Building a Poker Bankroll from Scratch – 3. Rake, rake, rAkE, rake and RAKE!

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Building a Poker Bankroll from Scratch - 3. Rake, rake, rAkE, rake and RAKE!!

What’s up troops!?

So… as you might’ve guessed… today’s article is about rake.

Rake is about the least exciting, least sexy poker topic imaginable. Yet aspiring grinders who are ignorant to it’s effects find themselves stuck in the mire that is nano and micro-stakes games for months or YEARS longer than they need to. Let’s take a quick look at what we’re up against.

Pokerstars rake table

Initially, this looks very reasonable. They charge less at baby stakes, both in terms of % and the rake cap, and more at higher stakes. Which probably means those games are easier to beat, right? Especially given there’s so many weak players in those games. Right???


Let’s reframe these numbers into the relevant format.

This is how you should think about the rake environment in your games – what’s the highest number of BB I could end up paying. 

And notice how things have completely changed – most specifically at 5-16nl, 6-9handed. At these stakes, guys are getting absolutely hammered by the rake, actually paying more than at 2nl, as much as 20BB off a single pot. 

Think about how that affects the EV of any hand that stands a reasonable chance of seeing a flop – in the best case scenario where you stack a deep-stacked opponent, you have to pay a whole dollar – 20% of a buyin! – to rake.

Out of curiosity, I did some digging on statname to try to see how this might translate into the winrates of players in these games. Check this out.

This looks about how I’d expect it to – slightly lower winrates achievable in the bigger games due to slightly stronger reg pool. But watch what happens when I expand the dataset to include 2nl, 50nl and 100nl.

Two things are surprising about this. First – HOLY MOLY – look at 2nl!!! The average winrate of the top 12 all time 2nl FR winners is 17.4 compared with 11.7 at 5nl. The number of weaker players/ quality of the regs is obviously some kind of factor here, but I’d posit that the smaller rake cap, at 15BB compared with 20 at the higher limit is also having a large affect here. 

The second thing looks less dramatic but is arguably more surprising – the winrates of top regs at 50 and 100nl are HIGHER than the top regs at 25nl! This is a very surprising result. I hope given my experience coaching people at these games that you’ll trust my opinion when I say, this absolutely does not indiciate a weaker player pool at 100nl than 25nl. So what could be causing this difference?

Variance? Well, no. The 50nl sample for example has 23.1m hands, so we’re talking very high levels of confidence in these winrates given 80 or so typical standard deviation per 100 hands in these games.

There’s only 1 other variable it could be. Yes, that ever-unsexy one. Rake. 

Just think about how crazy this is. Selecting from a SMALLER number of running games. Playing BETTER regs and LESS fish. People are winning at a HIGHER rate playing for 4x as much money! If there was ever motivation to get the hell out of the microstakes games, surely this is it. 

If you’d like to see the data I used in writing this article, you can check it out here -

Alright, I get it - rake is bad. What can I do about it?

Excellent question, reader. I like where you’re head’s at.

FIRST’S THINGS FIRST. Game selection is one of the pillars of a winning poker strategy. The second best player in the whole world will not make money if he only ever plays against the best player. Very, very bad players have made a killing at online poker by ensuring they play against players who are way worse than them. This is true at every stake level, from nosebleeds to nanostakes. 

Next thing next. If you’re going to build your bankroll from scratch, you’re going to have to make it through the microstakes, and you’re going to have to pay a substantial amount of rake. 

Given all this is true, you must must MUST make sure you’re getting a decent chunk of that rake back. There’s 1,000 articles out there on this subject, as most poker content websites are trying desperately to have you sign up through their affiliate link, so I don’t think I need to labour this point too much. 

But I do need you to ask yourself – have you bothered to look into your game selection and rakeback setup? Are you putting in volume in the smartest way you could be? In less words, are you a sucker??

I ask because I know there’s a looooooot of grinders out there who tell themselves a nice story about how they don’t want to use game selection as a crutch, or that they can’t handle the software of X site… so they play zoom on pokerstars and complain about how difficult it is to make it up through the stakes. 

I ask because I’ve been there. Unfortunately I can’t find the post now, but I vividly remember posting in the old Small Stakes Full Ring forum (RIP) a screenshot of my pokerstars lobby, with me on every 25nl FR waitlist, with the caption ‘game selection is for opponents’. As cringey as that is now, it pains me more to think of the time I wasted playing 100k hands/month in those games instead of focussing on quality over quantity. 

That's all for now!

Be smart and DON’T be lazy – get yourself on 1 or more sites that offer good games with solid rakeback. Grind first deposit bonuses, ask around, play affiliates off against each other until you’re getting AT LEAST 70% of your rake back. If this sounds like a lot, look harder. 

Till next time..

GL out there! 


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