What to Do While Waiting for a Poker Seat to Open

Waiting for a poker seat to open or a tournament to start? Here are five things you can do to use your time wisely and, possibly, improve your chances of winning. 

OK, so you’ve decided to put down your mouse, turn off your computer, and put your skills from playing poker online to the test in a live game. You’ve found a local room but all the tables are full. This isn’t like an online poker room where you’re seated instantly after you found a game to buy into. You could sit on the rail, down a few drinks, and idly watch the clock. Or, if you’re serious about winning, you could use the time to your advantage. 

For example, you could play tighter. You can also make sure you’ve got your buy-in ready and you’ve been to the toilet. Once you’ve done those things, you can spend time assessing the dynamics of the room and finding some potentially profitable spots. 

With this in mind, here are five things you should do if you want to improve your chances of winning while you’re waiting for a poker seat to open. 

live poker tournament - what to do while waiting for a seat

1. Take a Breath and Relax

The first thing you should do before you take a seat in any live game is take a moment and collect your thoughts. A lot of people sit down in their first live game and experience an adrenaline dump. 

This could be because they’re nervous, excited, or a combination of both. Having to sit and wait for a poker seat to open is the perfect opportunity to relax. Take a few deep breaths and slow down your heart rate. 

Go for a walk around the room and look around. Maybe use the restroom, order a bite to eat - do what you need to do to get yourself ready mentally and physically. Doing this will give you the best chance of entering the game with a positive mindset. 

2. Start Reading (Your Opponents)

You can pull out a book and start reading if you want, but that’s not going to help you very much. The best type of reading you can do is read your opponents. You won’t be able to get deadly accurate reads from the rail because you often need a hand of your own to deduce what someone else has.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t start gathering information. As a starting point, look out for the following:

  • The number of hands someone plays. 
  • The number of hands someone calls with vs. the number of hands they raise. 
  • Does the player like to talk? If they talk a lot and go silent in big hands, that could be a tell. 
  • Does the player make eye contact or are they stoic? 
  • What hands has the player shown?
  • Has the player shown any bluffs or value bets?
  • Is the player angry or calm?

3. Gauge the Mood

PokerStars is often described as a “serious” site because a lot of professionals play there. In contrast, Unibet Poker is more “entertaining” because of its cartoonish avatars and the fact it attracts recreational players. Live poker rooms are the same as online in this regard. For example, if you’re in Las Vegas, the Venetian’s poker room is a lot more “serious” than the Golden Nugget. In general, “serious” poker rooms are filled with grinders who don't like to socialize much. 

Therefore, it’s important to gauge the mood before you play. If it’s not your vibe, leave. If it is your vibe, you can start to build up an idea if you’re facing skilled players or recreational ones out to have a good time. 

4. Find the Fish

Getting reads on your opponent is great but we all know it’s an inexact science. However, you can use your observations as a starting point to help identify the fish. Weak players are pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for while you’re waiting for a poker seat to open. A fish will often...

  • Limp more than half the hands they’re dealt. 
  • Raise less than 20% of their hands when the action folds to them. Re-raise less than 2% of the time pre-flop.
  • Talk incessantly before, during, and after a hand. 
  • Lift up their cards rather than peek at them like a pro. 
  • Fumble their chips and ask how much the bet is/how much is in the pot. 
  • Drink. Drink, and drink some more.

Read more about Table Selection

5. Practice Following the action

You can watch one of the tables and follow the game. You can practice counting down the pot as players bet, raise or call - or counting stacks. This will help you make quicker decisions in your own play once you warm up your brain this way. 

Think of each hand from the perspective of one of the players and try to put the players in the hands on ranges. Thai will help you get in the right frame of mind for when you start playing your own game. Or it will likely help you if you end up facing one or more of these opponents at some point down the line.

6. Take in the Scenery

This might seem like a facetious point but it’s actually important. Live poker is all about the experience. You’ve chosen to play live poker because you want face-to-face action. You want to enjoy the sights and sounds - the atmosphere.

Therefore, it’s important to take stock of where you are. Remember why you’re sitting on the rail waiting to play. It will help you enter the game in the right frame of mind which, in turn, means you’re less likely to go on tilt! 

7. Play an Online Game

If you want hundreds of games and the ability to play more hands per hour, you can find our list of the most solid real money poker sites. See our top selections below which you can access in your area:

Best Poker Sites - PokerListings Experts Picks

All Poker Room Reviews
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