places to play. 

What is Poker Rake?

Four Key Factors That Go Into Poker Rake

One of the problems that you run into with any type of poker rake analysis is that there are different structures to the rake at different rooms, and this is especially true when comparing land-based games with the online poker rake.

What makes this even more complicated is the ability to get rakeback when playing on the Internet which will give you back a set percentage of what the sites have taken from your pots. To this end, there are four factors to consider when looking at a rake schedule.

Factor #1: Flat Rates vs. Structured Drops

Suppose you have a game with a five percent rake. That five percent can be taken of the entire pot on every single qualifying pot, or it can use structured drops. For example, the five percent flat rate approach would lead to a rake of $1.25 in a pot of $25.

However, if there were structured drops of $0.50 for every $10 - also known as incremental rake - you would only pay $1.00 in rake since there have only been two multiples of $10 included. As you can see, the structured drops lead to a lower average rake in terms of the size of the pot.

Play with an incremental rake structure at PartyPoker.

Factor #2: Is Seeing a Flop Required?

In most online poker rake schedules, you have to actually see a flop in hold'em games for a pot to be raked. For example, if someone raises pre-flop, and you re-raise that person to take the pot down, you will not pay a rake on that hand.

A relatively high percentage of poker hands do not go past the first betting street. As such, keeping these pots from being raked helps to keep more of the money in the bankrolls of the players, so it's an obvious advantage.

Factor #3: Maximum Rake Sizes Per Pot

Finally, you're going to need to be aware of the maximum rake per hand. In low stakes online games, for example, this is usually $2 for short-handed games and $3 for full ring games. The more often the pot sizes get large enough for the rake to max out, the lower the actual rake is as a percentage of the pot, and the better the games are for the players.

For example, suppose you have a $0.50/1 online game with a $200 pot. If the rake is $0.05 for every $1 in the pot, a game with no maximum rake would have a $10 drop. However, if the maximum rake is $3 per hand, that saves the winning player a whooping 7 big blinds on a single hand.

Factor #4: Rakeback and Other Promotions

There are several different ways that a poker room can give players rakeback or a rackback equivalent, so you have to analyze each situation as it comes. With that having been said, there are two basic categories that any form of rakeback will fall into, and they have their own defining characteristics.

Straight Rakeback:  when you get back a straight percentage of the rake you have paid into the room. Generally this will be somewhere in the range of 25% to 35%, and while the higher percentages are always going to be better, you also have to pay attention to how each room calculates your portion of the rake which can vary. This is the type of rakeback you're going to want if you play low stakes or if you do not put in a large volume of hands.

VIP Rakeback: rakeback equivalents based on different rewards structures. You get what amounts to rakeback in the form of special cash bonuses based on how much you play, but your effective rakeback percentage depends on which rewards program level you are and how much you play. Typically, these types of programs are better for very high-volume and/or high-stakes players.

The Rake at Major Online Poker Rooms

There are four major places to enjoy online poker right now: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, the iPoker Network and the Merge Network. Here is a comparison of the average rake over samples of thousands of hands at three different stakes at all four sites for both short-handed and full ring tables. This table does not take rakeback into account, and it's listed as the number of big blinds per 100 hands that the average player would pay in rake at a no-limit hold'em cash game.

  PokerStars Full Tilt iPoker Network Merge Network
$0.10/$0.25 Full 6.5 7.5 11.6 9.8
$0.10/$0.25 Short 7.6 10.0 9.7 9.6
$0.50/$1.00 Full 4.8 5.7 7.3 8.6
$0.50/$1.00 Short 6.4 7.5 8.2 8.9
$2/4 Full 2.6 3.1 3.3 N/A
$2/4 Short 3.4 3.4 3.6 N/A

When you look at this chart, there are a few important things to notice:

  1. PokerStars has the best rates of any of the major sites. This has historically been the case since they first became popular several years ago.
  2. Full ring games tend to have a smaller average rake than short-handed ones. On the other hand, you'll often face weaker competition at the short tables.
  3. The relative rake size becomes more favorable as you move up through the stakes. This is because you hit the maximum rake per hand more often.

It's clear to see that PokerStars is the place to play in terms of the rake, and you should avoid iPoker and Merge unless you play mid-stakes or higher.

The Rake in Different Games

The poker rake at casinos that offer different types of games can vary based on the actual game being played. Even the basic betting structure can change the average rake per 100 hands. To show how this works, here is a chart detailing the average poker rake in big blinds per 100 hands at PokerStars for the three most popular games at three different levels of stakes.

  Micro Stakes Mid Stakes High Stakes
No-Limit Hold'em 6.5 2.6 0.9
Fixed-Limit Hold'em 4.6 3.2 2.2
Pot-Limit Omaha 17.7 5.5 1.5

The first thing that really stands out is that the rake at micro stakes pot-limit Omaha is exceptionally high, and that's because of two things. First, the average pot sizes tend to be higher in Omaha games, and second, micro stakes games rarely hit the maximum rake size per hand.

Generally speaking, the rake in no-limit hold'em tends to be the lowest, and this is probably because of the high level of competition for these games since it's the most popular form of poker in the world by far. In games like pot-limit Omaha where the pots are naturally higher, you can also expect the rake to be higher than comparable no-limit hold'em games.

Play with both low rake and weekly rakeback at Full Tilt Poker.