My Way of Selecting a Poker Table...

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Table selection is an important aspect of one's poker game. I'd give you a magic number I look for when selecting an online table on which to play, but I strongly suspect the majority of my readers do not have Pokertracker - free to try, by the way... So, instead of spitting and spraying numbers, I'll talk in plain English.

There are very specific things I look for when selecting a NL Hold'em table to sit down and make money from. The texture of the table, my seat relative to my "targets" all depend on how I will play once I sit down. Today, I plan to fill you in on the thought process that works for me. Perhaps it may help you as well.

For starters, let's pretend that we know we want to play a NL Texas Hold'em cash game at a given poker site. Additionally, let's assume we are adequately bankrolled to play at said level. Furthermore, we're assuming that we can look at X number of tables ourselves, without pokertracker numbers guiding us, and that the players during this observation period will not get up, switch tables or sign off. Finally, you are actively using a labeling system within the poker software to tag and label players accordingly. My system has a few labels, to keep it simple... we may get into that later.

I know this is not reflecting reality, so to speak, but again, this is meant merely to give you a view on the concepts I use to find my table.

The first thing I do is go down my list to find anyone who I have labeled "that guy." To me, "that guy" is one of those players who are all but begging to give me their money. They're the people who can somehow manage to play AA, KK, AK to negative numbers and don't know why. Their game is extremely transparant. They bluff far too often in the wrong situations. Said another way, these are the extreme donkeys. If I see them logged on and at a table, if I can get a seat with this player, I do so. Thus, my system is thrown out the door.

When I am at the table with "that guy," I try to often isolate this player either preflop or post flop. This indicates I'm pretty much playing against this player and this player alone. Initially, this may prove effective and other players will get out of your way... Until they figure out what you're doing. Most likely by then, "that guy" has handed you most of his money and has run scared.

Anyway, back on track...

I have X number of poker tables open for observation. I am first looking for the absolute softest tables preflop possible. In fact, if no one ever raised, that's the ideal situation for me. I like limpers, and lots of them. This table would be my first choice. Ideally, I also like these tables to not have a high showdown rate - meaning, I prefer that most hands terminate via fold to bets prior to the river.

At this preferred type of table, I am inclined to limp out of position with hands I'd normally play only on the button IF I believe I can both see a cheap flop and outplay post flop. From position, I'm inclined to raise with hands like J-9 suited, or 10-7 not suited, maybe even 5-4 suited, with the intention of stealing, isolating, and/or outplaying post flop. I'm being mindful here of my table image though when I do stuff of this nature and also looking for "where" the call is coming from.

My main goal is to outplay and manipulate pot size here. Big pot, big hand and in position. Small pot, oop, decent hand... I'm playing the mistakes game. I'm willing to make a small mistake in a small pot in order to create and exploit big mistakes in bigger pots. These tables typically feature players who see too many flops. They also tend to go to far with their hands. The best way to exploit is to also see many flops and "allow" them to feel safe in going to far.

The above is the ideal table. Often we do not get our ideal situation. Sure, it would be great for me to get a table of soft players with "that guy" sitting to my immediate right just dying to get on the Christmas Card Mailing List as my single largest donor (money flows from the right to the left, typically), but that's not always going to happen...

What is going to happen though is that you're going to sometimes get one of the "tough guys" who typically multi-table and are not the least bit imaginative, sometimes not because they don't have the mind, but instead because they waste resources concentrating on several tables instead of focusing on one. It should be noted, I'm not knocking multi-tablin... I am suggesting though that many players do it and they have no business even playing on one table, truth be told. They lack understanding of the concept and theories of NL Hold'em, and over time, it shows.

The "tough guy" is going to maintain his 26% preflop raise because he read somewhere he should do that (and thinks this means all the time in all conditions). He will almost religiously make a pot size continuation bet on the flop no matter the cards. When encountering a player of this nature on an ideal poker table (see above), I tend to adjust my buy-in upward. Usually, I start off with about 1/2 the max allowed (NL $100, $50 is normally sufficient for me). I will buy in for the max when the "tough guy" is present.

Here, when he has entered the pot AND I have position on him, I will tend to mix it up, sometimes calling cleanly, intending to raise the flop bet, other times re-raising preflop and either checking or betting the flop... depending. When out of position, I will tend to go into re-raise or fold mode. If I am going to play a bigger pot against this "tough guy," I'm needing to take control of the hand. This requires me to show strength by reraising. He has a wide hand range he'd likely be raising with... remember, he believes it's correct to raise 25% of the time. On a table of this nature, when he's called, he's often an underdog AND KNOWS IT. So, if he knows this, my mere calling has somewhat tipped my hand. Why not make him pay for that knowledge? Reraise it, my friends... take charge. Be sure to make his decision difficult, while keeping your options open (i.e. - do not re-raise for half your stack, which makes folding to a re-reraise impossible... if you go that far, why not push it all-in preflop and eliminate position, simplifying your decision)?

Against the "tough guy" my goal is to isolate and control. Re-raise, position, and simplification of decisions for myself are my primary goals. Against this guy, I'm either going to educate him or he's going to run away to another table, because some idiot (me) re-raised him with AQs when he had 44 and position. He's not going to understand how I could play against him out of position, because he's seen me show down hands such as jack ten under the gun as a winner, so he just "knows" I have no starting hand selection and no concept of position... I must have got lucky. I had to have "known" that he either had a pocket pair or AKs, and either way I was "dominated" but yet I played back at him anyway... (someone get the cat litter out, as he's spit all over the felt and it's soaked).

I avoid completely the players I label as "tricky." This is not a large percentage of the players. These are the players who are really able to mix it up. They always keep you guessing and shift gears based on table conditions, opposition, and texture of the board. These players are surely the top players in the given limit, and while I want to get better and play against good players, I don't wish to do it on the nine-to-five. Save that for the CheckRayz tourneys... When I am trying to grow the bankroll, I don't need "good play" I need donkeys. These tricky players are rarely going to give it up. They understand pot size manipulation and often come out on the winning end with the big pots.

As for the "call stations," I make sure I note their bet button is broke. I tend to do a lot of checking against these guys with medium strength hands, post flop. I tend to value bet more, and I rarely, if ever bluff (don't bluff if you believe it will most often be called).

I am sure I lost track of where I am. Ah yes, my point is/was... have some sort of method of table selection that works for you. Borrow mine in whole, tweak it slightly... do whatever. But, if you're serious about your game, you won't just simply accept a seat at a table just because it's there. Do your homework, know "who" is at the table, know "where" your money is coming from, and "how" you're going to get it. Exchange small mistakes for big mistakes, exploit your oppositions weaknesses to maximize your return.


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