rake podcast

How to Beat the Rake | Upswing Poker Level-Up #39



This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with Gary Blackwood. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.

Mike (00:00):

(Mike) Welcome to Upswing Poker Level Up, the show that teaches you not only when to hold them, but when to fold them. I’m Mike Brady and Scottish Poker Pro Gary Blackwood is here to help you make winning adjustments based on the rake in your games.

Gary (00:13):

(Gary) That’s right guys. We’ll be discussing all things rake today, when the rake is high, when the rake is low, when the rake is non-existent and how you should adjust accordingly.

Mike (00:22):

(Mike) Contrary to popular belief, more rake is not better. There are loads of different rake structures out there. Your game might have high rake, low rake time-based seat fees where you pay a certain amount per hour. Your game may take rake before the flop, or maybe it’s a no flop, no drop game where rake is only taken out of the pot once you reach the flop, you may be surprised to learn that these different rake structures should impact the way you play, sometimes quite dramatically.

Put simply when money is being taken out of the pot, your pot odds and strategic incentives change. If you’re playing the same way regardless of rake structure, if you’re not even looking at how much is being taken out of the pot, you’re likely leaving money on the table, but you won’t make that mistake after finishing this episode.

Before diving into how you should change your strategic approach in low rake games versus high rake games, we should define exactly what low and high rake is.


High rake is going to mean four big blinds or more being taken out of the pot. Medium rake is going to be two to four big blinds being taken out of the pot, and when we say high rake throughout this episode, that really includes medium rake games as well.

Two big blinds coming out of the pot is still quite a bit. Imagine you’re playing two five and they take 10 bucks out of the pot. That’s a lot and it’s going to impact your strategy quite dramatically. But there are games out there with really, really high rake. So we do want to differentiate high rake and medium rake. L

ow rake is when two big blinds or fewer is taken out of the pot. This will typically be in higher stakes games, and then there are games with no rake. $0 is being taken out of the pot in these games. Maybe you play in a home game where there’s no rake or maybe you play at a place with time-based seat fees like the Lodge Card Club in Texas. In these games since no money is coming out of the pot, you get to play quite a bit looser as we’ll talk about a little later.

Gary, in your experience, what would you consider high rake?

Gary (02:16):

(Gary) Yeah, so it really kind of depends on which part of the world you’re playing in, poker games in Europe, for example, here in the UK, it’s not ideal, at two five and five ten, they take out approximately 12 pounds per hand, sometimes as much as 13 or 14 pounds per hand. B

ut some places in Europe they take as high as 26 euros in a five ten game, which is astronomically high rake. Obviously we have plenty of listeners from the USA and there are of course some places where the rake is a little higher than others, but overall it’s really quite reasonable across the board in America.

What Games Have High Rake?

Mike (02:47):

(Mike) You kind of touched on it there, Gary, but what games typically have high rake and which ones typically have low rake?

Gary (02:53):

(Gary) It kind of sucks for lower stakes grinders because the lower you play, the higher the rake is. Obviously you pay less in actual dollar amounts, but the percentage of the pot that’s being taken away from you is higher. 50NL and below online, one two and one three in the casinos.

These are games which are higher rake environments and the rest of this podcast will really help you guys. The higher you play, the better the rake is both live and online. Online it gets a little more forgiving when you reach 200NL and can be favorable to the players playing five ten and above.

Obviously it’s dependent on which sites you play. On some sites the rake is astronomical and you’re basically saying GG before you start. At live poker higher stakes games have timed rake, which is just a dream. Some places have this seat fee as opposed to taking rake out the pot where every player pays X amount every 30 minutes or every hour depending on where you play, and that is going to drastically alter your strategy in the other direction, which of course we’ll get to in due course.

How to Adjust in High Rake Games

Mike (03:54):

(Mike) Let’s get into those high rake adjustments. If you play one two, one three, even two five live in certain places, if they’re taking at least two big blinds out of the pot or if you play micro and low stakes online, this is the part where you’re going to want to pay a lot of attention because you might be surprised just how tight you’re supposed to be playing.

So, Gary, how should you adjust your strategy in a high rake game compared to a low rake game?

Gary (04:19):

(Gary) So there are plenty of things that you can do to combat the rake and in turn obviously increase your win rate.

Firstly, you want to play a tight aggressive style preflop. When facing a raise you want to do more three betting with hands that could go either way between three bet and call. Let’s seize the initiative and start putting in more three bets instead of flatting opens, but of course with the right range.

