Still, this leads to an obvious question: if the game is only between the players and the casino doesn’t participate, how do they make money on poker? The answer is the rake: an often overlooked and misunderstood part of both online and land-based poker games. Without the rake, the poker room wouldn’t make any money; with it, it means you’ll have to be a little bit better than average to show a profit yourself.
Rake is the small amount of money that’s taken out of the pot by the casino after most hands. This is essentially the way the table pays for the game; the casino doesn’t actively play against the players at the table, so they must make their money in a different way.
The rake is usually taken only after the end of the preflop betting. This leads to the popular “no flop, no drop” rule used in many poker rooms: if all of the action takes place preflop and someone wins the hand on the first round of betting, there will generally be no rake paid.
Assuming a rake is taken, it is usually taken as a percentage of the total amount of the pot. For instance, a live poker room might take $1 in rake for every $20 in the pot from a typical low-stakes game. There is almost always a maximum rake amount as well; to continue the above example, that casino might take a maximum of $5 from any one pot, regardless of whether the pot size is $100 or $1,000.
Online poker uses rake too, often with very competitive rates when compared to live casinos. For the following examples, we’ll be using the rake table from Intertops, one of our favourite online poker rooms (and one that has a particularly good rake rate for players).
Since online poker rooms don’t have to work with physical chips, they can be much more exact in their rake amounts, taking rake a penny at a time if necessary. For instance, at a typical limit take – say a $1/$2 limit hold’em game – Intertops will take $0.25 for each $5 that goes into the pot. Another way in which Intertops is better than a live game when it comes to rake is the low maximum they’ll take: in this game, the maximum rake is only $1.
At higher limits, the maximum rake goes up – but the rate at which that rake is collected is much slower. At a $15/$30 table, the maximum rake is $50c, but only one cent in rake is collected for every $0.50 in the pot. At the highest limits, the rake is taken simply as a flat amount; play at $100/$200 or higher, and every pot will be rake at $2.
No-limit hold’em games follow a similar pattern. At the $1/$2 no-limit tables, a penny is taken for every $0.15 in the pot, up to a maximum of $1. If you want to play in the nosebleed games like $50/$100 and up, the rake rate stays the same, but the maximum rises to a still very reasonable $2. In fact, this is essentially a flat rate, as any pot that makes it to the flop at these stakes will always hit the $2 maximum.
So, how does rake affect poker games and the way you should play them? First, it means that an average player who breaks even with his opponents will actually be a small loser after accounting for the rake. Even above-average players will generally be around breakeven after the rake, which explains why only the top players can consistently turn a profit in raked games. This is different than in an unraked home game, where any player that is better than average will come out ahead.
Since the rake is small, though, it shouldn’t greatly change the way that you play poker. Of course, you should be sure to take the rake into account when you calculate pot sizes and odds, but this will only be a major factor when it comes to relatively small pots.
While rake is more or less universally used in online poker, there are alternatives sometimes used in live poker. The most common of these is the time charge, which is popular in high-stakes games (particularly in no-limit play). In this system, every player pays a set fee for being at the poker table, usually every half-hour or hour. In exchange for paying this charge, the casino does not take rake from every pot.