Poker players casually throw around the idea that table selection is an important part of your game. There is no doubt that having sound tactics and a good perspective are important, but putting yourself, physically and mentally, in a good position at the table is essential as well. When you are comfortable at the table, your ability to play your best game increases and so should your results. Poker is a game where your skill advantage is always relative. You don’t need to be the best player, only the best positioned at your table.
The first step to establishing good table and seat selection is to identify what situations in poker make you uncomfortable. Do you hate playing out of position to loose or aggressive players? Do you play too passively when players are raising you? Do you take advantage of certain poker player styles? Once you understand your own game strengths and weaknesses, relative to certain playing styles, you can look to find those spots at the table that best suit your game.
I think it makes sense for most people that as the stakes increase that table selection would increase in importance as does the level of your competition. The lower stakes games will likely be filled with all amateurs. The mid stakes will have numerous regulars with a few amateurs. At the high stakes, the entire table of regulars may be preying on the one or two relatively weakish players there. When there aren’t a lot of tables running, you may have limitations on your plans to table and seat select well.
Naturally, if you have the choice, your goal should be to play against less skilled players. Newer faces at the table are more typically less skilled because they don’t play as often. It doesn’t mean that regulars can’t have fundamental flaws in their game, only that they are more experienced and less likely to expose them. So keeping an eye out for tables with many unknown names is one key step of good game selection.
Another important factor to consider is to look at the table and player stats. In each poker room lobby, they list the overall table percentage of players seeing the flop and number of hands played per hour. Most people prefer playing at a table with a higher percentage of players seeing the flop because it indicates loose play overall (tight might be 20%, loose tables 35%). Loose tables provide opportunities for good players to making money. Tables that see a lot of hands per hour are popular as well, because more hands seen usually translates to more money won.
Observation of the actual game can provide information as well. Players will scout a table, taking notes on particularly weak players. If you have poker tracking software while, you can get a sense of a player’s overall VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot percentage) and PFR (pre flop raise percentage) before you sit down to play them. This information will allow you to determine their general style of play. Whether they are loose or not? Whether they are aggressive or passive? If the table is full of very tight players, it is unlikely that you will find much action or opportunities to make money.
Another factor to consider is that the money usually moves around the table clockwise. So you often want the big stacks to your right, as that gives you position on those players so you can make moves to keep the flow moving in your direction. Conversely, you want smaller stacks that can’t hurt you much on your left.
Aggressive raising players or unpredictable maniacs put you to tough decisions. As such, it is usually best to try to have them on your right. That way you have position and the additional information of their action with which to factor in when taking your action. Conversely, it is nice to have the passive players on your left, who won’t put you to tough decisions regularly. The passive players will play more straight forward.
It is important to remember that if you sit down and the table dynamics change from what you anticipated you can always get up and move to another table with more favorable dynamics. As you play, take notes on the players so that next time you encounter them you can make quicker table and seat selections. It isn’t an exact science, nor will you always be able to get your ideal seat, but paying close attention to what tables to play and what seats at those tables you prefer will pay serious dividends for your game.