My thoughts on RAKE!

So for a while now there has been a misconception that I think raising the rake in poker games is “good for poker.” I’ve never actually said that, but I understand where the confusion may come from because I was talking about some things (facts) that a lot of pros don’t want to hear, and like a game of broken telephone, my position has been distorted. I do not believe that raising the rake is good for poker. Rake increases take more money out of the game and benefit whoever is collecting the rake. That is my position on rake. Period. (Insert Sean Spicer jokes here)

Now, let’s take a deeper look at how an increased rake affects players. I’m going to discuss a real world example from my early days as a professional poker player in Toronto. The casino I played at charges a $5 session fee every 30 minutes in a $10-$20 limit hold’em game, while the game across the street charged $10 a hand! Excluding tips, in the game I played in, $100 came off the table every hour. In the game across the street, they were taking $300 out of the game per hour!

So obviously I chose to play in the game with the lower rake as did many other pros I know because we didn’t really think we would be able to beat the rake across the street. What ended up happening was the game I played in consisted of eight pros and two recreational players, while the game across the street had no pros in it at all. The game with the higher rake was obviously juicier, but because the rake was so high it wasn’t really worth it for me and my other pro friends to play it. Our win rate was still better overall playing in the game with the lower rake.

We used to have this recreational player named Bhupan come play with us and while we did what we could to ensure he had fun at the table, he was so bad at poker that he got absolutely destroyed when he played with us. In our game, he was constantly playing in heads up or three way pots, while the game across the street routinely saw eight players limping in to see the flop and chasing all the way to the river.

Bhupan also played across the street, and while he lost there too, he didn’t get humiliated and crushed nearly as hard as he did when he was facing a table full of regs. He paid a lot more in rake across the street, but also lost less money. His hourly loss rate was better in the game with the higher rake because the competition he faced was more on his level.

So if you are reading this, ask yourself the following question and be honest: given the choice of these two options, which is a better game to choose if you are Bhupan? Sitting with the sharks, or paying the extra rake and facing off against weaker opponents? Be honest.

I know you don’t want to hear this but it just happens to be true. I get why you would scoff and get your pitchforks out when this point is illustrated and not want to believe it, but its true. For Bhupan and other players at his skill level, HIGHER RAKE WAS BETTER FOR THEM than paying a lower rake in a game against pros. Oh no! Did he just say that? How dare he! Turncoat! Shill! Ahhhhhhhh. Say what you will, but it is true.

I understand why me saying this would lead people to believe that I think raising the rake is good for poker. I get it, I really do, but it is not the same thing. I do not think raising the rake is good for poker. No rake is “good for poker.” But you need to understand that a game full of pros is far worse for the game than a high rake. To the extreme, if a game is nine close to equally skilled pros and no weak link, guess what happens to the game? POOF. It doesn’t exist. They won’t play.

Now, if you are the guy running the poker game its in your best interest that your players/customers don’t go broke. They go broke, you have no games, you have no rake. If you are the guy running the game, the number one cause of players going broke is WINNING PLAYERS. Professionals who bust weaker players. When the weaker players go broke, the winning players don’t play each other, then you are left with no game, and no rake. The primary cause of a losing player losing is WINNING PLAYERS. The secondary cause, usually by a wide margin, is RAKE.

If you think about it, nothing I’m saying here should be all that controversial. It’s common sense, but obviously pros don’t want to hear it. For the professional poker community, RAKE is enemy #1, but for recreational players, what busts them is the better players they are facing. If the balance in an ecosystem swings too far in the direction of a pro dominated poker game, the ecosystem as a whole suffers. I don’t think raising the rake is the solution to fixing the ecosystem, but I do think reducing or eliminating reward bonuses to high volume winning players is a no-brainer.

Think about it: if you are running a poker game why would you want to add extra incentive for the best players in your game to play more often and longer? Doesn’t it make far more logical sense to incentivize recreational players to redeposit and play longer? If you incentivize the winning players to play more, then its only natural that each game available will be more dominated by winning pros and how is that good for you if you are the one running the poker game? How is that good for the recreational players? The only group who benefits from giving rewards to high volume winning players is… high volume winning players. Everyone else in the ecosystem suffers.

In closing, NO I do not think higher rake is good for poker, but YES, I do think it makes sense to give the majority of the bonuses or rewards to recreational players.