POKER TIPS & STRATEGY

Table Selection in Poker: Find the Fish and Win More!

By Sky Matsuhashi
October 11, 2023

How much thought do you give to the other players on your table? Do you ever switch tables to play with weaker players? Or do you just stick to the first table you’re assigned come hell or high water?

In my prior article How to Make Poker Easier and More Fun, I discussed poker’s three Advantages: 1) Positional Advantage, 2) Range Advantage and 3) the Skill Advantage.

Today’s article ties directly to #3, the Skill Advantage.

A Skill Advantage is critical to have over your opponents because as the better player, you have the opportunity to profit from all of their mistakes. Not only that, but you can quickly grasp every player’s tendencies and know how to exploit them. Plus, these weaker players don’t think as deeply as you do, so they’re less likely to exploit you and more likely to just play their hole cards and the board.

So, do you often change tables to give yourself a skill advantage over your opponents and a better chance to have a winning session?

Pop Quiz, Hotshot!

If the poker gods or the floor person (tip them well!), gave you the option, which table would you choose to play at?

  1. Full ring game with 8 of the most aggressive winning players you’ve ever had the misfortune to play against, along with yourself.
  2. Full ring game with 8 of the weakest, fishiest players you’ve ever had the great fortune to play against, along with yourself.

Yep, you and I probably have the same answer: #2! I find it very helpful to look at extremes to get a grasp of good strategy. And seeing as how #2 is clearly the more fun and profitable choice, the closer our chosen table dynamic can get to #2, the better.

The great thing about cash poker is that you do not have to take the first table they give you. Table Selection is an important skill, and I’m going to help you learn how to employ it.

Nemo shark fish

Table Selection Begins with Knowing the Fishy Players

The first thing you’re looking for when selecting a table is a greater proportion of fish than any other player type.

I’m sure there is a brick and mortar cardroom that you play often enough that you know who the fishy players are. You probably know that Bob, Susan, and Rick are super weak, so when possible you sit at their table. But, Jimmy, Grant, and Justin are regular crushers, so stay away from them.

It’s pretty obvious when you’re a regular and know the players, but how about when you’re the new player in the club? You’re looking for signs of fishy weakness, such as:

  • Short stacks
  • Limping
  • Calling too many streets with any pair
  • Overpaying for draws
  • Exclamations of “I knew it, but I just had to see it.” Or, “Man, I hate JJ and TT.” Or, “Would you have folded if I had shoved?”

However, if you play online it’s hard to remember that players “buttcheeks92” and “foreverlovesdogs” are fish. We don’t even have a face to help us remember them. Online players need to rely on the same list above (fishy weaknesses), and we should also be “tagging” the fish when we identify them.

I tag the fish in two ways:

  • In my Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4, I color code the fish with a green HUD panel. Green means “go”, so I’m good to go for maximum value against these weak, passive, calling stations.
  • Some online sites like ACR Poker allow you to put a symbol next to a player’s name on the screen. And you guessed it, I use a fish 🐟 symbol on ACR Poker.

I make sure to label TAGs, LAGs, Fish and Gamblers with different colors and symbols as well. This way, from hand one, I see right away how many of each player type is on the table.

In a full ring game, I’m always looking for at least four fish on the table. In a 6max game, I hope to see at least two fish. The more the merrier of course, but if there aren’t a minimum number of fish, I’ll get up and find a new table.

You CAN Play at More Than One Cardroom

There’s nothing that says you can only play at one cardroom. In my hometown, I have three nearby to choose from and a few others within driving distance. If there are three or more tables going, and I’m NOT sitting at the fishiest table, I’ll put my name down for a table change.

Online, I spread my action between ACR Poker, Ignition Poker, and Carbon Poker. If I can’t find fishy tables on one site, I’ll just play on a different one. I have my bankroll spread across all three sites to give me options.

Avoid Winning Players

You’re a shark at the table trying to gobble up as many fish as you can. You want to avoid tables that are full of other sharks. Sharks are strong, aggressive, winning players who know what they’re doing. You’ll get a sense of who the sharks are by their smart, logical actions and seeing how their stacks are always growing (just like your stack) as the fish’s stacks are depleting.

The more sharks you sit with, the more difficult your session will be and the less profit potential your table holds.

To avoid winning players, you’ll have to leave and find new tables occasionally. It will also help if you mix your play between different sites or local cardrooms as mentioned above.

Seat Selection

Your seat relative to the other players at the table is also important. Many online sites don’t allow you to choose your seat. However, some online sites and brick and mortar cardrooms do. If you are allowed to choose your seat, you should do so and keep these three points in mind:

  1. Money flows to the left (clockwise) around the table. Position is power, and those with position take money from those without position on their right. So ideally, you’ll have position on the fish who are most likely to give away their chips.
  2. Money flows from the weak to the strong. This is why skill advantage is key, and why we play on fishy tables.
  3. If you must play with aggressive winners, try keep them on your right. When you have position on them, their options to exploit you are limited, whereas your options to exploit them improve. You’d rather be the one exploiting the strong players than the other way around.

Start Selecting Your Tables

Start selecting tables for profit. Here’s a great question I ask myself every 15 minutes after I’ve chosen a fishy table:

“Is this table still profitable?”

You would be surprised how quickly a profitable table can turn “bad”. You are playing with fish after all, and everyone else wants to play on your table. After a couple of fish bust and leave, strong players may take their places. Before you know it, a table that started with five fish now only has one. If this happens to you, get out of there!

*Ed. note: Please be advised that the online poker sites mentioned in this article are only offshore regulated, nonetheless allowing US-based players. Caveat emptor.

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Sky Matsuhashi poker author
Written By.

Sky Matsuhashi

Sky Matsuhashi is the creator of the Smart Poker Study Podcast. He has authored 4 poker books including ‘How to Study Poker Volumes 1 & 2’, ‘Preflop Online Poker’ and ‘Post-flop Online Poker’. As a poker coach, Sky is dedicated to helping his students play more effectively, earn more money and be 1% better every […]

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