Recently, a friend who does not play poker asked me what rake is. I have been playing for years, yet I was still a bit vague on the subject. So, I did some research on the subject in order to find the exact details of how poker rake works.

In poker, the rake is how the casino or poker site makes money. Following a pre-set schedule, a portion of the pot is taken out at the conclusion of certain hands and set aside for the poker room. Almost all casinos follow the “no flop, no drop” rule which means only hands that reach post-flop are eligible to be raked.

Now that you know what the rake is, you might want to learn more about how it is calculated across various poker rooms or how beating the rake is possible. If so, I’m happy to help.

Part 1: How Rake Is Calculated

Rake is calculated differently depending on the type of game being played:

  1. In Cash Games, the rake is based on the amount of money in the pot.
  2. For Tournaments, there is a pre-set rake amount built into the buy-in.

Let’s discuss the way rake is handled in cash games first since it is the most complicated.

1. Cash Game Rake Rules

In poker, the rake is handled a bit differently depending on whether you play live or online.

Online Cash Game Rake

In online cash games, the rake will often vary based on the stake being played. Usually, there is a pre-determined threshold of rake that is taken up to a certain cap. For example, $0.01 might be taken for every $0.20 in the pot with a max rake of $0.20.

Here is an example partial rake schedule:

Typical Online Cash Game Rake Rules

Fixed Limit Games
Stakes / LimitRake / PotMax Rake
$0.10 / $0.20$0.01 / $0.20 in pot $0.20
$0.25 / $0.50$0.01 / $0.20 in pot $0.40
$0.50 / $1.00$0.01 / $0.20 in pot $0.50
No Limit & Pot Limit Games
$0.05 / $0.10 up to $1 / $2
2 Total players on the table$0.01 / $0.18 in the pot$1.00
3 Players$0.01 / $0.18 in pot $2.00
4 Players$0.01 / $0.18 in pot $2.50
5+ Players
$0.01 / $0.18 in pot $3.00

As an example, let’s say that a pot is being played on a table with 3 players at 100NL. The final pot on the river is $40. The above schedule shows the rake at $0.01 for every $0.18 in the pot, up to a cap of $2.00 for 3 players.

The rake is calculated as $40.00/$0.18*$0.01= $2.22. Since the cap is met, $2.00 is taken out of the $40 and $18 is distributed to the winner(s).

What Is Casino Poker Rake Rules for Cash Games?

In most live casinos, the rake is usually at 10% up to a cap of between $3 and $5. The rake is almost always much less punitive the higher you go in stakes. Personally, I would never play in a casino that took more than $4 a hand unless I was playing at stakes above $5/$10.

What Is the “No Flop, No Drop” Rake Rule?

No flop, no drop is a cash game rake rule that is almost universally practiced by poker rooms. What it means is that no rake is generated when a hand ends before the flop is dealt. No matter how big the pre-flop pot or how great the action is, no rake will be taken if post-flop is not reached.

2. Tournament Rake Rules

Whether live or online, the rake is completely baked into the initial buy-in of a tournament. In fact, usually, the event will be billed as a $10+$1 buy-in, for example. $10 goes to the prize pool, while $1 goes to the house.

Usually, the higher the stake, the lower the rake. Some common buy-in levels are:

  • $10+$1
  • $50+$5
  • $75+$7
  • $150+$12

Poker Rake Comparison Between Online Sites

The amount of rake charged by the poker site should be a serious consideration when deciding where to play. Through my research, I have found that the rake amounts can vary wildly from room to room.

The following chart shows the amount paid by a 6-handed player on average per 100 hands on various poker rooms at each stake. Big blinds/100 paid in parenthesis.

StakeACRIgnitioniPokerPP POKERPokerstars
$0.14 (7.0)N/A$0.41(20.5)$0.20(10.0)$0.25(12.5)
2kNL21.98 (1.1)29.19(1.5)30.72(1.5)27.95(1.4)24.03(1.2)

The lowest rake of a particular stake is in bold. Much of this info was obtained from various sources, including my own personal database. Rake rules are subject to changes by each poker site.

