Raked Over the Coals

Poker Rake

Poker Rake"Render unto Caesar what is Caesarís, and unto God what is Godís." -- Jesus of Nazareth

To win at poker you don't just need to beat your opponents. You need win an amount greater than your contribution to the house. This contribution is called "rake". (The term "rake" is most commonly used when talking about the house taking a percentage of each pot, but it can also mean time collection, a single "time pot" or an entry fee into a tournament.)

In games where rake is taken as a percentage of the pot, the winners of pots pay the rake in a clear way, since if there was no rake those winners would be getting $60 pots instead of $57 ones. But this clear reality isn't as simple as it seems, especially if you are thinking about the effect of the rake on your play.

Some time ago a question was posted on the RGP newsgroup: "How do I figure how much I am paying in a raked game?" One way to answer is simply add up the amount of rake from the pots you win and you have the amount of rake you paid. But that is a results-oriented answer. The amount of rake this player causes the house to take because of his actions is more complicated than that.

Rake isnít taken instantaneously after a hand is completed and before a pot is awarded. The house takes rake incrementally during the course of the action of a pot, before a pot is awarded. At the point rake is taken, there is no winner or losers. There is only pot equity. The taking of the rake reduces the pot equity of each live player. People who end up winning the pots will be the ones who donít get the money that was raked, but rake is actually paid by the pot, which is its own entity, which more than one person at a time has an equity claim/interest in.

Suppose we have a raked game where the actions of one player consist of entering the pot before the flop, never seeing the river (and so never winning a pot), but always making it so the rake is increased $1 per hand. It's hopelessly contrived, but suppose after ten hands this player has lost $100. His actions led to the house collecting $10 more rake. If you look at it from the perspective of trying to explain to the player who never won a hand how the rake impacts him, it could be said that it didn't impact him at all because he never won a pot, but that doesnít address how his loose-passive style of play is very costly in a rake game. That extra dollar per hand went down the rake hole because of his actions, even if he was essentially giving his money to the other players.

What needs to be understood here is how strategically bad this player is playing strictly in terms of the rake even though he doesn't actually pay any rake! It would be wrong for this player to think "my playing style led to me not paying any rake that round because I didn't win any pots."

The concept that needs to be understood is that overly loose play leads to a high rake expense, not overly loose play and winning pots. The winners do not get money that is raked, but the too-loose players cause more money to be raked. Put another way, the casino is going to look at that loose, never-see-the-river player as a large rake contributor, even though he never actually pays a cent himself.

Suppose John owns a one-table cardroom where the game normally consists of nine rocks. One night Harry comes in and fires up the game, raising dark, showing cards, straddling. Suppose after an hour Harry does not win a single hand, but John pulls the rake box and finds that the hourly rake is three times what he normally gets. Who is John going to buy a drink for or comp a meal? To all nine rocks who just out of the blue decide to contribute more rake, or to Harry who won no hands and thus "paid" no rake? Harryís play led to more house rake being taken. (Suppose even that after an hour that each player including Harry won three pots, and all paid exactly the same in rake. Harry is still going to be the one getting the drink and the meal.)

The rake is taken from an asset that eventually belongs to the winner of a hand. The winners pay the rake. But, if you are going to think about how the rake affects your game strategy, this "winner pays the rake" truth is not very helpful. It is much more difficult to be precise about the effect of rake on a player -- and it is much more important.

See Blinds vs. the Rake and Poker Variance