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Home / Rake, straddles and the best poker hands: Common poker questions answered

Whether you’re brand new to poker or just refamiliarising yourself with the beautiful game, you probably have some questions. Here, you’ll find the answers to some common poker questions, including the best poker hands, and explanations of rake, straddles and kickers.

COMMON POKER QUESTIONS

WHAT ARE THE BEST POKER HANDS?

Let’s begin with arguably the most important of the common poker questions – the one you’ll need to know in order to play well!

Here’s a list of the best poker hands in order of strength:

  • Royal flush
  • Straight flush
  • Four of a kind
  • Full house
  • Flush
  • Straight
  • Three of a kind
  • Two pair
  • One pair
  • High card

As you can see, high card is at the bottom and means if nobody has a pair in their hand, the player with the highest card will win the pot.

Royal flush is the best possible hand you can make in most poker variants. But what is a royal flush?

A royal flush is simply a straight flush that is ace-high, for example 10JQKA.

WHAT IS A RAKE?

You’ve probably heard of rake (or at least heard people complaining about it), but what exactly is a rake? And why do poker players have to pay it?

In simple terms, rake is a commission that is paid to the cardroom, casino or individual for operating and running the poker tournament or cash game. In tournaments, it is part of the entry fee you pay and in cash games, it is usually a fixed percentage of the pot up to a maximum capped amount.

Let’s look at a few examples.

RAKE EXAMPLES

Let’s say you play the Big $11 on PokerStars. In that event, $9.80 of the entry fee is added to the prize pool, while $1.20 is retained by PokerStars as the host of the game. 

The same thing happens in live events. Let’s use the EPT Main Event in Monte Carlo as an example. The buy-in was €5,300 and this breaks down as €4,850 which goes towards the tournament prize pool, a €300 House Fee and a €150 Staff Charge, the latter goes towards paying the staff who run the tournament, the dealers, floor staff and tournament directors. 

In cash games, it depends on who is operating and running the game, and there is no universal way in which the rake is taken or determined. But the most common form, and the one that PokerStars uses, is a % of the pot which is capped at a certain amount, based on the stakes being played. 

For example, on PokerStars, if you’re playing $0.01/$0.02 NLHE or PLO then the rake is 3.50% of the pot, capped at $0.30. If you’re playing a bit higher than that, say $3/$6, then it’s 5% of the pot capped at $1.50 if there are 2-4 players at the table and $3.50 if there are five or more players at the table.

At our live events it will differ from venue to venue, but to use EPT Monte Carlo as an example at €2/€5 the rake was 3% of pot, capped at €15.

If you’re ever unsure of the rake breakdown for a live tournament or cash game you should speak to a member of the staff at the venue. 

You can learn more about rake and the different types here.

WHAT IS A STRADDLE?

Spend enough time in casino environments playing poker, you’ll soon come across the straddle bet. But what is a straddle and how is it used in poker? This is a common poker question.

Straddling is a special kind of bet made before the player looks at their cards. The easiest way to think about the straddle is as an optional third blind.

STRADDLE RULES

Rules around straddling vary and are set by individual casinos. Typically, where the straddle is allowed, the option belongs to the player who sits to the left of the big blind.

The player to the left of the big blind can only declare a straddle before they have seen their cards. They will then place the straddle bet, and any player behind who wants to continue their hand must now match or raise the straddle.

In other words, the straddle becomes the new blind, the minimum cost to enter the pot.

The player who straddled then effectively becomes the big blind – they will be last to act pre-flop and will have the option of calling or re-raising any bets once they have looked at their hand.

A straddle bet can occur in live tournament poker, and more commonly in live cash games. It’s not usually an option for online cash or tournament poker.

To learn more about straddles, including how much you can straddle, why players do it, and whether or not it’s a good idea, you can check out this article.

WHAT IS A KICKER?

It’s a good thing we explained what a ‘high card’ hand is earlier in this article, and it also relates to this common poker question: what is a kicker?

Well, a kicker is a card in your hand that doesn’t take part in determining the rank of your hand, but could be used to decide any ties where hands of the same rank go against one another.

For example, let’s say you’re playing no limit hold’em and your hole cards are AQ

The board reads A10732 and your opponent shows A9.

You both have a pair of aces – top pair – but your queen kicker beats their nine kicker, and therefore your hand is better and you win the pot.

Now let’s say the board reads KKQ2Q. You get to showdown with 910 and your opponent has 55

Their pocket haves have been counterfeited on the river, giving you both two pair – kings and queens. But because your ten is higher than their five, you win the pot.

Kickers are very important and understanding their strength is key when playing.

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