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The Trick to Table Selection
It's no secret the games online have gotten tougher in the last two years. And you can't just jump into any game and expect it to be good.
You have to exercise game selection if you want those soft, 2006-style tables. In fact, game selection may be the single most important skill a poker player can have.
In poker you don't have to be the best player at the table to be a big winner. You just have to be better than the majority of your competition.
This is why game selection is so important.
An average player that practices excellent game selection, only plays in games he's a big favorite in, and leaves whenever the table gets bad is going to be significantly more profitable than a very good player that exercises zero game selection.
What to Look For:
When you first fire up your poker client, look at the lobby. The best way to find good tables is to sort by viewed-flop percentage.
Generally, more players seeing the flop means more multi-way pots. This means more limping, which almost always means more fish.
What percentage makes for a good table is debatable and varies from site to site and from limit to limit. But a higher number usually means a better table.
Of course viewed-flop percentage can't just be used on its own. Many tables have an artificially high viewed-flop percentage because they've recently been playing shorthanded.
A way you can tell if the table has been playing short is to look at the hands per hour. Generally the more hands per hour, the more chance the table has only just recently filled up.
A good six-handed game should rarely be getting more than 100 hands per hour. If you see a table with a 50% viewed-flop percentage and 150 hands per hour, you can bet the table only recently filled up and there's no guarantee it's any good.
Color-code Your Fish
On sites like Full Tilt, you also have the option to add color-coded notes.
A great practice to get into is to tag the fish you find a certain color. That way when you look at the lobby and see the player names at the tables you can instantly recognize the tables with fish on them.
But don't just stop at color coding the fish. Color code the regulars you fear, bad regulars you don't and note short stackers as well.
When you've finally put in a good sample size of hands you can almost instantly recognize good tables and bad tables just by looking in the lobby.
Start Your Own Tables
An almost surefire way to get some good tables is to start the games yourself. Go to an empty table and just sit.
Often you'll very quickly be joined by short-stacked fish. More players will then be drawn by that fish and a game will start.
Or you can hop in with another regular sitting alone looking to start a game. If you're even semi-competent at playing heads-up it's a very effective way of starting games.
Usually you won't have to wait more than a few hands before a fish jumps in.
When two regulars start a game, the third player to join is almost always a fish as no regular in the world wants to play in a game with two other regulars.
More Tricks for Spotting Fish
Another great trick for spotting fish from the lobby is to look for players that don't play with a full stack.
Not short stackers necessarily though, as there are plenty of short stackers that aren't fish. But most regulars maximize their edge by having the most allowable on the table at one time.
A regular wants to have a full stack on the table at all times so when he makes that big hand he can win his opponent's whole stack.
For that reason, he always has auto top up on. If he loses a 20bb pot, the software automatically tops his stack up to 100bb and he always has the maximum on the table.
A fish doesn't. A fish plays with whatever he feels like. If he buys in for 100bbs and loses a pot - or even just pays his blinds - he doesn't top back up.
In other words, he's more than happy playing with less than 100bbs because he doesn't have an edge to maximize. He's just playing.
When you see players with 88bb or 94bb at the table, these are almost always fish with nearly full stacks. And fish with money means a good table.
It Just Takes a Little More Effort
Really, it just takes a little more effort.
When you're starting your session, look at the viewed-flop percentages. Look at the players from the lobby - do you recognize their names? Are there fish playing?
If so, hop right in.
So many players spend all their time studying the game and debating very close decisions, yet jump into games with no thought put in to whether they're good or not.
With just a few seconds more effort, though, you can add untold points to your win rate.
A Final Tip:
Part of playing only good tables also means recognizing when those tables are no longer good.
It doesn't matter that you're stuck two buy-ins at that table. If the fish leaves and you're left with five other regulars, continuing to play at that table is a giant mistake.
Constantly re-analyze your tables. Close the ones that are no good and find better ones.
People love to lament that the games are tougher, but there is always a good game going. You just have to put more effort in to finding it.
The players that put the effort in are going to be the most profitable.