Poker players believe that rake is a kind of tax that they pay to the room for running their business. However, with a deeper study of the issue of removing the commission, everything becomes not so clear. It is important to understand what your rake is spent on and why most rooms impose a limit on winning players.
In this article, you will learn how rake and rakeback have changed over the long period of existence of poker rooms. The issue of the impact of the size of the commission on the quality of the game will also be considered. To understand this issue, the period from Black Friday to today will be analyzed.
Getting Started: SuperNova Elite Cancellation at PokerStars
In the fall of 2015, PokerStars management stunned regulars with the news that SuperNova Elite status in the loyalty program would cease to operate in 2016. It was a real shock for pro players who were used to earning the maximum VIP status for the next years. To do this, they had to actively play throughout 2015, generating the necessary amount of rake to get SuperNova Elite. It is not difficult to imagine the disappointment of these players when they found out that all their efforts were in vain, and they will not receive the reward. Many Pokerstars players literally spent the days at the poker tables, playing actively. Due to the large number of tables played, the winrate, of course, fell. But poker players could even play practically for zero, because they were expected to receive a worthy reward – a huge rakeback. But in 2016, this did not happen.
Poker players who have been striving for SuperNova Elite status throughout 2015 felt robbed. In fact, this is true, because they should have received a cash reward for reaching the top level of the loyalty program.
Not surprisingly, there were many dissatisfied customers, some of whom still remember the events of 2015 to this day. Some PokerStars players decided to go on strike, expressing their dissatisfaction. As a result, the traffic of the most popular room dipped. However, due to the more active play of other regulars not participating in the strike, the effect of this small rebellion was smoothed out.
PokerStars management did not pay attention to the complaints of their customers, and bent their line, making the loyalty program less profitable. In addition, the rake increased several times in 2016. Why did the management of the room take such measures, creating unbearable conditions for the pros?
PokerStars’ decision to change the loyalty program is related to the poker ecology. No one is trying to justify the innovations of PokerStars. We will only try to explain why they behaved this way.
In the period 2015-2016, the concept of “healthy poker ecology” appeared in the online poker industry. Prior to this, representatives of the rooms believed that their main task was to form the highest possible rake. This is why many rooms ignored the various shady regulars schemes in the early days of online poker. As an example, botnets that could generate large amounts of rake were not blocked.
Through the creation of a generous loyalty program, players were motivated to generate even more rake. The same SuperNova Elite status was intended primarily to increase the commissions received by the room. However, operators soon began to realize that profit growth could be achieved not through rake receipts, but through increased deposits. The account is replenished mainly by recreational players.
An unhealthy poker ecology has become more visible at PokerStars. The percentage of regulars grew rapidly. It is not difficult to guess that in such an environment, fish have nothing to catch – they will quickly drain their money. Having made one or two deposits, they will realize that it is useless to fight with local regulars, and they will leave the room forever.
Because of that, PokerStars gradually turned into a room for professionals. If it weren’t for the innovations, the lesser pros would soon start losing their money too. And it is unlikely that they would deposit their balance every time. They have a slightly different understanding of the game than recreational players. Pros soberly assess their chances of winning in the long term, and if they are not great, they will not drain money. It is easier for them to leave the room and look for rooms with weaker clearings.
Then the turn would have reached the mediocre regulars. Such players will not be able to compete with top professionals. The same fate awaits them as the weakest pros. As a result, a small number of top regs will remain, which will knead the rake. But by this moment there will be practically no games in the room, the traffic will be significantly reduced.
And although the profit of the poker room directly depends on the size of the incoming rake, it is still extremely important to maintain a certain balance. If you do not pay attention to the change in the poker ecosystem, then soon there will be no one to form this rake. It wasn’t until 2015 that the owners of the poker business began to realize this.
We can come to the conclusion that winning regulars are the main problem for the room. Because of them, recreational players lose and leave the room. They can completely abandon their passion for poker, or switch to an alternative network. Perhaps, in other networks, their deposit will be enough not for a day, but at least for a week. But even this may seem enough to them – they are ready to pay money for the opportunity to have fun, just like casino players spend money, knowing that they still lose money at a distance.
Since 2015, poker rooms have clearly realized that high win rate regulars are a threat to the poker ecology. Violation of this very ecology can eventually lead to the disappearance of the game. Therefore, the need for a speedy solution to this problem has become obvious. Given that the rooms faced such a task for the first time, no one had a clear solution, so each room found its own solutions, and not all of them were successful.
How poker rooms limit winning players
The most cardinal way to limit winning regulars is to block them, i.e. exclude from the room. Some rooms resorted to this method. Surely, you have heard stories about how pro accounts were simply banned without any explanation. Sometimes absolutely dubious reasons were used as reasons for blocking, for example, allegations of fraud. In some cases, players were deprived not only of their accounts, but also of all the funds on them.
A more humane way to limit regulars is to increase the rake or reduce the rakeback. This is the method that PokerStars resorted to in 2015. The most effective way to reduce rakeback is to remove the top tier of the loyalty program, which is exactly what they did. The following year, the rake was raised. A few years later, PokerStars resorted to more flexible methods, limiting only winning players and rewarding recreational players.
The new rakeback system worked like this: winning players received less rakeback, while losing amateurs could expect higher rakeback. This method allowed recreational players to keep their bankroll as long as possible. They were satisfied, because they did not lose money immediately, and more willingly made the next deposit after some time.
An even more complex scheme for maintaining a favorable poker ecology was applied in the iPoker network. This network took a different path, and decided not to punish the players, but the affiliates who attracted them. For winning regulars, affiliates practically did not receive remuneration. The pros themselves could count on meager rakeback. Affiliates, on the other hand, informed their players that they could not provide them with the promised rakeback due to changed conditions in the poker room. On the contrary, a significant reward was accrued for attracted fish, and the fish themselves could count on increased rakeback.
