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poker rake strategy adjustments

How Should High Rake Impact Your Poker Strategy

More rake is NOT better.

Nobody likes rake, except the house of course, yet it’s a necessary part of the game. And since it’s not going away anytime soon, you might as well learn to adjust to it.

This is what this article is going to cover: how to adjust to the most common rake structure in cardrooms, and how to calculate adjustments based on your specific game’s rake structure.

What is rake?

Rake is the scaled commission fee taken by a cardroom (online or live) operating a poker game.

How is rake collected?

There are 3 common methods used by cardroom to collect rake (ordered from most to least common):

1. Pot rake

The most common type of collection, pot rake is generally 2.5% to 10% of the pot in each hand, usually up to a predetermined maximum amount. Some cardrooms, however, take a set amount of rake from the pot regardless of pot size.

Some cardrooms do not take any rake until the flop is dealt, so if you raise preflop and take down the blinds, you win the whole pot. This is called “no flop, no drop”.

2. Time collection

Time collection (also “timed rake” or “table charge”) is a set fee collected (typically) every half-hour during the game. This form of rake is collected in one of two ways:

  • Player time: A set amount is collected from each player.
  • Time pot: A set amount is collected from the first pot over a certain amount.

Time rakes are generally reserved for higher limit games ($10–$20 and above).

3. Dead drop

A set amount of rake is placed on the dealer button each hand by the player in that position, which the dealer collects before any cards are dealt.

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How should rake influence your decisions?

Simply put, higher rake lowers your EV (Expected Value).

How does this affect your decisions? In a nutshell, higher rake forces you to play a tighter style of poker.

This means that all those marginal postflop calls become folds. Moreover, this has an effect on the preflop ranges since those marginal open-raises, calls, and 3-bets depended on those marginal value bets, bluffs and calls to be profitable.

Consequently, you have to play tighter preflop and postflop.

What situations are most affected by rake?

There are two common spots that require particularly big adjustments in high raked games: calling from the big blind and 3-betting. We will focus on just these two spots moving forward.

Big blind defending ranges

In this section, we will go through the process of building a solid big blind defend range against any raise size.

You can then copy this process in order to build your own ranges based on the rake structure in your game.

Let’s run through an example hand assuming a $5 capped rake that is taken when the flop is dealt. (This is a typical rake structure for live card rooms, unfortunately.)

Local Casino $1/$2. 9-Handed. Effective Stacks $200.

Hero is in the BB with two cards
5 folds. CO raises to $8. 2 folds. Hero…?

Let’s figure out what Hero’s defending range should look like.

The process starts with the pot odds that he is getting (learn how to calculate pot odds here). Hero would need to call $6 to play for a pot of $12 (CO’s $8 raise + the dead blinds $3 + Hero’s $6 call – $5 rake):

Pot Odds = $6 / $12 = 0.5 = 50% raw equity needed

Since sometimes Hero will be forced to fold before the river or fold what is the best hand, he won’t actually get to realize all of this raw equity. This is important to keep in mind when defending — depending on the specific hand, you may need more or a bit less than 50% equity.

A Quick Word on Equity Realization

Every hand realizes equity differently.

Hands that are strong, connected, and/or suited tend to realize the most equity — think AA, AQo, or JTs. These types of hands oftentimes over-realize their equity — in the example above, they could call profitably with less than 50% equity.

Disconnected and/or offsuit hands tend to realize the least equity — think A2o or Q7o. These types of hands almost always under-realize their equity — in the example above, they’d need more than 50% equity to call profitably.

Position and player skill also matters when it comes to equity realization. In position players realize more equity than out of position players. A veteran pro will realize more equity than an inexperienced player because the pro will play better postflop.

So, if your hand is a borderline call in terms of raw equity, you should probably:

  • Call if you have a strong hand with good playability or if you feel that you have a significant edge postflop.
  • Fold if you have a hand with poor playability or are unsure about your edge against your opponent.

If neither option feels right with your particular hand, go for a 3-bet. You’ll gain experience faster that way.

With that in mind, let’s see how all the possible hands in Hero’s range fare against the CO’s estimated raising range:

bb vs co high poker rake impacts

The numbers under each hand represent that hand’s equity versus the other range.

On the left, you have CO’s opening range. On the right, you can see how much equity each hand has against CO’s opening range.

Before I show you which hands Hero should defend, let’s figure out how much equity Hero would need to defend if there were no rake.

Pot odds = $6 / $8 (CO’s bet) + $9 (our call + the dead blinds)
Pot odds = $6 / $17 = 0.35 -> 35% raw equity needed

The difference is staggering! 50% compared to 35%. Let’s take a look at how different Hero’s defending range is with and without rake (I cut out the borderline and unplayable hands that likely won’t realize enough equity):

how poker rake changes bb strategy

The numbers under each hand represent that hand’s equity versus the cutoff’s raising range,

You can do this exercise on your own and change the different variables such as the opener raise size and range and get to familiarize yourself with proper big blind defense ranges.

3-Bet Defending Ranges

In this section, we will go through the process of building optimal 3-bet calling ranges based on your opponent’s range and his raise size.

As in the previous section, you can copy this process to build your own strategies based on the different variables that you encounter (opponent’s range, raise size, antes)

The sample hand that we will use takes place at the same casino, and we will take a look at both the raked and rakeless situations.

Local Casino $1/$2. 9-Handed. Effective Stacks $200.

Hero is in the CO with two cards
5 folds. Hero raises to $6. BU 3-bets to $18. 2 folds. Hero…?

Here is the Upswing Lab-recommended open-raising range for live games from the cutoff:

co poker rake range

Default cutoff raising range from the Upswing Lab (Red = Raise, Pink = Optional Raise, Blue = Fold)

In this example, we will assume the cutoff raises with all of the optional hands.

Let’s assume that the button uses the 3-betting range recommended by the Lab for live games:

btn vs co

Default button vs cutoff range from the Upswing Lab (Red = 3-Bet, Pink = Optional 3-Bet, Orange = 3-Bet or Call, Green = Call, Blue = Fold)

We’ll assume the button 3-bets only the red and orange hands.

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The process is very similar to the one we used in the previous section. We will first calculate Hero’s pot odds:

Pot odds = $12 (how much we need to call) / $12 (our call) + $6 (our raise) + $18 (our opponent’s 3-bet) + $3 (dead blinds) – $5 (rake)
Pot odds = $12 / $34 = 0.35 = 35% raw equity needed

If there was no rake, the calculation would look like this:

Pot odds = $12 / $18 + $18 + $3
Pot odds = $12 / $39 = 0.30 = 30% raw equity needed

You can see that the equity difference is not as drastic here. This is because the rake is the same amount ($5), but the pot is larger. In the previous section $5 was taken from a $17 pot (29.4% of the pot), but $5 is being taken from $37 (13.5% of the pot) in this case. 

Let’s see how our range should look in each case (again, I cut out the borderline and unplayable hands that likely won’t realize enough equity):

btn vs co rake and no rake comparison

Conclusion

Rake has a big impact on how you should play poker. You need to take it into account and adjust your strategy if you want to crush as much as possible.

If you play online, you can repeat the process above to figure out how much rake should impact ranges in your games. Lookup the rake structure of the site you play on and plug in the numbers. The resulting ranges won’t be as tight as the ones above, but I bet you’ll still be surprised when you see how much rake makes a difference online.

If you’re a live player, now you understand how much rake should impact your preflop ranges. 

Are the rake-adjusted ranges in this article tighter or looser than you expected?

Let me know in the comments below.

Good luck, grinders!

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