What does this information tell us?

As you can see, every poker room charges their players something different for the privilege of playing on the site. However, there are a few universal things we can glean from the information:

  1. Micro-stakes players get hammered by the rake – Basically, the lower you play, the worse it gets. For example, let’s look at 10NL. Even on the site that charges the lowest rake for that stake (Pokerstars) you still have to beat the players by 8.7bb/100 in order to turn a profit.
  2. High-stakes players pay the lowest relative rake – In the grand scheme of things, higher-stakes players pay very little compared to the amount of money they are playing for. Even so, they still pay a lot more in rake total. It’s the relative rake that matters. For instance, a 1000NL player on Ignition pays 16 times more rake than a 10NL player but only has to beat the games for 1.7bb/100 to break even.

Which Poker Sites Have the Lowest Rake?

The sites with the best rewards tend to have the lowest rake. If you look at sites like America’s Cardroom (Winning Poker Network) and Pokerstars, who have historically had a lucrative rewards system, they tend to charge players the least amount of rake. They appear to make up for it by trying to get their players to play huge amounts of volume for rake-race type rewards.

How VIP Rewards Are Affected by Rake

Some poker sites tout generous rewards to attract players and lure them into playing high volume. Either they have a direct rakeback program, or they offer a VIP program that rewards you based on how much you play.

The way the rake is calculated doesn’t affect you if you have a straight-up rakeback deal. However, if you are in a VIP system, it’s good to know how points are calculated.

There are two ways this is done.

Contributed Rake Versus Dealt Rake

  • Weighted Contributed Rake Calculation Method – Sites that use the contributed rake method only give points out to players who actually make a contribution to the rake during the course of play. In other words, if you fold and contribute $0 to the rake, you get 0 points. However, if you see a flop, the number of points you receive will typically be commensurate with the amount of rake you pay during the course of the hand.
  • Dealt Rake Calculation Method – The dealt rake method does not require players to contribute to the rake during a hand. Merely being dealt into the hand will qualify you for VIP points, assuming rake was generated during the hand.

Which Rake Method Is Best for Me? Dealt or Contributed?

If you are an active player who plays a lot of pots and is aggressive, then you will enjoy a higher VIP Point per hand accumulation on sites that use the contributed rake method.

However, if you are a tight player who is very selective in which pots you enter, then you are much better off on a site with the dealt method.

Poker Sites That Use the Contributed Rake Method
  • America’s Cardroom (WPN)
  • Ignition
  • BetOnline
  • Pokerstars
  • 888
Poker Sites That Use the Dealt Rake Method
  • Betsson
  • Redstar

As you can see, virtually all poker sites are moving to the weighted contributed method. I guess tight is no longer right.

What Is Rakeback?

Rakeback is usually a flat percentage of rake that is given back to players at a specific scheduled time. Usually, rakeback deals will range from 20% to 40%. While many poker networks have gone away from offering rakeback, some still offer it to their players.

Major Poker Networks That Offer Rakeback

  • Winning Poker – 27%
  • I-Poker – 60%-70%
  • Revolution – 36%
  • Microgaming – 30%
  • Natural8 – 35%

Part 2: How to Beat the Rake

Now that we have this information, how do we use it to improve our chances of winning?

While this article is not a strategy guide, there are a few career management things we can do to increase our hourly rate that have nothing to do with skill.

Beating the Rake in Cash Games

The first thing we can do is to play on the softest site possible that has a reasonable rake structure. For example, while Ignition poker has higher rake than America’s Cardroom (ACR), you are much more likely to enjoy a higher win rate on the former since it has much softer games in general.

