How to know when to switch poker tables

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In practice, each poker table is unique. It’s really the players who set the character of that table.

For example, soon after signing up to play your favorite poker game, a seat becomes vacant at one of those tables, and you are directed to take that seat at that table. You buy your chips and get into the game.

As the game progresses, you learn more and more about the other players – your opponents – at that table. It’s not uncommon that you soon find that table is not to your liking.

One good reason is the game is too tight. Hand after hand, only the blinds and perhaps one other player stay to see the flop. When you are dealt a good starting hand, there aren’t enough opponents to make a decent size pot. That table is much too tight. The blinds and rake will “kill” you.

Yes, you came to the casino to play hold’em, and you enjoy the challenge and social interaction, but your main goal is to win – to go home with more money in your pocket than you had when you left home. That table won’t do it for you.

A better reason is when the player to your left is very aggressive – a “maniac.” He bets and raises, and even re-raises quite often. That presents a dilemma. Most of the hole cards dealt to you are drawing hands. They must improve to win the pot. Such hands play best when you can see the flop at the least cost – as small an investment as possible.

Unless you happen to hold a made hand (pocket aces, kings, or queens) or a premium drawing hand (such as A-K, A-Q, A-J, perhaps A-10, K-Q, or K-J suited), you would much prefer to see the flop for the least cost. A raised bet makes it too costly, considering you will pair one of your two unpaired hole cards on the flop, just one out of three times.

Even with a small or middle pair in the hole, the probability is you will catch your set on the flop less than one out of eight times. That same probability (approximately) applies to catching two more of your suit on the flop when you start with two suited cards in the hole. (Hopefully, at least one of them is an ace or a king.) Staying to see the flop is just too expensive with that maniac sitting there.

It’s even worse if there is more than one very aggressive player at that table. There may very well be two or more raises before the flop. Your chips are likely to quickly disappear – unless you play extremely tight. But, as my friend Lucy has pointed out from time to time, very tight playing is “a recipe for losing your money.”

It’s no secret you can’t win unless you play, and make the initial investment to see the flop. After all, when the flop comes down, you get to see over 70% of your final hand. But playing too tight to avoid those two- and three-bets before the flop, is also costly. The blinds and rake will steadily dissipate your buy-in.

Options:

• Get seated or move to the left of the maniac. Then you can see if he raises before you must act. That information is valuable.

• Take a break from the game, hoping the maniac leaves while you are gone.

• Ask the floorman for a table change. While waiting for a seat to open up at another table, be sure to play very cautiously. When in doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution.

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