The ‘rake’ can be defined as the fee the poker room charges players (from here on out ‘poker room’ or ‘house’ is referring to a casino, online poker room, local card club/poker room, or a game run by an individual(s)). There are generally two different methods that are used by the house to collect the rake. The first is when the card room will take a percentage of the pot up to a certain amount. For example, they could take 5% up to $3 before they ‘push’ the winner with their chips. How much the house takes and what requirements must be met before they ‘rake’ the pot will differ between online poker rooms and ‘live’ (not online) online casino games.
The second method, and the one that will not be discussed in too much depth here, is what is known as a ‘time charge’. The house will collect a certain amount of money every half hour or hour from all the players playing. The time charge method is usually not used for the lower limit games, and even in the mid to high limit games, it doesn’t always work. From here on out ‘the rake’ is only going to refer to the rake that is collected from individual pots. This is the standard method that most poker players are used to and will be the focus of the rest of the article.
Live poker rooms can have different requirements of when they rake the pot and at what percentage. For live poker rooms the percentage is usually 10% and, depending on the poker room, can have a maximum of $3-$5. Some poker rooms also have a minimum rake that they take from each pot, regardless of the size. For example, if there is a 1/2 NL game and the blinds are $1 and $2, they might take up to $3 from the pot on the flop. This means that if everybody folds to the small blind, he/she calls the big blind, and the big blind checks, the house will collect up to $3 (depending on their policies), even though they are heads up and the pot only has $4. The house will then take another dollar once the pot reaches $40 (10% of $40 is $4, but they have already taken $3) and, if there is a maximum of $5, they will then take another dollar at $50.
Because most players realize that contributing $2 in order to win $1 is a tough proposition, most poker rooms will allow the small blind and big blind to ‘chop’. This means that they can both receive their blinds back if they both agree that it is acceptable. This has to be done before the flop and no other players can be in the hand. Poker rooms that do collect rake no matter how many players there are if there is a flop, usually have a ‘no flop, no drop’ policy. This means that if there is no flop, no matter how many raises or how big the pot is, the house will not collect any money from the flop. It needs to be remembered that not all live poker rooms collect rake if there is a flop. This is sometimes regional, but can also vary from poker room to poker room in the same region.
Online poker rake differs in several ways. The first is that the percent of rake that is usually taken is 5% and this is almost always capped at $3. Not only is there usually a maximum $3 collection, but there is almost always no minimums. In some games the pot will need to be as large as $30 before the house collects their percentage. In games where the house collects 5%, because of simplicity, they can divide the amount they collect into ‘cents’. This means on a $20 pot there can be a rake of $0.50. For online games, there is not an option to chop if the small blind and big blind are in the hand before the flop.
The above descriptions of how live poker rooms and online poker rooms calculate and collect rake are the most common methods employed. As was mentioned, the rules will vary, but a majority of poker rooms use the above rules and using them as guidelines can help the poker player (whether a novice or beginner) decide which version offers the highest return. There are many other factors that determine the profitability of a poker game and it would be foolish to base the game selection solely on the rake collected.
It is fairly obvious that the maximum rake that the house collects in live games is a significant amount higher than online. Even if it was assumed that they only charged a maximum of $3 the minimums are much higher than online poker rooms. Seeing a flop with three people and $9 in the pot ($6 after the rake is taken), for example, creates a negative expected value that is fairly tough to overcome. It is also safe to deduce that one pays more per hand in rake in a live setting as opposed to online.