Secondly, you want to really tighten it up from the big blind in higher rake games. So many of us listening to this could seriously increase our win rate by just trimming off the bottom parts of our pre-flop charts. Hands like five deuce suited, seven six offsuit, king eight offsuit, three deuce suited.

All these types of hands are defends from the big blind versus some positions in most charts and in higher rake games they go from being slightly profitable defends to slightly losing defends. If we just trim off all these slightly losing calls pre-flop, we end up saving ourselves a lot of money in the long term.

Mike (11:21):

(Mike) I will throw in one caveat. We do love our caveats here on the Level Up podcast because poker is a complicated game with a lot of variables.

If you’re playing a very soft one three game, you can do a little more calling for a couple reasons.

Number one, you are not going to get squeezed as often as the solver assumes you are when it generated these charts. So for example, when the solver generated these charts, it’s assuming that the big blind and small blind are also solvers who are going to play super aggressive against the raise and the call. Your one three opponents live might not even be squeezing pocket jacks, right? They could be very tight or they might not even be squeezing ace queen every time and they might never be squeezing with a bluff. So that’s going to allow you to call a little bit more often.


And then one other thing, maybe the player who raised is a very weak player who you think is going to give you extra money post-flop, they’re a player that you think is worth targeting, then you do get to call more often. So there are some live specific factors that if they are the case in your games, if the blinds are very weak players, if the player who raises is a very weak player, you do get to do a little bit more calling and more three betting for that matter as well.

But I hope this comparison has at least convinced you to lean more towards three betting as a default and then once you have that reliable information, you could throw in some more calls. But just make sure you have that reliable information first and if you are the guy who was always calling king jack offsuit on the button against a raise in a high rake game, maybe give that a second think maybe consider three betting it or just even folding it because that’s not really the type of hand we want to be calling on the button at a high frequency at least without a ironclad read that it’s the right way to go.


Alright, Gary, that was a long aside for your second adjustment, but I know you have one more. What is your third adjustment to make in high rake games?

Gary (13:13):

(Gary) Yeah, so let’s continue talking about defending from the big blind, but let’s add in when there’s a raise and a call, we’re going to be going multi-way to the flop. Let’s forget about rake for now.

If we’re playing in a reasonable rake environment, most people are still defending too wide in this scenario from the big blind multi-way in general, and then you factor in the higher rake on top of that, then people are just bleeding money from the big blind under the guise of being priced in. Say middle position opens the button calls hands like queen ten offsuit, ace ten offsuit, queen five, jack seven suited. These hands in theory are not pure calls in more forgiving rake environments. Some of them are mixing calls, some of them are actually pure folds. Then you factor in the high rake environment. On top of that, guys and girls, tighten up from the big blind multi-way, you’re not priced in, you are really hurting your win rate by calling too wide.

Mike (14:05):

(Mike) The key that I always think about in these scenarios, I want to avoid sharing cards with my opponent’s range. So a hand like Jack ten offsuit, I actually would much rather have six five offsuit than Jack ten offsuit in a lot of these scenarios because when it goes raise call they’re going to have a lot of big jacks and big tens in their range. There’s going to be a lot of Ace ten, ace jack pocket jacks, pocket Queens, et cetera, cards that I don’t really want to have Jack ten when they have those. I don’t want to have Jack ten when they have Ace jack, but when I have five four offsuit or six five offsuit, those can and especially six five suited or five three suited, I’m not then sharing cards with my opponent’s ranges so the boards that I hit are not going to hit them harder.


When you have jack ten offsuit, you flop top pair on a jack high board, there’s a fair chance that you’re out kicked by a hand like ace jack or something like that or even an over pair. But when you have five three suited and you flop two pair or you flop a straight draw or even a five on five three suited on say five four deuce, you’re the one who really smacked that board. It’s very unlikely that one of the other players has connected with that and that’s what you’d prefer to happen in a multi-way pot. You don’t want to be sharing cards with those other players. I’m going to throw in a caveat. Again, this is very similar to the caveat we had a moment ago, but you can adjust if your opponents are up to something unusual and you know it. In some games,


I’ve seen players call on the button against a raise with eight seven offsuit and four three suited and ten four suited, if that’s the player who called on the button. Some of this advice obviously goes out the window. I’m not going to fold queen five suited or ace ten offsuit when the guy on the button has almost any two cards. I want to play a pot against him. But if you’re playing against thinking players who are playing somewhat reasonably and aren’t just flicking in the call with whatever hand, aren’t flicking in the raise with whatever hand, then you have to follow this advice to a tee and play very tight, especially with these non multi-way friendly hands like these offsuit high card hands and some of these suited hands that have a high card and a low card. Some card rooms forego rake altogether and instead charge an hourly seat fee.