Let’s say your ability to beat the players for 10bb/100 at 50NL on ACR and 18bb/100 on Ignition:

SiteWin-Rate vs. PlayersRakeNet Win-Rate

Based on my experience, these numbers are not unrealistic. Ignition typically has 1-2 fish on every 50NL table, while ACR tends to have 1 on every 3-4 tables. The effect of having more recreational or bad players in the player pool cannot be overstated.

So here’s my advice. Always choose the softest possible poker site and then play on a stake that is comparable in toughness to the more reg-heavy sites.

In other words, if you can beat 50NL on ACR, you can probably be 100NL or even 200NL on Ignition. In a nutshell: Softer site, higher stake = more money for you.

Why It’s Harder Than Ever to Win at the Micros and Low Stakes

The micro-stakes may eventually be virtually unbeatable, save for seasoned players who probably would be playing a higher stake anyway. If the micro players continue to improve overall as a group, it will be increasingly difficult for a beginner to intermediate player to start small and build a bankroll.

Fortunately, I don’t think we are there yet. Even the toughest networks still have plenty of fish at the micros.

Based on Rake, Where Should I Play?

Based on my rake research, if you are looking to start with a small amount of money and build up, then I recommend the Winning Poker Network. That network has, by far, the lowest rake of any other poker site out there.

In fact, I recently did just that and built a $50 deposit on America’s Cardroom up to $500 in a couple of weeks. I then moved my money to Ignition and turned it into $1,500 in 4 more weeks playing 50NL and 100NL. I found the competition at 100NL on Ignition to be comparable to 25NL on ACR.

Here’s the graph:

Starting on One Site and Moving to Another Can Be Smart

Feel free to follow my lead and play ACR until 25NL. Once you have enough to move up to 50NL, move your bankroll to Ignition. For Euro players, you can start at Pokerstars and then move to a softer site like 888.

By using this method, you also get the added benefit of being able to clear more of a deposit bonus. By moving a 50NL bankroll, you will generate more rake and enjoy a higher hourly rate at the new site while you clear the bonus.

Shorter Stacks Tend to Pay Less Rake

Short Stack Poker Chips Small

I have been playing a 30 to 40 big blind starting stack in cash games since 2011. While I was doing this research, I looked through my own database to see how much rake I have personally been paying. I was actually shocked to find out I pay less rake than full-stacked players, and it’s not even close.

Here are my personal 6-max rake stats compared to the field on Ignition Poker:

StakeRake I Pay/100 HandsEveryone Else PaysDifference
5NL$0.36 (7.2bb/100)$0.56 (11.2bb/100)4.0bb
10NL$0.83 (8.3)$1.31 (13.1)4.8bb
25NL$2.18 (8.7)$3.07 (12.3)3.6bb
50NL$3.69 (7.4)$6.11 (12.2)4.8bb
100NL$6.45 (6.5)$9.17 (9.2)2.7bb
200NL$7.43 (3.7)$13.13 (6.6)2.9bb
400NL$11.62 (2.9)$15.15 (3.8)0.9bb

The average is 3.4bb/100 that I am paying less in rake. This is jaw-dropping for me and explains why I have been fortunate enough to have a high win rate over the years compared to other regs. It’s because my typical 8bb/100 win rate is actually 4.5bb/100 if I didn’t get the discount in rake!

Here is a screenshot of the raw rake stats from my play on Ignition in the last couple of years.

Drawbacks of Paying Less Rake (lol?)

I know, it seems silly to even contemplate that there is something negative about paying less rake.

Even so, I have tried “chasing the Beast” on the Winning Poker Network a few times over the years and have been frustrated that I generated much fewer Beast Points than seemingly everyone else. The obvious reason is that I pay a lot less rake and therefore accumulate less BPs/Hand.

I actually can’t believe I never put two and two together on this one before now. I mean, who needs rewards when you pay that much less rake?

