Almost all poker players are aware of the need to carefully select their starting hands. There are many charts available for that purpose. Some of us use the Hold’em Algorithm to help. But few players give much thought to selecting the table at which they will invest their chips. Table selection is based on the poker traits of our opponents, knowledge of which is vital in making key decisions as the game progresses.
This came to mind as I read the poker column by Chad Holloway, a highly regarded professional player, in a recent issue of the Sunday Los Angeles Times. He was in a $0.50 – $1.00 no-limit hold ’em home game and looked down on Js-3h from the Big Blind. With only a few limpers and no raises in front of him, he got to see the flop for free:
Trip Jacks! It sure looked good. He decided to slow-play and checked his hand, as did several others. The turn was the 6s, giving him a full-house, Jacks-full-of-6’s! Again, Chad decided to check, hoping another player would open bet so he could check-raise to build the pot.
But that didn’t happen, and the river was the 9s to complete the board. He checked for a third time, hoping an opponent had paired the 9 and would bet. Instead, the hand was checked around. On the showdown, an opponent turned up 6c-8h for a worse full-house. “I couldn’t believe that he didn’t bet,” Chad moaned. “Had I bet for value, he undoubtedly would have called.” Chad admitted that he has “yet to master” knowing when and how far to go for value.
It seems that Chad may have had a bigger problem. Apparently, he did not realize that the other player was extremely tight – so much so that he passed up the opportunity to bet with his full-house. Like Chad, he probably got to see the flop for cheap when no one raised preflop.
In this case, a careful study of the table would have revealed the other players’ poker traits, and prepared Chad to take due consideration when deciding to go for another check-raise.
Bear in mind that poker players may be tight, passive, loose, aggressive, deceptive (including bluffing, check-raising, and slow-playing), chasing, and calling stations. And, for each trait, there are players across the map in degree thereof. For example, extremely tight players limit their choices so much that they play very few hole cards to see the flop.
In poker, table selection is everything.
Very good players will get smoked at expert tables.
Keep this in mind when deciding what to work on.
If your goal is to get wet, head to a waterfall, not a desert.
— Dickie Bush 🚢 (@dickiebush) September 26, 2020
Much like it’s best to study the odds on sites like PowerPlay before placing your sports bets, so too it’s best to take the time to study the tables before being seated. Game and table selection play an incredibly important role in your overall potential for profitable sessions in poker. Avoid tables with several very tight players; you cannot win very many chips if they are not in the hands. You may catch a monster hand, but it goes to waste against them. As for extremely aggressive maniacs, they make it very costly to stay to see the flop with anything but made hands and premium drawing hands. Personally, I prefer playing against loose-aggressive opponents.
Once you are seated, continue studying your opponents’ playing traits. Tables do change over time. If the table becomes unprofitable, you can always ask for a table change.
In this case, Chad’s opponent seems to be very tight-passive – a “rock.” I could be mistaken. I wasn’t there to observe the action and draw pertinent conclusions. But how else do we explain how a player with such a weak starting hand played it, got lucky to make a full-house on the river, and then failed to bet for value?
Knowing your opponents’ playing traits is extremely important. It is wise to study the table before being seated – and after, too.