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The Lobby and Table Selection
There are two ways to look at an online poker room's lobby, and which you use depends heavily on how you approach the game. Casual players who play for fun see the lobby as an impediment to getting right into the game. More serious players, on the other hand, see the lobby as a tool to help their bottom line.
Even if you tend just to play for fun, getting familiar with the workings of your favorite online cardroom's lobby can improve your enjoyment of the game. Because game selection and bankroll management play such a big role in long-term poker success, learning to use the lobby can help to improve your win rate.
When it comes to cash games, the lobby is particularly useful as a resource for figuring out which tables are most likely to turn into your own personal ATM. Depending on what sort of information is available in your favorite poker room's lobby, your chances of walking away a winner could increase by just taking a quick look at the games before you jump in.
Every room displays basic information like the stakes for each table, the length of any waiting list, and whether the game is played as Limit, Pot-Limit or No-Limit. However, some online cardrooms' lobbies will also give you more details, such as the numbers of hands played per hour or the average number of players seeing the flop, to help make table selection easier.
Knowing that 40% of one table is seeing the flop and contesting an average pot worth 25 big blinds, or that a table with slightly smaller pots is seeing significantly more hands per hour, can really give you an idea of the texture of play without having to actually watch the table beforehand. Once you've found a few likely juicy tables you can then open them up and see if the game looks right for you.
Beyond the simplest division into games of Hold'em, Omaha, Stud and so forth, some rooms like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker also have a ring game filter available that can help narrow down the information you see in the lobby view.
If you prefer not to be tempted by limits above your bankroll, for instance, you can specify that you only want the lobby to list those stakes that decrease your chances of going broke. Or if you don't want to have you screen cluttered by the penny-ante games, filter them out and check out the nosebleed games instead.
Using the filter effectively can save time in finding a good game, and in poker time is money.
Tournaments and Sit-and-Gos
The information in the lobby is generally most useful for cash games, but that doesn't mean you can't find plenty of useful info when you're in the mood to play a tournament or a sit-and-go.
First of all, games where the betting structure can vary will be listed by which variety the tournament will feature, e.g. Fixed-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo rather than Pot-Limit. It's worth noting this information, especially if you're in a hurry to get into the tournament before registration closes; there's nothing worse than signing up to play a big-bet game only to discover that you'll be grinding away in a Limit snoozefest instead.
Speaking of being in a hurry, some online rooms like Full Tilt offer late registration for tournaments. The length of time available to late arrivals varies from room to room, but if a tournament has already begun and seats are still available you'll see this information in the lobby as well.
Finally, a filter similar to that for cash games is sometimes available in the lobby. If you prefer to only play rebuy tournaments, for instance, you can specify that you should only see those events listed in the lobby. Maybe H.O.R.S.E. events are more your speed; a few clicks and you'll only see tourneys featuring the five-game rotation on your screen. Can't stand playing full ring? Tell the lobby to show you only 6-max events and get your gamble on.
Make the Game More Fun - and Profitable
Regardless of whether you want to play tourneys or cash games, to make a living playing online poker or just to toss some virtual cards for the enjoyment of the game, the information available in a poker room's lobby can help you find the games where you're most likely to win.
There's no denying that poker is more fun when you win, and there's certainly nothing better than funding your hobby with your opponents' money.