What's the rake in big blinds at each level?

Alex Rousso

The rake for online cash games is usually capped at a certain amount – for most sites it’s $3 (or €3, etc.)*. This means that the higher you go up the stakes, the less rake you pay in relation to the big blind. In turn, this means the price of playing in terms of big blinds (BBs) goes up as you go down the levels. In other words, if players were equally (un)skilful at each level, you’d actually make more BB/100 hands at higher levels.

Some micro-stakes games benefit from a lower cap, for example the iPoker network caps its rake at $2 up to the $0.05/$0.10 level and Party Poker caps it at $1 for that level. However, on both sites the cap is $3 above the $0.1/$0.25 level. PokerStars has slightly more variation in their caps, but the same basic principle holds: the cap at $0.50/$1 on PokerStars is $2.80 and at $25/$50 it’s $3.00.

Using data from the rake analysis page at PokerTableRatings.com, we can actually approximate how much rake players pay in BBs per 100 hands at each level. In the table below, I’ve taken the average of the “big four” (i.e. Stars, Full Tilt, iPoker and Party) and worked out how much that rake is in terms of BBs for that level. There are a few caveats. First, as Full Tilt is included, you can imagine that this data isn’t completely up to date. In the last year or so, some sites have changed their rake method slightly, but this won’t affect the numbers hugely – especially given that I’ve taken an average. Second, just because the average is a certain figure, it doesn’t follow that this is the amount of rake you pay. Tighter players pay less, looser players pay more. Third, this doesn’t take into account rakeback – some sites may offer more or less on this count.

That said, the figures are bound to be reasonably accurate despite being an approximation, and in any case, the general trend is quite clear, as the following tables show:

Big Blind rake/100 rake in BB
$0.05 $0.59 11.9
$0.10 $1.25 12.5
$0.25 $2.58 10.3
$0.50 $4.68 9.4
$1.00 $7.55 7.6
$2.00 $11.27 5.6
$4.00 $14.81 3.7
$6.00 $16.98 2.8
$10.00 $18.47 1.8
$20.00 $21.31 1.1
$50.00 $23.24 0.5


Big Blind rake/100 rake in BB
$0.50 $5.34 10.7
$1.00 $7.76 7.8
$2.00 $10.30 5.2
$4.00 $11.36 2.8
$6.00 $12.08 2.0
$10.00 $12.07 1.2
$20.00 $12.12 0.6
$50.00 $17.01 0.3

Heads up


Looking at the 6-max table, we can see that the rake in BBs at the $0.25/$0.50 level is almost three times that of the $2/$4 level. To all intents and purposes, high stakes players (say $25/$50 and above) are playing rake free. By contrast, low/micro stakes players such as those playing at the $0.10/0.25 level are paying 10BB or more in rake per 100 hands. Even at a rate of 30% rakeback that’s a net loss of 7BB/100 to recoup just to break even.

Of course, the average skill level at the micro stakes is such that, even with such a high rake to get over, most players would be better off remaining at low stakes. Take a player who steadily bleeds 2BB/100 at the $0.25/$0.50 level in 6-max (before rake). With 30% rakeback that player loses $4.28 per 100 hands. If we assume he loses at the same rate at the $0.50/$1.00 level, he’ll lose $7.29 per 100 hands despite losing almost 2BB/100 less to the rake.

That’s a fairly trivial observation. But what about money making player? Let’s take a player who nets 3BB/100 at the $0.25/$0.50 in 6-max, and makes 30% rakeback to boot. If he nets 3BB/100 at that level, that means his real win rate before rake is 12.4BB/100 (3BB/100 + 9.4BB/100). At the $0.25/$0.50 level he makes:

3 x $0.50 = $1.50

per 100 hands from play, and:

9.4 x 30% x $0.50 = $1.41

per 100 hands in rakeback. A net win of almost 6BB/100.

If we hypothesise that he has the same real win rate at $1/$2 (we’ll come back to this hyposthesis), his win rate net of rake is actually 6.8BB/100 (12.4BB/100 - 5.6BB/100) rather than 3BB/100, so he actually makes:

6.8 x $2.00 = $13.60

per 100 hands from play, and:

5.6 x 30% x $2.00 = $3.36

per 100 hands in rakeback. A net win of well over 8BB/100 – and at a higher level too.

Before you all start spinning up like there’s no tomorrow, we must revisit our hypothesis that he has the same real win rate at the higher level. Anyone who has tried to navigate the choppy waters of cash game levels above their usual comfort zone will know that it usually ends in disaster. Yes, that can often be down to variance, but most of the time it’s because there are simply not enough fish relative to the games you are used to.

This is interesting since many players who go up a level are seduced by the idea that because players tend to be better the higher you go, it’s easier to play because you’ll always know where you are in a hand. Internet forums and facebook updates are filled with cries of “gonna play a level up, where people respect my raises”.

Unfortunately, against good players that’s not true anyway – the last thing they are doing is “respecting” your raises! They are just playing more optimally against them. The more you play poker, the more you realise that it’s the donks who will call with anything that are the people you want to play against, you just have to know how to play against them properly.

So the conclusion is actually scarier than you might think. Not only is it more difficult to make money in real terms as you go up the levels, but the fact that lower staked games are raked higher doubles the effect.

Let me put it another way. If you’re a break even player at $0.10/$0.25 and only make a bonus from rakeback, you’re actually more money making than you think. Turns out you’re actually making around 10BB/100 at that level, but you can’t beat the rake (rakeback notwithstanding). It may appear from what I’ve said that if you jumped to the $0.50/$1.00 and somehow maintained that win rate you’d actually be making around 3BB/100, but unfortunately in practice that’s just not possible. As you go up the stakes, the fish pool dries up faster than a puddle in the Vegas sun, and that’s the biggest factor affecting your bottom line.

* there are a few caveats to this: rake is lower the fewer people in the hand, and many sites raise the cap to $5 at $25/$50 blinds and above.