Rake considerations in small games

It is very unfortunate nowadays in America that it is difficult to play online poker on reputable sites. Micro stakes on...

Posted Jul 23, 2013


Bart Hanson BW2

Bart Hanson

Owner and Lead Pro

It is very unfortunate nowadays in America that it is difficult to play online poker on reputable sites. Micro stakes online used to be a great way to practice and build a bankroll. You could multi-table, play a lot of hands and show a lot of profit. The rake structures in the small games online were nothing like their live counterparts. With most sites offering rakeback the rake at the lower levels would not proportionally affect your winrate as much when compared to no rakeback in live games.

If you are not familiar with the way that most cardrooms work, most games have exactly the same rake no matter their size. So you could be playing a $2-$5 $200 max buy in game and the casino drops the same $5 that it does at $5-$10 no limit. This high drop makes it very difficult to beat, small, live games. In fact, I tell most of my students, at least in California, that playing poker for profit is really a race to the $5 blind level. The competition just is not that much tougher there and you are getting way more bang for your buck when it comes to paying the rake.

The problem also with these smaller, capped restricted buy-in games is that the optimal style is normally a short stacked approach as often times the average stack has less than sixty big blinds. When you are dealing with raise sizes of more than four times the big blind as an open it is very difficult to profitably call with anything. Much tighter is better. The problem with this approach is that you rarely get experience playing after the flop, and when you do get into a pot most of the money is all-in by the turn. These games in no way prepare you for normal 100 or 200BB structures. Also, because the rake is such a large percentage of the overall pot tables like this make it almost impossible to achieve a large winrate. Even the best players at these levels would have trouble beating a $200 cap game for more than fifteen or twenty dollars per hour, and those are stellar results. Once you fully understand this you quickly realize that it is almost impossible to build up a bankroll especially if you are playing poker full time.

You also can get into many bad habits playing severely capped buy-in games, as it is often optimal to play a trapping style, almost backwards. The lower cash levels almost remind me of tournaments.

So low winrate, bad skill of your opponents, and forced optimal backwards play are all reasons that if you stay at the lower levels your game will be moving sideways not improving. The next time you are a little apprehensive about making the jump to the $5 blind level with a better buy-in structure remember the way the larger games are set up. The higher cap and lower percentage of rake lends itself to being a better fit for a player that wants to improve his game.

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