Rake Traps, Part I: Brick-and-Mortar Poker
This is the first article of a two-part series examining how to avoid paying too much rake at a poker room. This article will detail what to look for and avoid at a brick-and-mortar poker room. Next week's article will detail certain games at some of the poker sites that charge more rake than is usual.
The rake at brick-and-mortar cardrooms is significantly higher than at the online poker rooms. This is because land-based casinos have significant costs that online poker rooms do not endure. Most often, players do not have too much control over where they can play, since there are generally relatively few brick-and-mortar cardrooms in any one area. Nevertheless, here is a guide as to what to look for when evaluating the rake at a brick-and-mortar cardroom:
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Do you need to tip?
In American cardrooms, it is customary to tip $1 for every hand you win, which essentially means you are paying an extra $1 a hand in rake. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, tipping is forbidden by law. So when evaluating how steep the rake is, remember to factor in the tip.
Capped Percentage Rake
Most brick-and-mortar rooms charge a 10% rake up to a certain amount. Some charge a 5% rake, but 10% is more common. Because of this, the maximum amount of rake is reached much quicker. At certain limits, the rake may be so high that the game is virtually unbeatable.
For example, some places will charge a 10% up to $5 rake (including tip) for a $2-$4 game, which is ridiculous. A 5% rake up to $5 would be tolerable or even a 10% up to $3 or $4, but 10% up to $5 crosses the line. That same rake structure is fine for a $15-$30 game or higher, but is far too high for a low-stakes game. For high stakes games ($10-$20 or higher), a general rule of thumb (including tip) is $5 is good, $6 is okay, and $7 is too much.
Always make sure that the poker room caps the rake. In some areas of the world where poker is not that popular, the poker room will not cap the rake or they'll cap it at an insanely high amount, like $10 a hand. Even if the rake is only 5%, the rake will often end up being $8 or more at a $15-$30 game or higher.
Many poker rooms charge players a flat half-hour fee to play instead of raking the pot. This system is better because the dealer does not need to waste time calculating and dropping the rake each hand. Time charges are generally done by the half hour and frequently range from $4 to $10 per half hour.
To compare a time charge to a rake, multiply the half-hour time charge by 2/3, that is a rough estimate to the amount of rake that is being taken by each pot. Then, evaluate this charge at the level you typically play.
Instead of a rake or half-hourly charge, a few poker rooms will charge each player's a flat amount per hand. This is the worst form of charge for poker because not only does it slow the game down, the charge amounts to more than what would be taken from a straight rake or a time payment.
Very few places have a hand charge. The only place I ever played at that had a hand charge was the Star City Casino in Australia, which wanted as high as $1 US per player from every hand. This guarantees itself a rake of $10, even if someone just steals the blinds!
While a hand charge could be okay if the amount is very low, it is almost always the case that you should just avoid these games.
If the game is six-handed or less, make sure they will reduce the rake. If the poker room is still charging a 10% up to $4 rake in a four-handed game, you'll soon notice that the only person who is accumulating more chips is the dealer! A decrease in rake is not automatic most of the time like it is at an online poker room, so be sure to ask if the game ever gets short.
If it is a time charge, a decrease in rake is not as important, but they still may give it to you if you ask.
The entry fees for tournaments vary greatly. Some poker rooms use their poker tournaments as mainly promotional mechanisms for the casino and charge a modest entry fee (typically 10% or less). Others attempt to extract every last dollar they can for players and charge entry fees up to 40% of the buy-in. The entry fees for SNG satellite tournaments tend to be extremely steep in particular.
Look at the fine print of any tournament and see if they are taking money out of the prize pool. If they are charging a 10% rake and taking 10% out of the prize pool, that's a tournament you want to avoid.
The high buy-in tournaments should have smaller entry fees percentage-wise than the low buy-in ones. While 10% is a modest entry fee for a $100 buy-in tournament, it's high for a $1000 one.