A common trait among many top players is their obsessive attention to detail and structure. If you are not innately one of these types of people, then it is of utmost importance that you find a way to become disciplined and organized in your poker life, if not anywhere else. Here is what you will learn in this chapter:
I will first teach you how to set up your tables and help you decide whether to tile, cascade, or stack by illustrating the pros and cons of each.
Then you will learn about table selection. Sitting at the correct tables in the best seat possible might be the most important skill any poker player possesses.
You also will learn when to leave a table. Table dynamics can quickly change, and you must learn to recognize when a good seat has become bad.
Next, you will be shown how to structure and set up your sessions for maximum efficiency. I will cover optimizing your hourly rate via the number of tables you play. I will also show you how to find the right balance between improving as a poker player and making as much money as possible in the process.
Last, I will teach you how to organize the physical environment in your playing area to maximize your focus during sessions. You will learn how to set up your workstation, both for comfort and efficiency, as well as avoid real-life distractions that can eat into your bottom line.
There are three common ways you can choose to set up your tables:
Tiling Stacking Cascading
Each approach has its own merits, so I will break down each one individually.
This is where you put tables side by side with as little overlap as possible. While tiling, you can see the action on all tables at the same time
Benefits of Tiling
You gain more accurate reads, because a table stays in the same position at all times and you can easily follow the action.
You can make actions in advance and focus your attention elsewhere. By this, I mean clicking “auto fold” before the action gets to you. This speeds up the games as you insta-fold with your junk hand whenever it’s your turn. Seconds add up.
You have less chance of mis-clicking since tables are not popping up in front of you.
Disadvantages of Tiling
You have to move your mouse and eyes all over the screen. This can cause fatigue over long sessions.
There may be an increased risk of tilt, since you are able to see all hand results.
Stacking is exactly what it sounds like. You find one position and size for your tables and put them all on top of one another.
Benefits of Stacking
You only have to look at one place on your monitor to play your hands.
You can generally play more tables and achieve a higher rate of hands per hour. There is less risk of tilt, since you almost never see results.
Disadvantages of Stacking
You cannot follow the action on individual tables once you have acted.
You cannot spend as much time making a decision as you are unable to pre-click the auto-fold button.
You have an increased chance of mis-clicking when a table pops up at an inopportune time.
A third option is sort of a hybrid of both tiling and stacking. Cascading overlaps the tables and has them staggered over each other, generally from the left top of the screen down to the bottom right.
Benefits of Cascading
You can play more tables on smaller monitors.
You can occasionally follow the action well enough to pre-click auto-fold, although not nearly as well as when tiling.
You have a smaller amount of space to look and move your mouse than you do tiling. There is less risk of tilt since you almost never see results.
Disadvantages of Cascading
You cannot follow the action very well.
You typically are unable to play as many hands as you can while stacking.
I am not sure who invented cascading, but I personally cannot imagine why anyone would set up their tables this way. Maybe it was necessary to cascade on a small monitor before the advent of stacking, but today I really see no benefit in doing it. If you do decide to play more than 12 tables, then stacking is the way to go.
Ultimately, no matter what configuration you choose, the name of the game is comfort and efficiency. My recommendation is to play tiled. If you cannot follow the action or find yourself often timing out, you are playing too many tables. You need to be making good decisions and not playing robotically. I don’t care how good the rakeback deal or VIP system is, unless you are just mass multi-tabling as part of a challenge, you are much better off playing fewer tables and maximizing your hourly rate.
Table selection may be the most important factor in anyone’s success at the tables. The key to profit in poker is to surround yourself with players who have less skill than you. Being skilled at table selection can mean the difference between being a top winner at your stake or a mediocre break even player. The highest earners at any given level are not necessarily the best players. Those who consistently choose the seats most amenable to profit are the ones who excel and maintain the highest win-rates.
