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Playing at the “right” table can make a big difference. Our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Lab voted Poor Table Selection as 7th of the Top 10 Mistakes.

Believe it or not, the table at which you play makes a BIG difference in your results. A few years ago, I suddenly started losing several sessions in a row – after having won about 80% of my previous sessions. What was different? After much reflection: Eureka! It was table selection.

All tables are not alike. They may appear similar. Most important, a table is characterized by the players seated there – your opponents. It’s a matter of choosing your opponents to the extent possible. (Want a happy marriage? Pick the right partner.)

Referring to my first poker book, The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS!, Basic Poker Rule No. 2 is: Carefully Select Both the Game and Table at Which You Play.

What do you look for in a table? A good rule of thumb is described in a column by Lou Krieger, entitled “Bad Game, Good Game” (Card Player magazine; Nov. 29, 1996): You want to play at a table filled with “happy, jocular players who call most bets and seldom raise.”

Think about it … “Happy, jocular” opponents are there to have a good time. Drinking, laughing and enjoying idle banter, their focus is not on the game. That’s to your advantage. These players are more likely to pay to see the flop, even with “garbage hands.” More will play loose compared to serious players. But there is more to it.

From a Practical Standpoint

Most starting hands are drawing hands – must improve to become winners at the showdown. To be profitable, it is best to be in a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop) and no raises preflop.

Why? Most often, your hand will not improve enough to take the pot at showdown (disregarding the possibility of bluffing). So you prefer to invest as little as possible to see the flop; i.e., no raises preflop. When you do improve your hand sufficiently to invest beyond the flop, you want high implied pot odds, which is more likely in a multi-way pot. Further, when you make your hand on the flop, a multi-way pot assures you a decent payoff.

Bear in Mind

Your objective is to win as much money (chips) as possible – not to count how many hands you can win. In a limit game, playing at a tight table with few callers preflop, you usually win only small pots. (No-limit games, with the option of making huge bets, offer the opportunity to win all of an opponent’s chips, even if he is the only one opposing you.)

On average – discounting occasional bluffs and stealing the blinds – you do well to win three hands per hour. If the pots are small, the rake will eat up most of your “profits,” so you are likely to go home a loser. On the other hand, even with just two winning hands per hour, good-size pots will bring you a profit – even after the rake and tip to the dealer.

Observe the Table

If possible, watch the action even before being seated at that table. Observe how many opponents stay to see the flop. If only one or two pay to see the flop, hand after hand, that’s not a good table. Likewise, if there is raising/re-raising preflop, hand after hand, that’s too expensive a table for a solid player; change tables. While waiting for a table change, play very conservatively, especially in early positions – or take a break from the table.

As stated in Basic Poker Rule No. 2, table selection is very important if you want to be a WINNER! Indeed, all of the Four Basic Rules for Winning must be obeyed to make you a WINNER!

Submit your candidate for one of the Top 10 Mistakes at limit hold’em; briefly describe how to avoid making that mistake. A copy of my Hold’em Algorithm booklet will be awarded to the winner. (There may be several!) Contact: George “The Engineer” Epstein at [email protected]. Please include your name, address and where you play poker. We may use your name in a column if your “mistake” is selected for one of the Top 10.

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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