Explained: Why do poker players care so much about rake?

In our series explaining the hot topics in poker to new players this week we look at probably the most important subject for serious grinders.

Sideshow bob rake
Rake is the most important topic for high volume grinders

We have a lot of new players at PokerStrategy.com and we have to therefore remember that a lot of the conversations that experienced players take for granted will sometimes go over their head. So when stories in the poker world come up that only make sense to experienced poker players, I am going to spell out what we are talking about for the newbies.

This series is designed to bring new players up to speed with what the serious poker community is talking about, and if there is one topic that clearly defines a serious player from a newbie it is rake. An increase in rake for serious poker players will cause as much as a stir as a tax increase for voters.

If you really need bringing up to speed, rake is the fee that a poker room charges poker players to play. In a cash game it will be a percentage of a pot (So in a $100 pot the poker room may take $3 and the winner takes $97) and in a tournament it will be taken from the entry fee (so in a $11 tournament the poker room pockets $1 and $10 goes into the prize pool). 

I’m not going to go into a deep dive into the specific rake structures or which ones are good or bad, instead today I am just going to explore why poker players spend so much time talking about it. The examples I use will be simplified and don't reflect the current rake structures you'll find live and online. 

Rake doesn't really affect losing players

Polk Negreanu Rake
Rake is important if you are break even or a winner

First of all, if you are a losing player, rake is moot. If you are on average losing $50 every time you play, all you see is the lost money, how much the poker room or a fellow player got is irrelevant, you still lost the same amount.

If you are a winning player it is important and if you are a break even player it is probably even more important. That is because when you are not losing as a poker player, every cent you pay in rake is money you didn’t win.

Rake needs to exist in poker because as yet we have not found a way to otherwise make running live and online poker games profitable for the operator without it. No sensible person would begrudge paying a fee to play poker or the operator making a profit from providing games, but the more you play the bigger an impact rake has on your bottom line.

If you are a new player and you see somebody leave the table up $200 and they’ve only paid $20 in rake over the session, or they just had a big score in a tournament, you might ask why they would care when they are still taking home so much money? The reason is because while individual winning sessions may be big compared to the rake paid, over a large sample of hands, the actual profit margins are small for most players.

While you might see a $1/$2 player leave the table up $200 at the end of a session, over the course of a year they might be averaging something like $15 an hour when you look at all their wins and losses. If the player is playing a lot of tables, that winrate will be even lower per table (but greater overall per hour). Therefore the rake paid per table per hour is actually significant. If that player wins $15 an hour at the tables but pays $4 in rake per hour, that’s a big cut to their bottom line.

Small changes in rake have a big impact

more rake is better
Rake is a contentious topic on poker forums

It’s very much like a business with a high turnover but small profit margin like a local store. One increase in prices from a supplier or a new tax increase, while seemingly small, could render the business unprofitable.

The same is true in poker, especially for the serious grinders who are making a profit but not a large one from the game. One rake increase (or decrease in loyalty benefits like rakeback) could turn them into a losing player. There are also a lot of players who are technically breakeven but were it not for rake would actually be making a decent profit from the game.

These same players are also the most vocal part of the poker community, which is why you will often see rake as a constant and passionate topic of conversation. There are a small percentage of players making a big profit from the game, the vast majority of poker players are losing players and don’t even talk about poker in forums or on social media, then there is a subset of players who are doing OK at poker who also talk about the game all the time, for whom rake makes a big difference.

Rake is not the single most important issue in poker, there are probably ten equally important things we should care about from a poker room including security, software, game choice, making the game fun for everyone and how they are attracting new players to the game. But rake has the most profound effect on the most vocal part of the poker community, so you hear about it a lot of the time. While the amount of time we spend talking about rake might be disproportionately high, it is a good thing because it helps keep the game beatable, which is an incredibly important unique selling point for poker. 

What other poker concepts do you hear everyone talk about but you have no idea what they mean? Let us know in the comments:


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