Friday, October 22, 2010

Thinking About the Rake

A couple of years ago I wrote a little two-part sequence of posts titled “Raise That Rake!” In those posts I talked about a situation with which I imagine most players are familiar.

Two players find themselves reaching the final round of betting with hands of identical value. They bet the maximum on the end and end up splitting a large pot. The “winner,” then, seems to be the house (or the site), since the rake gets increased thanks to the pot becoming bigger at the end.

In those posts, the first one described a Stud/8 hand in which by sixth street I had the low locked up and my opponent had an unbeatable high. Yet I continued to bet anyway, and afterwards my opponent objected to what he viewed as a futile bit of rake-raising. In the post, I defend my play.

The second post pursues the topic a little further, addressing that notion some players have that online sites are “rigged” to create these kinds of scenarios, thereby ensuring they claim more rake. I don’t buy that idea, although in the post I describe my very last session on UltimateBet (long, long ago) in which I found myself wonderin’ just a little.

I was reminded of this issue again this week, for a couple of reasons.

I continue to play small-stakes pot-limit Omaha (almost always on PokerStars). Like most recreational players, I don’t usually spend a lot of time worrying about the rake, although I am aware it significantly cuts into what I’m able to take away from the tables. And, of course, I don’t have any rakeback or anything at PokerStars. (Nor do I at Full Tilt Poker, unfortunately, the only other site on which I am playing these days.)

I noticed a thread on Two Plus Two this week in which an argument was raised that sites should consider lowering the rake in small-stakes PLO games. The original post began with the statement that “the rake in small stakes PLO (100PLO and lower) is so high it effectively turns the game into a black hole.” You can look at the thread if you want to see how the discussion went.

What is the rake in the PLO games I usually play at PokerStars? A look over at the rake page on the PS site shows that for the game I generally play -- with blinds of $0.10/$0.25 -- the rake is a penny for every 20 cents in the pot, up to a maximum of $2.00 taken out. The maximum drops to $1.00 when there are 3-5 players at the table, and $0.50 when just two.

In other words, 5% of just about every pot I win is going to the site. I do get a little back from bonuses and whatnot, but not nearly enough to cover that 5%. So obviously, I have to do better than break even to break even.

Whether or not the game is really a “black hole,” I’m not smart enough to say. I mentioned a few weeks ago I have been mired in a long stretch of “break-even poker,” and while I know the rake is helping keep me there, I’m not ready to concede that it is impossible to come out ahead at small-stakes PLO. (Perhaps a reader can enlighten me.)

Seeing that thread did get me thinking a little more specifically about the rake, though. Then came a hand the other day in which I was not involved that got me considering the rake once again and the scenario I had written about a couple of years ago -- that is, the one in which two players with identical hands create a large pot and by their betting necessarily increase the rake.

In this hand I had folded from UTG, and it folded to the button who raised pot to $0.85. Only the big blind called. The flop came AsKsJc. The BB checked, the button bet $1.25, and the BB called. The turn was the Tc, and this time both players checked.

The river was the Qd. The big blind checked, and the button bet $2.50. The BB called, turning over QsJs9c8c for a Broadway straight. As it turned out, the button had bluffed on the end, holding but 6s5s5h2h, and the BB won the entire pot. That’s when the BB made a weird, if familiar, comment in the chat box.

“rake!!!!!” typed the player, adding “why bet when the board is nuts?”

A lot that is strange here. For one, I don’t think the BB even noticed his opponent’s hand, or even the fact that they didn’t split the pot. I could be wrong, but I don’t really see how the BB can complain about the button’s river bet after winning the entire pot like that. That was a gift, man!

Secondly, I began to wonder if the BB even knew how to play PLO -- that is, did the BB realize one cannot “play the board”? Seemed possible he did not.

I hadn’t really paid close attention to the hand as it played out, to be honest, but I found myself looking back and also wondering why the BB didn’t bet the turn. He had the nuts, plus a redraw to not one but two different flushes!

I sort of understood why the BB hadn’t bet or check-raised the river, as it seemed obvious that neither would be called by an inferior hand, and so this actually seemed like a legitimate spot to avoid inflating the pot and thus raising the rake.

I ended up cautiously playing a few hands versus the BB, winning a couple of medium-sized pots but wondering all along how well my opponent understood the rules of the game he was playing. The fact is, one does sometimes encounter players in these low-stakes PLO games who aren’t sure about the “must play two cards from one’s hand” rule, never mind pot odds or any other more involved strategy.

Ironically, one could argue that it is the presence of players like this that make it reasonable to raise even when it appears you and your opponent must have hands of identical value and thus are destined to split the pot. Because there’s a chance your opponent doesn’t have what seems an obvious holding, the explanation being he or she doesn’t know the rules of the game!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rake at the micro and low stakes is obscene Shamus. I've played almost 20,000 hands of six-max No Limit Hold'em with $0.05/$0.10 blinds and the total taken from my tables at that time is $175.15!

That is more than 17 full stacks, almost 10bb/100 hands is removed from the tables! FWIW, during that time I have only personally paid $28.49.

10/22/2010 2:35 PM  
Blogger dbcooper said...

If you don't think that poker sites are rigged to create the most rake I have some swampland in Florida to sell you. Of course they are. Too many poker scribes like yourself have your head in the sand re this issue. Is it because of the obscene money the poker sites are throwing around?? How do you think they got it?? I love your posts but really wake up regarding this issue. This is why we need the sites to be controlled in the U.S and Canada so we REALLY know whats going on

10/23/2010 5:16 PM  

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