Even so, at the micros, table selection is not nearly as important as it will become at small stakes and beyond. Your typical micro-stakes table will be full of fish and nit regs, and it generally will not adversely affect your bottom line if you do not aggressively table select. Until you have fully incorporated the intermediate strategy, you can stick to the basic table selection process by filtering the VPIP as shown below:
Pre-Flop Considerations For Table Selection
After you have the intermediate strategy down, you will gradually want to start being even more selective in the tables you sit down at. You should always strive to put yourself in the best position possible on as many of your tables as you can. A method that I sometimes employ is to open up a large number of tables and see the makeup of each table based on past labels you have put on players. I then only join the waiting lists of tables that have the best overall composition. In the above screen shot, I have circled which tables I would consider sitting down to play.
Beyond average VPIP and table composition, your seat in relation to others is the key to how favorable a table is. A table can either be hugely profitable or -EV just by shifting your seat around a couple of spots. There are four key seats on any table, the two seats to your right and the two seats to your left. This is where the majority of the action will take place against you, therefore these are the seats that decide how profitable the table is. Unfortunately, you will rarely find the consummate table makeup. Therefore, instead of waiting for the absolute ideal situation, the best approach is to choose the seats that come as close as possible while avoiding seats that are obviously not amenable to profit.
As a loose-aggressive player, the majority of your profits come from stealing versus tight players and extracting value from weak players. Besides an entire table full of fish, the more realistic perfect table would include two fish to your right and two nits to your left. This would see you raking in non- showdown steal profits from the nits to your left and making money from the collective pre-flop and post-flop mistakes made by the fish playing out of position against you on the right.
While it is rare that you will find a theoretically perfect table, you can come as close as possible just by avoiding bad seats that typically include aggressive blind defenders to your left. Players on your right are not as important, but you would definitely prefer to have looser opponents out of position against you. Not that the presence of tight players to your right is always a bad thing. Since these players open raise so few hands, it makes it very difficult for them to lay anything down when shoved on by a short stack. So, if a tight player calls 3-bet shoves with nearly his entire opening range, the added all-in equity you achieve by their incorrect calls is profitable as well.
The below Pokerstove graphic illustrates how this works. For the purposes of the example, we shove about 6% of hands against his 20% steal range when he open raises to 3 big blinds. If he calls with 50% of his range, below is the resulting equity.
We have the best of it on average when called. If you add in the fold equity from the times he does not call, you can see we are making a killing. An additional hidden profit also comes from the times tight players do not attempt a steal. Having someone to your right who does not pound away at your blinds is never a bad thing. In poker, money kept is just as good as money earned.
Here is a general diagram of preferred seating ranked from best to worst. I believe these to be the 12 most profitable table setups based on pre-flop player types. It is highly unlikely that you will pull up a table and have enough labels on people to exactly fit the above situations. The purpose of the diagram is to illustrate what to look for in general or if you have a choice of more than one seat.
Other Considerations For Table Selection
As you have learned through my labeling system, sometimes you need to look beyond pre-flop stats when determining whether or not a seat is viable. Occasionally, you will need to look at how an opponent plays after the flop and sometimes you will be completely readless and need to find other ways to table select. Another option is to start your own table. But the most important thing to learn about table selection is to understand when a table has become unprofitable so that you can move on and find a better situation.
Post-Flop Considerations For Table Selection
You should consider how opponents play after the flop when choosing a table. The post-flop read you have on a player can drastically alter the table dynamics and reverse the profitability of a seat.
The most desirable post-flop player type to have on your left is the mouse. These are players who defend by calling and then play fit or fold after the flop. These opponents are hugely profitable to play against and should be sought out aggressively. In fact, seeing the mouse symbol trumps any otherwise negative factors found in a seat. Conversely, if a player has the phone or tornado symbol, I will downgrade the viability of any seat in his vicinity. Playing against opponents who rarely fold or often play back at you erode overall profits considerably, especially if they like to see a lot of flops.
The overall point I am trying to make here is that table selection is all a matter of degree. You do not want to just choose profitable seats, you want to choose the most profitable seats available when you play. The only way to do this is by actively assessing the state of your table selection both before and during your sessions. It’s what the best players in the game do, and it’s what you need to be doing as well.
What if I am completely readless?
If you are readless and have the choice of sitting to the left of two different players, you can sometimes glean some information about your opponents by their screen names. Bad players and strong players have a tendency to pick completely different types of names.