How to Play When No Rake Comes Out of the Pot

Like we’ve mentioned earlier. Gary, how do you adjust your strategy when no rake is taken out of the pot? So everything that goes in there is staying in there and the winner of the pot is getting it all.

Gary (16:36):

(Gary) These are the best games to play in and our strategy changes drastically. Now we get to play way looser, way more pre-flop calls, defend much wider from the big blind. Our VPIP goes up a lot in a game like this, which is of course a much more enjoyable experience.

Everything I’ve said in this episode so far about countering the rake that kind of goes out the window and we play many more hands. Obviously we’re not playing bad hands, we’re not playing too loose and defending seven three offsuit from the big blind, but we get to play much wider ranges overall, as we saw in Mike’s chart comparison earlier in the episode, and it’s because there’s no money being taken out the pot, everything that’s in there you win and it means you get to play much wider as a result.

Mike (17:15):

(Mike) If you want to do some kind of homework to understand this even better, and I’m sorry to remind everyone of school by saying the word homework. I encourage you to do some simple pen and paper math or use the calculator on your phone or whatever.

Go ahead and test how different your pot odds look, your price to call looks when you are in a game with rake and with no rake. For example, if you’re playing one three and the player on the button races to $12 and you’re in the big blind, you have to call nine more to play for a $25 pot.

That means you need about 36% equity to call nine divided by 25 is 36%, but that would be in a game with no rake being taken out of the pot. What I would encourage you to do then is run it for if they take $3 out of the pot instantly when you see the flop, which is going to be the case in a lot of rooms, sometimes it’s going to be even more than that.


Now all of a sudden you’re calling that nine to play for a $22 pot and now you need just under 41% equity. So you went from needing 36% equity to profitably call to 41% equity to profitably call. That’s going to make a pretty big difference. And you can also toy around with some ranging software like Poker Equilab, that’s a really good free one out there and you could see what hands have 41 or 36% equity against a button raising range and you could really toy around with it and start to get a feel for how you should actually be playing and how big of a difference the rake in your game or the rake in a game that you plan on playing really makes. I found that there’s really no substitute for this type of work. Even if you just spend 30 quick minutes doing it.


It’s going to give you really, really good insight on how this works at sort of a mechanical functional technical level.

We’ve got one more important live specific thing to go over, but we were just talking about no rake games and you want to know what other game has no rake taken out of the pot? Tournaments.

Upgrade your tournament game now with elite training courses and save up to 51% during the World Series of Tournament Sale happening right now on Upswing Poker.

So Gary, there was one more live specific thing I know you wanted to hound our listeners about because I think it’s a little bit of a tilt point for you, so jump into it.

Why You Should Always Chop the Blinds

Gary (19:50):

(Gary) Yeah, let’s talk about chopping the blinds. A lot of us watching this will have a bit of an ego when it comes to chopping. The amount of guys that I’ve played with in one two, one three, two five, and they’re like, I don’t chop, I play. Just chop the blinds. Okay. It’s okay to leave your ego at the door and chop up the blinds and speed up the game. And when you’re playing in high rake environments, it’s going to be a single raised pot very often and there’s a lot of money being taken out the pot, particularly when you’re in the small blind, you’re out of position that’s hard to play anyway, factor in the high rake, guys and girls, it’s boring and it’s nitty, but just go ahead and chop the blinds.

Mike (20:28):

(Mike) The one exception there would be maybe you get to a shorthanded game and there’s a reduced rake, which by the way, if you don’t know about reduced rake, you might want to ask your local poker room because sometimes they will reduce the rake for you if you get down to five or four or three handed. So make sure you’re aware of that because oftentimes you have to actually request it for them to start taking less rake. Very interesting procedures that they have at poker rooms to try to get you for that extra dollar or two per hand.

But if you are in that scenario, you can maybe justify not chopping the blinds, but if you’re playing a nine or eight handed live cash game, you’re playing one three, you should be chopping every single time because you’re just paying way too much rake in that scenario. Thanks for being with us today and learning all about rake strategy.

If you agree that more rake is not better, go ahead and like, subscribe, follow, make sure you get notified about future episodes. We got another one coming for you next week and then we might be taking a short break, but we will see you then.