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Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Tighten Up When There Is No Ante And A Rake

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Jonathan Little If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out Jonathan Little’s elite training site at

When there is no ante, and the casino takes a rake out of each pot, the initial pot you are fighting for is somewhat small, as is the case in most no-limit hold’em cash games. But if you play the same way when there is an ante and no rake, such as in a tournament, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The impact on your strategy is quite large pertaining to which hands you can play before the flop, both as the initial raiser and when facing a range.

Let’s look at an example.

Suppose the cutoff raises to 2.75 big blinds (BB) out of their 80 BB stack and everyone folds to you in the big blind.

With no ante and a rake, assuming your opponent plays well, you can only defend (call or three-bet) with 29% of hands, whereas with a big blind ante and no rake, you can defend with a total of 76% of hands. That’s a huge difference!

Check out the following preflop charts to see just how much your ranges change depending on whether there is an ante or rake.

You will find that almost all players in cash games defend from the big blind with far more than 28% of hands when facing a raise, which will make it difficult for them to win in the long run. But almost all tournament players also defend tighter than they should, resulting in them over-folding and getting run over.

In both of these ranges, you should three-bet (reraise) with your best hands as well as a smattering of your suited hands. If you only three-bet with your best hands, you will also be easy to play against because it will be obvious to your opponent that you have a premium holding. That said, the three-bet “bluffs” come from a different portion of your suited hands in each range, so be sure you choose the correct three-bet “bluffs.”

It is also worth noting how small blind strategy is drastically different based on the ante and rake structure. When someone raises before you with no ante and a rake, you should only three-bet or fold from the small blind.

You should not call with any hand from the small blind because you are not closing the action and a chunk of the pot will be raked away. If you call, you will also entice the big blind to call, resulting in you having the worst position in a three-handed pot.

By three-betting, you win the pot before the flop some portion of the time (and thus pay no rake in most venues) and when you get called, you will usually be heads-up and the pot will be large such that the rake is more negligible (assuming the rake is capped, as it is in most venues).

As the rake becomes a larger percentage of the pot, you should further tighten your ranges because the pot you are fighting for is even smaller. In games with an uncapped rake, you should play extremely tight! In fact, it is difficult to win in a no-limit hold’em cash game (and especially in a pot-limit Omaha game) with an uncapped rake unless your opponents are so bad such that you can frequently play gigantic pots with a large edge.

Despite this, you will often see many players in these games limping and trying to see every flop. These players are guaranteed to lose because their money is being consistently raked away. The only way to beat a game with a high rake is to play an extremely tight strategy such that you rarely actually pay the rake, and when you do, you have a gigantic edge.

Simply put, as your pot odds get worse, you must play stronger ranges. Just because everyone else likes giving all their money to the rake does not mean you have to. ♠

Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at