If you want to make money at no-limit hold’em, 90% of your job is table selection.
I have known very talented players who have never made a dime in this game. I’ve also known extremely boring players who bought million dollar homes through poker.
Naturally, we all want to become the best players we can be. However, if we want to earn as much money as possible, we have to play with bad players. We may not get much better while playing against these players, but our bank accounts and families will definitely appreciate the effort.
Table selection doesn’t just require you to select games with bad players. A key feature of table selection is managing yourself at the table.
If you have nine hours of sleep and exercise, you can play at a variety of poker tables and be successful. Table selection at that moment becomes much easier. If you’ve been up two days in a row, table selection is more difficult. It doesn’t matter how weak your opponents are. They are probably still playing better than you right now.
Once you spot a table with a good rake structure and little competition, you also need to ask yourself what your edge is. You should be able to list several situations in which you are able to steal money from the game. No pro ever goes into a game without knowing what their specific edge is.
Table selection also doesn’t stop at the start of the game. The dynamics of the table change constantly. A loose recreational player who was losing money can quit the game. A talented professional can sit down and take his place to our left.
Again, good table selection also incorporates our state of mind. If we’ve been playing for 14 hours, then it’s likely that our game is now closer to our mediocre opponents. If we just lost a big pot or are on a winning streak, we can also be in a bad position regarding future profitability.
When we play poker, we have to know that the dynamics will change constantly. In my experience, there are specific danger zones that occur in every cash session that can turn a good table into a losing experience. If we can monitor these dangerous periods and be vigilant of their development, then we are much more likely not to develop large losses.
The first dangerous period of any cash session is the first 15 minutes. Have you ever lost a big pot at the start of your session? It makes the rest of the session much more difficult. We are automatically in a bad mood. We feel like we are trying to get out of a hole for the rest of the night.
The reason so many dishes can be lost in the first 15 minutes is because we didn’t warm up. We are excited to play cards, sure. We thought about it all day. Anyway, these are the first pots we’re playing, and we’re just waking up our poker mind. We can be more flippant about calling big bets out of position. We feel free and excited to play, so it’s not a big deal. Then out of nowhere we have a mediocre hand on the river in a huge pot and we have no idea how we got there.
The way to avoid this first danger zone is to warm up before you get to the table. Take a couple of poker quizzes on your favorite poker education site. Read a poker book for a few minutes. Enter poker mode before you start throwing chips.
The second common danger zone that emerges in cash sessions has to do with losses. How to play after losing a buy-in or a huge pot? Do you lean? Do you play tighter? Do you play looser? You want to know the answers to all these questions. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where your opponents know the answers to these questions but you don’t.
Some pros get nastier after losing a pot. They get tighter and more aggressive. This isn’t optimal, but if you’re going to go haywire this is the way to do it.
Some people don’t feel like much after losing a big pot. They don’t play differently. This is optimal but rare. This type of disciplined play comes from good record keeping and solid bankroll management. Using both of these tools together allows you to view poker as one long session. No single data point is that important.
Some people get upset after losing a pot and start playing weak hands out of position. This is a great way to lose a lot of buy-ins.
After you lose a big pot, check with yourself. Can’t wait to play hands you would have folded before? Are you calling post-flop without thinking? If you’re on tilt, get off the table. Take a walk. Get out of there now. Losing a buy-in is much better than losing three or four.
Another strangely dangerous period in cash game poker is when you win a big pot. Many players go on winning tilt. They feel invincible. They feel that nothing can touch them. They start making the same mistakes that the angry, leaning player is making. They call huge bets out of position. They play weak hands preflop. They stop thinking after the flop. They call believing that nothing can stop them. And at that point they lost their huge stack.
Even the last 15 minutes of a session are extremely dangerous. Many poker players will have a specific time when they leave the game. In the 15 minutes leading up to this time limit, they are likely to force a big pot. It feels like a waste of time to sit there for countless hours and have no results. Poker players want to go big or go home with this pot. They will try a huge bluff or call that they have never tried before in the session.
Debuting a new ill-advised comedy when you’re already tired is unsurprisingly a recipe for setbacks. That’s how many players blow up what was otherwise an unremarkable session. Having more than 20 sessions like this a year can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Finally, another dangerous moment in a poker player’s session is when he wins a large number of buy-ins or loses several buy-ins. Most people can handle losing or winning a buy-in. They expected it when they showed up to play. However, losing or winning a huge amount of buy-ins is a different beast. It doesn’t happen that often. Some people who can handle small swings start swinging big when the wins or losses start to pile up. It’s insidious. It creeps slowly through all the accumulated emotions.
Pay attention to these crucial periods in your next session. They will help you avoid common pitfalls. Be careful when you want to start playing weaker preflop hands from early position. Pay attention to when you call without specific reasoning. These are the first clues that you are out of action. Wait for a better table and time away from the felt. ♠
Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He’s a WPT AND EPT final tablist and has WCOP extension AND NEWS IN ADVANCE win online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on America’s Cardroom. Currently he enjoys blasting bums in Ignition tournaments while listening to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at PokerHeadRush.com