A review of low stakes no limit rake and rakeback

"If you are playing for real money at online poker rooms then you are paying rake."

No shocker there.

"At low stakes cash games you're paying relatively more rake than at higher stakes."

Okay, that's also a well known fact I guess.

"Micro stakes no limit cash game players could be winning a lot more money at another online poker room due to a difference in rake structure!"

Now, that's interesting I'd say!

"What's a lot more money", you're asking? Well, even if you're already a fairly talented player winning 10 big blinds per 100 hands at 2nl on a Full Tilt Poker account without 27% rakeback then you can almost double your win rate by moving over to PokerStars. That's almost a full buy-in extra for every 1000 hands you play! If you would already receive 27% rakeback at Full Tilt Poker, than the difference would be small, but still in favour of Pokerstars.

Because a professional poker player and webmaster of PokerDataMining.net provided me with a lot of data, I was able write this article which will show you exactly how a different rake structure at PokerStars can result in such a big increase of your win rate when playing at the lower limits.

Since this review is fairly long I'll start by giving you a summary of which rooms take the least amout of rake from their low stakes players in table 1.

Recommended poker rooms for beginning and low stakes players:


Table 1: recommended poker rooms by limit.
StakesBest poker roomDownload
2nlPokerStarsDownload PokerStars
5nlPokerStarsDownload PokerStars
10nlPokerStarsDownload PokerStars
25nlFull Tilt and Cake PokerGet rakeback at FTP or Cake*

* This link will take you to RakeTheRake, a big and reliable rakeback provider.

Interested in why exactly these rooms are so great? Then follow me through the rest of this article!

Poker rake structures

In another article that is a reference for rake structures of several poker rooms and networks I already explained that the rake structures used by online poker rooms differ by:

Not mentioned specifically is the fact that some rooms also just rake a higher percentage from whatever pot size increment is used.

Summarizing you can say a rake structure is better when:

  1. The percentage raked from the pot size increments used is lower
  2. The pot size increments from which rake is taken are larger
  3. The rake cap is lower and this cap will also sometimes be reached
  4. There's a higher degree of differentiation based on the number of active players in a hand (i.e., lower rake cap or larger pot size increments with fewer players in the hand).

Rake and rake structures at the low limits

So why exactly is all this more important for nano and micro stakes no limit players (2nl - 25nl) to pay attention to than for those players playing at a higher level?

First of all, the rake structures used at different poker rooms simply differ most from one another at the micro stakes levels.

Secondly, the maximum amount of rake (rake cap) is higher in terms of big blinds at the micro stakes. Because of this the rake cap will rarely be reached and you'll always end up paying the maximum amount of rake relative to the size of the pot. And because the rake you pay decreases your win rate, your win rate suffers most from rake at the micro stakes.

Furthermore, a difference in pot size increments from which rake is taken (point 2 from the 'better rake structure' list above) is only of influence on the average rake percentage when the rake cap isn't reached and will also be most relevant at small pot sizes (up to around $10). This is already illustrated in a figure in the article comparing the micro stakes rake structures of PokerStars vs Full Tilt Poker. In this article I also showed that for 2nl, 5nl and 10nl games a 27% rakeback deal at Full Tilt Poker does not even compensate for the higher amount of rake you pay when compared to PokerStars' rake structure(!).

Hand histories

Although I already compared some micro stakes no limit rake structures in both articles mentioned (PokerStars' is better than Full Tilt's, even slightly with FTP rakeback, up to 10nl) I did not have information about pot sizes at the different low stakes levels to calculate the exact differences in the amount of rake charged by these rooms. I did some calculations with the assumption that pot sizes are equally distributed over a certain range (see tables 1 and 2 here), which is not true in reality. With the help of information supplied by PokerDataMining.net this 'problem' is now solved.

PokerDataMining.net provided information from 40.000 unique hand histories to FirstTimePokerPlayer, 10.000 hand histories each from 2nl, 5nl, 10nl and 25nl 6-max games at Full Tilt Poker with 6 active players in the hand and a flop being dealt. With these hand histories it is possible to calculate the true distribution of pot sizes at the different low limit games as well as the exact differences in the amount of rake charged between rooms when calculated using their own rake structures. This will show exactly which rooms suppress your win rate the least by taking rake, or the other way around, which online poker rooms rip off their micro stakes players the most.

Pot size distributions

The distribution of pot sizes at the different micro stakes has been determined by counting the amount of pots falling within a pot size range for a number of consecutive pot size ranges. By doing this 5 times for 2000 unique hand histories (10.000 total), a margin of error (with the minimum and maximum value as lower and upper limit) could also be calculated, see figure 1:

pot sizes at the micro stakes no limit games.
Figure 1: pot size distribution at the micro stakes no limit games. Figure based on hand
histories provided by PokerDataMining.net.

What does this figure mean?

The average pot size turned out to be around 26 big blinds at all four levels.