These and other schemes were very complex and often impossible to understand. There were no clear rules on how rakeback should be credited. However, the fact that the positive players suffered was already obvious. Although the rooms openly did not talk about it. Recognition of this fact could have a negative impact on the image of poker rooms. And the flow of more or less experienced players would stop, reducing the overall traffic.
The uneven distribution of rakeback between players is not the only way to limit winning regulars. Some poker rooms have banned the use of third-party statistics collection software. Thanks to the use of the HUD, the pro players gained even more advantage over the fish. Recreational players who did not use the software quickly lost their bankrolls. By banning HUDs, poker rooms have reduced the difference in the level of play.
Reducing the number of tables played at the same time is also an effective measure to limit winning players. You can no longer open more than 4 tables at PokerStars. Previously, it was possible to play up to 24 tables, and even this limitation was removed after contacting the support service.
The decrease in the number of tables played directly affects the attractiveness of the room for pro players. Poker players who are used to playing 12 tables are unlikely to register in a room where only 4 tables are available. In addition, as the number of available tables decreases, the probability of finding “fishy” tables also decreases. As a result of these restrictions, the poker ecosystem is becoming healthier.
And another effective way to limit the pros is anonymous hand history. Representatives of the GG network followed this path. In handhistory, all opponents’ nicknames are anonymous. And in the party you will not see the history of the played hands at all. Due to the fact that the regulars will not be able to collect statistics on their opponents, they will not beat them as often, which will benefit the poker ecology.
Indeed, if the reg sees the statistics of the opponent, then he can easily take advantage of his leaks. If you do not know the features of the opponent’s game, then you will have to spend time studying his behavior, after which the fish may leave the table. As a result, recreational players are much slower to part with their money.
The impact of rake on the poker ecology
Daniel Negreanu, when he was in the PokerStars Team Pro, was credited with the phrase that the more rake, the better. The poker-pro himself claims that he never said such a thing, but it doesn’t matter anymore. From the point of view of the players, the size of the rake is very important – the smaller it is, the more you can win. However, from the point of view of the ecology in the poker room, the increased rake can have a positive effect. The increased commission will deter pro players and recreational players will be able to lose their money more slowly.
Of course, fish players will also have to pay a high rake. However, in this scenario, they will still be more successful in competing with other players, because the strength of the field will be quite low.
For regulars, increased rake is a disadvantage, not an advantage. Therefore, if Daniel were a representative of pro-players, and not a poker room, he would not have said such a phrase. After all, it is the size of the rake that is one of the most important parameters that regulars evaluate when choosing a room.
If we compare the size of the rake and the weakness of the field in terms of their impact on the profitability of the game, then it is the average strength of the players that will be more important. Therefore, it is better to register in a poker room with a balanced poker ecology, but with a slightly higher rake, than in a room with a lower commission and a large number of regulars.
How the poker ecosystem should look like
In order for a poker room to maintain a favorable poker ecosystem, it is necessary to create an optimal balance. Pro-player restrictions are not the most effective and popular measure. Using the example of PokerStars, which went too far, you can see that this method leads to a loss of traffic.
Pro-players in such conditions feel discredited, and in fact they are. Poker rooms treat pros badly, because they worsen the ecosystem. The big poker rooms often contradict themselves. They advertise their site as a source of income for regulars, while using famous pro-players for advertising purposes. However, at the same time, they want to bring fish to their tables, not regulars.
So how do you achieve balance in the poker ecology? PokerStars has realized that there is not much point in having a healthy ecosystem if there is no traffic. Indeed, it is easy to guess that the number of players who want to play in the room directly depends on the size of the rake. Good ecology will not bring profit to the room, it is brought by rake. But maintaining a favorable ecosystem helps to ensure that this rake has someone to form.
After GG came out on top in terms of traffic, ahead of PokerStars, the latter decided to return to the previous loyalty program model, allowing you to receive up to 65% rakeback. Most likely, PokerStars realized that trying to improve the ecosystem, they overdid it and lost most of the traffic. The cancellation of rakeback led to the outflow of many players and the reluctance to register new poker players.
Poker rooms have realized that profitable players are no less valuable resource for profit than recreational ones. Therefore, any attempt to scare off the regulars can lead to financial losses. Players who are constantly winning and only withdrawing money without making deposits are also needed by poker rooms.
Looking at such pros, fish will be inspired to reach the same level. Therefore, the rooms have ambassadors representing the poker room and making advertisements. You don’t have to pay big money to celebrities. You can take for advertising any well-plus player from your own room. For recreational players, this example will be enough to get inspired and start losing their deposits a little faster.
That is why, since 2022, the topic of poker streams has been popularized. Today, any winning regular can become a successful streamer, not just a sponsored celebrity. In addition, a streamer may well play in the red at a distance if his streams bring him enough profit to offset these losses. Streamers inspire the fish to keep playing despite constant losses. And this is what poker rooms need.
The current poker ecosystem is still far from ideal, it has enough shortcomings. However, the observed trend of rooms that have ceased to limit the pros indicates a movement in the right direction.
Regulars can wait for poker room rakeback to get close to 2015 levels. But there is also an alternative solution. They can sign up for poker apps like Poker Bros, PPPoker or Club GG, where rakeback has been high since their inception. Such applications attract a large number of recreational players due to the convenient play from mobile devices.
Regulars in such applications are rare guests. The fact is that they are repelled by software that does not allow you to play at multiple tables at the same time. So today, mobile applications are a great alternative to PokerStars and other rooms that win in front of them in terms of rakeback and fishiness of the field.