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We all understand rake and the detrimental effect it has on games, but it seems that very few players actually account for rake in their decision making at the table.  While rake rarely affects individual decisions in higher games with bigger average pot sizes, it is very important to account for rake by subtracting it from the total pot size in lower games with smaller pots.

Rake affects decision making in poker by reducing one’s pot odds.  In bigger pots this reduction is usually negligible, but in smaller pots, having some of the pot raked away could sway a close decision.  Imagine this scenario.  You’re playing a $1/$2 game with the standard rake of 10% up to $5.  You’re in the big blind, and preflop, it’s folded around to the small blind who shoves all in for $50 and shows you his hand.  He has JcTc, and you look down at your hand, which is 8s8c.  Now you know these two hands are almost exactly even money against each other (8s8c is 50.2% to win) so given the fact that it’s $48 for you to call to win $52, you should call.  Mathematically this is correct, but we’ve failed to account for the rake.  Once you call, there will be $100 in the pot and $5 will be raked, so it’s actually $48 for you to win $47.  You no longer have the right odds to call once the pot is raked.  Thus, even though you are a slight favorite here, you should fold.

This is an extremely basic example, but these types of spots come up often in smaller games with many inexperienced short stacks.  Similar situations can occur postflop, such as when you are deciding whether to call a short stack’s shove with a draw or not.  To keep things simple and consistent I usually just mentally subtract the rake from the pot every hand I play, but no matter what you do, keep in mind that rake has an effect on pot odds and should be part of your decision making process.


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ALL IN Magazine Contributor Zhijian Xing