Evading the Rake

The "rake" is a term used to describe money taken from the pot by a cardroom to compensate them for hosting the game. Actually rake is only one method cardrooms use.  Some brick and mortar cardrooms force the player on the dealer button to post an additional fee every hand (bad), some cardrooms drop the big blind from the pot into their till every hand (very bad) and some cardrooms charge a seat rental by the half hour (this is especially common in 10-20 games and above and is usually the best deal for the player).

When playing online, however, every cardroom we know of uses a rake method, which means that a percentage of the pot is taken from every pot up to a maximum amount which is usually $3 in a typical low limit game ($2-4 to $5-10).  Some cardrooms (like Bovada Poker) have a "no flop no drop" policy which means that if the preflop action causes everyone but the last raiser to fold then no rake is taken from the pot.  This policy is beneficial to the players and you should check your favorite cardrooms to see if they have it (and suggest it if they don't!)

One important concept is to think of the rake as being paid by the person who wins the pot.  In the case of a split the rake is obviously split proportionally between the splitting players.

To talk about what it means to "evade the rake" lets suggest a golden rule:

It is better to win a few large pots than a lot of small ones

The way to pay the most rake is play any two cards and always call or raise your way to the river.  Since you will by definition be winning the most pots using this strategy you will be paying the largest share of the rake.  Even the very worst players rarely take this approach though (although many will see the flop with almost any two cards)

In general, though, the way to maximize the amount of rake you pay (which is a bad thing) is to win many small and medium sized pots after the flop.  Let's look at an example.  Let's say player #1 gets involved and wins 10 small to medium sized pots and pays an average of $1.50 in rake for each one and wins an average of $30 each time.  They've won $300 and paid $15 of it in rake. Player #2 gets involved in and wins three $100 pots which are raked $3 each.  They've won the same $300 but paid only $9 in rake.

Of course both players ultimately won money in those examples but the player who found themselves in a lot of small and medium pots won less.  Also consider how much money they lost while winning the pots.  In a heads up match AK is only about a 2:1 favorite over 72 (still a nice situation but not as overwhelming as you may think) and of course sometimes you run into bigger hands, so getting a consistent edge that can also defeat the intrinsic rake of frequent small pots is very difficult.  Of course we're not suggesting you avoid short handed confrontations when you hold very strong cards, but to effectively beat a low limit game you need to also play strong multiway hands.

How to put yourself in a position to win large pots

Not surprisingly this means playing strong multiway hands in multiway pots.  In Holdem this includes suited connectors and suited aces and in Omaha it means strong scooping hands (hands that have the best chances to win both the high and low half of the pot).  It also means getting money into the pot when you are drawing to the nuts and getting out of the pot when you have hands that are likely to turn into second-best hands.  This concept of getting money in when you are drawing is important in a multiway pot because if you wait until you've made your hand it is usually too late to get a lot of additional money in the pot. 

Of course ultimately the most important question you must answer is once all the cards are out, how often will I win...  If you'll win 1/3 of the time and there are 5 people in the pot then it is absolutely imperative that you get money into the pot while you are drawing.  Even though you will lose most of these draws (in the above example 2/3 of the time you'll lose), when you do win you will be amply compensated for your losses and you'll achieve a side benefit of paying less rake than your opponents.