While playing Texas hold’em in a casino, we often speak of hand selection – deciding whether your hole cards are worthy of investment. Also important is “table selection.” There are some tables you want to avoid like a red plague, or move to another table ASAP.
Little is written about table selection. Yet, I see players changing tables quite often in cash games. (You have no choice of table in tournaments.)
There are “good” and “bad” tables. It’s almost impossible to be a winner at a “bad” table. That’s akin to gambling as contrasted with investing. In gambling, you have to trust to chance – luck. Sure, in the long run, luck will even out – equal amounts of “good” and “bad” luck.
But then, there is the cost-to-play (house rake, bad-beat jackpot drop, and dealer tip). Unless you are investing wisely, in the long run that cost will be tantamount to your poker loss. To invest wisely at the poker table, you must get higher pot odds than your card odds; i.e., the potential reward is substantially higher than the risk – a Positive Expectation (PE). And, in that regard table selection can play a very important role.
• Too loose-aggressive: Shortly after being seated at a table, you soon realize it is a very loose-aggressive game – lots of raising, especially before the flop, substantially increasing the cost to see the flop. Playing ABC poker, if the flop doesn’t improve your hand, you will muck your cards. (That’s Step 2 of the Two-Step concept.) That happens far more often than the times the flop improves your hand enough to warrant further investment.
It can be even worse if two such extremely aggressive players are at your table, with you seated between them. In that case, going in with a decent starting hand can be extremely expensive – more than you want to invest to see the flop.
Solution: Immediately get up from that table, and request a table change. You can always take a short break while waiting for another table.
• “Maniac” comes to table: You have been playing at this table for an hour. The texture is just as you like it – lots of opponents staying to see the flop, with only occasional raises preflop and post-flop. And, you are a bit ahead at this point. A new player comes to your table. You recognize him as a “maniac;” he loves to raise and reraise. One such player can dramatically change the texture of the table. As described above, change tables ASAP. Don’t be embarrassed. Just be calm and inconspicuous as you leave to request a table change.
• Too tight: The situation can be just the opposite of the two examples described above: The texture of the table can be too tight. Say you saw the flop with A-K suited and caught a second Ace on the flop. (It does happen sometimes.) You bet out and everyone folds. In that case, the size of the pot will be rather disappointing – especially when you later make a monster hand. The cost-to-play can eat up all your meager winnings. Time for a table change.
• Calling Stations: Here’s a much different case. After being seated, you soon realize several of your opponents at this table are calling-stations. Once they enter the pot, they are determined to see it to the end. You flop top two-pair, Kings and Jacks – probably the best hand at this point. But it is vulnerable; so you raise to protect your hand by thinning the field for a better chance to keep the lead.
Two calling stations call your raise to see the turn. It looks like a safe card. You open bet. The two calling stations call to see the river. It puts a pair of fives on the board. After you bet, one raises you. Studying the board, he could have caught trip fives. After you call his raise, he turns up Q-5 suited – trip fives! You were just rivered by a player who had only two outs. A bad beat! Time for a table change?