How to Pay Less Rake

Besides deciding to buy in for less money, I think the key to paying less rake lies in the choices we make in pots to enter. I think that your average player gets involved in way too many marginal spots. Here are a few ways to minimize your exposure to inflated rake:

  • Throw out the call button – Most of the time, it’s rather murky as to whether a pre-flop flat call is going to be profitable. Make sure you have a plan after the flop anytime you make a call and are not just doing so arbitrarily.
  • Be more positionally aware – It’s really hard to turn a profit with a really wide range in early position or in the blinds. I suggest checking your database and seeing if there are any unprofitable hands from every position. Just shaving off the biggest losers can have a big impact on both your win rate and how much you pay in rake. That’s doubly good!
  • Stop playing fit or fold – If you ever call 3-bet or continue post-flop just to “see what happens,” then you are probably leaking money right down the drain. Anytime you commit money to the pot, make sure it has a purpose, and you know exactly what your plan is going forward. This usually takes a read of some kind.

Basically, this all comes down to shoring up your poker fundamentals, which I talk about in detail in my comprehensive poker tutorial. Be sure to check it out.

Winning at Tournaments and SNGs

Winning money at tournaments is usually much easier since the fields are typically much softer. However, you also have to pay a lot more rake to play these events.

Poker sites tend to charge 5% rake in cash games and 10% rake in tournaments. However, the bigger the buy-in, the less rake you will usually have to pay.

How to Beat the Rake in Fixed Buy-in Events

There are a couple of strategies that you can use to lower your total cost to play:

  1. Mix satellites into your schedule – Satellites tend to be much softer than regular events. Using these to win seats into bigger buy-in events can help lower your overall costs of doing business.
  2. Play more turbos – Turbos Usually Have Lower Rake Look for events that charge a lower rake due to them being faster speed. Just keep in mind that your win rate will tend to be lower in these due to the higher luck factor due to how fast the blinds go up. This is especially a big consideration for STT/SNG players.
  3. Play on softer sites – The biggest contributing factor to your ROI will be how many bad players are in the tournament field. While all poker sites have beatable tournaments, some are much softer than others. I recommend avoiding sites with rewards for high-volume players. I’d stick to Ignition Poker or Bovada for US players and 888 for the rest of the world.

One thing to keep in mind is that turbo events tend to charge lower rake than standard ones. This is usually true for single-table SNGs and not necessarily the case for MTT. If the buy-in is $10+$1 on a standard event, it is often $10+$.50 in a turbo or hyper-turbo

History of Poker Rake

As long as casinos have been around, they have found ways to charge their customers.

The first casinos were called “gambling houses” and have been around for hundreds of years. In America, saloons were where you went to do your gambling.

During the early 20th century, most of these “casinos” were outlawed. It wasn’t until 1931 that Nevada completely legalized gambling.

Why Do Online Poker Sites Even Take Rake?

Online poker sites are businesses. Just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, they have to find ways to make money off of their customers. Charging them rake is the logical way to do so.

Final Thoughts

Now that you are armed with all the information you need about rake, you can make an intelligent decision on both where and how to play in order to further maximize your win-rate.

In case your’re interested in a poker system that minimizes the rake that you pay, my short and mid-stack poker strategy will help you do just that. In fact, you can sign up for my newsletter to be sent a free basic short stacking strategy. Thanks for reading!

Related Questions

Is underground poker illegal? There is a reason it is called “underground poker.” If it were legal, it would not need to operate in the underground. However, playing in an unsanctioned poker game is generally not illegal, or at least the laws are not enforced, unless you charge rake.

Why is taking rake illegal in home games? In almost all legal jurisdictions, it is illegal to charge rake in a poker game without having a license to do so by the local gaming commission. This includes home games or local leagues.

Jim James

Jim James is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker. He has over 15 years of experience playing poker professionally, has written extensively on the topic, and is the author of the best-selling poker strategy book Automatic Poker.

Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker tables. His innovative simple poker charts make the game easier for everyone willing to learn. Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.