You can only make as much money in poker as the table you're on allows.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to make more money is to change the table you're on.
This isn't about superstition. You should never change your table or seat because you think the seat is "cold" or you're being dealt bad cards.
You'd be surprised how often, as soon as a player who's built a big stack stands up, people request to be moved to that seat.
Your luck in poker is NOT dependent on the seat in which you sit or the table you sit at. But your profits can be. And even if there is such a thing as an "unlucky seat," you should still be able to make good money while in it.
What Makes a Profitable Poker Table?
Some of the advice that follows on what makes a good table comes from published sources such as Caro's Book of Tells.
1. In general, a loud table is much more profitable than a quiet table. A loud table typically means the players at the table are having a good time.
When people are having a good time they're more apt to spend more money. (Also, loud tables commonly are loud thanks to our best friend, alcohol).
2. You should also obviously take into account the players at the table. If they're all people you recognize as being good poker players it makes more sense to sit at a table full of amateurs.
You want to play at a table where money can be made. Some tables simply aren't going to make you enough money for it to be worth your time.
If every player on the table is a complete rock who will honestly only play the nuts, you can still make money though - it's just not going to be large amounts (unless you happen to be on the receiving end of a bad beat).
3. Lastly, there has to be money on the table. If you're playing a $200 max buy-in game and everyone at the table is playing a $40 stack, it's not a good table to be at.
Not only is there simply not much money in play but you're playing against all short stacks. This increases the chances you'll be shoved on and that, in turn, increases variance.
How to Find the Best Seat at a Poker Table
There are 3 main things to consider when finding/picking a live poker table.
1. Personal Comfort. The first thing to consider with seat selection is your personal comfort. If you're not comfortable you won't at the top of your ability.
If there's someone who looks like he hasn't left the poker room to shower in five days, he probably hasn't. Sit far away from him.
2. Line of Sight. If you're at all visually impaired also make sure you're in a seat where you can see the board properly.
Some seats limit your view of the other players. Sitting in Seat 1 of an oval table will completely block your view of Seats 9 and 10. The best seats for a good view are the end seats - 3, 4, 7 and 8.
3. Left of the Biggest Stack. The last thing to take into account is the other players on the table. As a general rule of thumb you want to be on the left of the biggest stack at the table.
If you know the players and you know one of them to be a loose, very aggressive player, it's again best to sit on that player's left. Being to the left of a maniac is always the best place to be. You also want to be to the left of any player who is better than you.
When you have an absolute nutter on your right, poker can be a very easy game. You just have to sit and wait for the right hand to pick him off. There's no need to do anything fancy at the table in this situation. Wait until you have the nuts and trap him for all his chips.
When the nutter is on your left, forcing you to act before him, it's pretty much the same game. The difference will be the hands you would limp with at a normal table you now have fewer chances to play.
It makes no sense to limp with poker hands you're not willing to call into a raise with if the guy on your left raises every hand.
Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right
In general you always want to figure out the playing style of the people directly to your right and to your left. You have more chances to outplay these people than anyone else at the table.
If the player to your right is a complete nit then you'll never get caught limping and have to fold when he raises. If the nit is sitting to your left you can raise to steal the button almost every orbit.
Having a good player on your left can be a frustrating experience. A good player will make more bluffs, raises and large calls. When this player raises chances are he's going to isolate the field.
When the whole table folds you're always going to be the last one left with the option to call or re-raise. Every move he makes has a strong chance of isolating directly to you.
As a result you're forced to play more hands against this guy or continually fold into him.
How to Pick a Good Table in Online Poker
It's no secret the games online have gotten tougher in the last decade. 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.
1. Flops = Limping = Fish
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 will be significantly more profitable than a very good player that exercises zero game selection.
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.
2. Hands Per Hour
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.
3. Color-Code Weak Players
On major sites such as PokerStars and 888poker 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.
4. 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.
5. Look for Less Than Full Stacks
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 you can add untold points to your win rate.
Final Note: Always Re-Analyze Your Poker Table!
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 good players, staying at that table is a big 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.