Average rake

Note: calculations made are based on 27% dealt rakeback for Full Tilt Poker. Rakeback at Full Tilt Poker is now calculated according to the 'contributed' method, however, which could mean that the numbers for FTP with 27% rakeback might be different for you. Generally the 'contributed' method is less favourable than the 'dealt' method, and therefore the avarage amount of rake at Full Tilt Poker with 27% rakeback could be slightly higher than presented below.

For all 10.000 pot sizes at a certain limit rake was calculated according to the rake structures of the following rooms/networks (click the room/network name to view rake structures on FirstTimePokerPlayer):

With these three rooms/networks most of the available rake structures at other online poker rooms are also covered:

Table 2: rake structure similarities.
The rake structure of...is most similar to that/those of...
PokerStars
  • Everest Poker (at 25nl and up)
  • Boss/IPN above 10nl (but most games in )
Full Tilt Poker
  • All iPoker rooms
  • All rooms on the Cake network
  • Everest Poker (up to/incl. 10nl)
Merge Gaming rooms
  • Ladbrokes (at 10nl and up)
  • Boss/IPN at 10nl ((but most games in )
  • Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker

Figure 2 shows the average rake calculated for all the 10.000 pots at every level using the three rake structures mentioned above. The rake is expressed as a percentage of the average pot size:

Average rake at different poker rooms/networks at the micro stakes.
Figure 2: average rake calculated with rake structures of different online poker rooms. Figure
based on hand histories provided by PokerDataMining.net.

What does this figure mean?

Rake and your win rate

Rake has a tremendous negative effect on your win rate at the micro stakes. Take a look at the following calculation:

The average pot size at 2nl turned out to be $0.52 or 26 big blinds. At Full Tilt Poker the average amount raked at 2nl is 5.8%. This means that on average 5.8% x 26bb = 1.5bb per hand is taken from the table. Assuming that every player pays an equal amount of rake this would result in you paying approximately bb per hand in rake or 25 bb/100 hands.

Your poker win rate is usually expressed as the amount of big blinds (bb) you win per 100 hands. If your win rate would be 10 bb/100 hands, then you're doing very well.

Now compare the average amount of rake paid with a very good win rate, and you'll see that at the lower limits it won't be unlikely for you to pay multiples of your winnings in rake.

Example: say you are playing 10nl at Full Tilt Poker on a non rakeback account. The average pot size is 27.3bb and the average amount raked is 6.5%, which comes down to 29.6 bb/100 hands for you in a 6-max game.

To improve your win rate you want to play at another online poker room, because you are unable to get rakeback. The logical choice would be PokerStars since they take the lowest amount of rake (only 4.8%, or 21.8 bb/100 hands for you alone). With this move to PokerStars you would instantly be winning 29.6 - 21.8 = 7.8 bb/100 hands extra due to paying less in rake. That's $7.80 per 1000 hands or 1 full buy-in every 1282 hands. How cool is that?

For players already having a rakeback account at Full Tilt Poker the difference in rake charged would be negligible, but Pokerstars' loyalty program would be more beneficial than the iron man program at Full Tilt Poker.

As you can see from this example it can be worth it to take into account the amount of rake you pay when choosing where to play. You now know that rakeback can be nothing more than a marketing trick that doesn't necessarily result in a higher win rate.

PokerStars rakeback

You could say that the lower amount of rake paid at PokerStars when compared to Full Tilt Poker is essentially a form of rakeback. In a table it would look something like this:

Table 3: PokerStars rakeback.
PokerStars vs...2NL5NL10NL25NL
Full Tilt Poker28.8%27.0%25.7%4.8%
FTP + 27% RB2.4%0.0%-1.8%-23.3%

What does this table mean?

Rake and rakeback at the micro stakes - conclusion

PokerStars' rake structure is the best rake structure for micro stakes players up to 10nl. People playing these nano and micro stakes games at Full Tilt Poker without 27% rakeback could easily be adding 8 bb/100 hands to their win rate by moving to PokerStars.

At 25nl Full Tilt Poker with 27% rakeback is a very attractive option. Keep in mind though that rooms on the Cake network (with essentially the same rake structure) offer 33% rakeback instead of 27% for an even more attractive offer (but instead of 25nl they offer a level of 20nl games and their loayalty program could give a lower return).

Although the figures in this article do not take into account any benefits from bonuses and loyalty programs and the pot sizes as measured at FTP can be different at another room, I think this article clearly shows the significance of rake at the micro stakes as well as the rake differences between online poker rooms. Know that rake has a significant influence on your win rate at the micro stakes. Also realise that rakeback can be a deceiving marketing trick that doesn't necessarily result in a higher win rate for you but at the same time can definitely be worth it, even at the lower stakes.

In summary these are the recommended rooms to play at if you want to pay as little rake as possible:

Now, go play some poker and don't pay too much rake!


With special thanks to Jake from PokerDataMining.net for the time spent to collect and extract data for this article.


Further reading at First Time Poker Player:

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