If a player’s name has something to do with a hobby, career, or they pick the name of a well-known poker professional, they will usually be unskilled. For example, Housepainter69, Bassfisher2012, Marathonman, NegreanuRox, and HelmuthIsTheMan are probably names of recreational players. Stronger players tend to have names that appear carefully thought out, are nicknames, are funny or ironic, or use poker jargon that mainstream players may not even understand. OMGClayAiken, Nannonoko, and Durrrr are probably all names you are familiar with.
Also, player names that refer to a specific style of play are almost always attached to opponents who play exactly the opposite of what their name purports. For example, if you see a player with the name Maniac1234, he is almost certainly a nit. And someone called Tightplayer 69 is probably a loose aggressive and/or light 3-bettor. Just keep in mind that these rules are not hard and fast. Players can pick fishy names and then improve, or great players can choose weaker sounding names on purpose.
Even so, learning the nomenclature favored by weaker players can definitely polish your table selection skills.
If your chosen poker site allows for photographs as part of a player’s avatar, then you can also use them to profile opponents. Players who sport pictures of their families are almost always recreational players. The baby head avatar seems to be the most popular picture weaker players display.
I also look at stack size when making readless table selection choices. And while people with less than full stacks are usually bad players, you typically want tables with as many large stacks as possible. Having multiple other short stackers on your table is almost always a less than ideal situation.
Starting Your Own Tables
An alternative means of finding a good table is to create your own by sitting down at an empty table and waiting for other players to join. There are multiple advantages to this method.
Most recreational players hate wait lists and will often gladly sit down with the opportunity to play quickly.
Regulars are typically waitlisters and may not notice your table, thus allowing you to more easily avoid reg-infested tables.
You get the chance to work on your heads-up game.
In my experience, when sitting in on an empty table, you generally want to choose a far left or upper left corner seat. Bad players always seem to choose a bottom seat, so over time you will end up with more fish to your right as the table fills by sticking to left side seats. The reason weaker players choose lower seats is probably because they have never taken the time to set up preferred seating within the options of the poker site. They probably just download the poker software, deposit money for the weekend, and play until broke.
A disadvantage to starting your own table is that you will generally play fewer hands per hour. This is because it’s difficult to maintain more than two or three tables at once while playing super short- handed. However, the average fishiness of the tables you will be involved in may more than make up for this. So, if you enjoy playing heads-up or ultra short handed and like the idea of playing weaker competition, then starting your own table is something you may want to give a try.
Opening ranges for heads-up play are completely dependent upon your opponent. If you face an opponent who 3-bets often, you will generally want to limp more often on the button. If you face a passive opponent, you will want to open nearly 100% of hands. And, due to being out of position, you will want to almost always use a raise or fold strategy when seated in the big blind.
I will not spend too much time going into the subtleties of what could be the subject of an entire book. For now, you cannot go wrong by opening your 6-handed small blind range and then adjusting according to how you observe your opponent reacting to you. Just remember that adhering to the fundamentals of position, initiative, and pressure are just as important heads up as when sitting at a full table.
Leaving Unprofitable Tables
The goal of table selection is to maximize both pre-flop and post-flop expectation and create manageable playing environments in which to operate. Sometimes you will find a very good table that will quickly deteriorate into a less desirable one. If table composition changes and you feel a table no longer affords you a meaningful edge, you must be willing to sit out and find a new one.
The main situation to watch out for is having any player sit in behind you that is hindering your wide stealing range. Having light 3-betters or huge calling stations to your left always complicates things, so you should try to avoid having more than one of either of these player types seated behind you without a very good reason.
While light 3-bettors can get annoying, my least favorite player type to have seated behind me is the calling station. In general, it is very difficult to extract from any player seated to your left, but calling stations are especially tricky. Having someone who never folds to steals or c-bets basically forces you to make hands against them. Unless you have great patience and are comfortable value betting 2nd or 3rd pair, then you generally want to avoid this situation more than any other.
Ultimately, it is your job to monitor the playing environment on each of your tables. You must remain vigilant and adapt to changing conditions. And if the situation becomes unprofitable, the most important part of table selection is having the discipline to get out of there.