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At the casino, you sign up for your favorite poker game and stakes, and are directed to a table with a vacant seat. After buying in, wait to play until the button passes you.

Observe how your soon-to-be opponents play their hands: tight or loose, passive or aggressive, deceptive, etc. The more information you glean, the better for you later when having to make quick decisions.

Most players give little thought to table and seat selection, which gives you a distinct edge. Most important, analyze the table and seat relative to your opponents and make appropriate changes to your advantage.

There’s no choice in selecting the table or seat you are about to invest your (hard-earned?) dollars in the hope of going home with more. A “good table” is compatible with your playing style.

Most starting hands are drawing hands; I prefer to play these in multi-way pots (three or more opponents seeing the flop) with no raises preflop. But this table is wild, with several aggressive players who like to raise to build the pot preflop. That’s not a “good table” for me – too costly to stay in with a drawing hand.

When I am dealt a made hand (A-A, K-K or Q-Q) more often than not, I’ll raise to force out some opponents. It’s best to play “made hands” against two or three persons. But the players at this table are so tight everyone folds when I make my raise.

Thus, my A-A is wasted and makes this not a “good table” for me either. The opposite is when the players are all loose so no one folds to my raise preflop – even those faced with a double bet after my raise.

With five or more opponents staying to see the flop, my A-A is an underdog. Odds are I will lose to one of my opponents – and second-best can be very costly.

Of course, it’s just as likely I will be fortunate enough to be seated at a “good table.” Based on my style of play, that’s a table where my preflop raise usually will force out all but a few players. There is little raising preflop (i.e., fairly passive) and most hands are played multi-way if there are no raises.

Choices: If the table is not to your liking, get up and ask the floor person for a table change. Maybe the next table will be more compatible with your playing style. Play very conservatively while waiting for the table change. Perhaps this is a good time to take a break.

The seat: After several hands, you realize this seat is to the right of a “maniac” who frequently raises and re-raises. Otherwise, this would be a “good table.” With that overly aggressive player seated behind you, it’s just too costly to stay to see the flop with a marginal drawing hand.

Every time you call preflop, he raises. So, it’s preferable to be seated to the LEFT of this “maniac” so you see how he bets before you must declare. What’s more, re-raising him can force out opponents behind you.

Strategy: When a seat closer to the “maniac’s” left opens up, announce to the dealer that you want to move into that seat. Until then, play very cautiously. Call only when your hand can stand a raise.

(NOTE: Table and seat selection is part of George’s “Four Basic Rules for Winning” described in The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS! (See ad elsewhere in GamingToday.) For any comments or questions, “The Engineer” can be reached at: [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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