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19Aug/142

The Ultimate Guide to Table Selection for Today’s Online Micro Stakes Cash Games

Table selection has come a long way over the years at the micros. It was literally a foreign concept when I first started playing online poker in the mid 00's. The games were a lot better back then but nobody paid any attention to what table they sat down at and they certainly didn't care what seat they got. Fast forward to 2014 and if you aren't table selecting in a big way (even at the very lowest stakes) you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Table selection is an absolute must in today's games. Long gone are the days when you can sit down at a random NL25 table and expect to have a couple of huge whales splashing around. You can get lucky and find this on rare occasions especially on a weekend but this is very much the exception to the norm. The typical table these days will consist of a bunch of tight regs and one semi-bad, slightly loose player.

It is impossible to crush these games if you insist on sitting at tables like this all of the time. No matter how much you study how to beat the regs or stay on top of every new strategy out there you will still face a winnings ceiling. This is the point where your winrate simply cannot go any higher because fundamentally your opponents just aren't making enough mistakes.

No matter how bad many of the tight players are who dominate today's micro stakes games they simply aren't in enough hands to make the same kinds of massive mistakes that recreational players do. They also don't put themselves in positions to make second best hands as often by getting get out-kicked or out-flushed because they don't play as many weak hands.

There are some people out there who still refuse to take table selection seriously in today's games. If you are in this category then this article is not for you. A mediocre winrate is the best that you can hope for due to your decision to neglect this absolutely crucial part of the game. To the rest of you who are interested in having a big winrate in today's games I am going to outline some of the key strategies that I use to find good tables and perhaps more importantly, good seats.

Table Selection Versus Seat Selection

Let me first get into a key distinction that I just brushed over. Finding the right table in today's games is only half of the battle. In fact for many hardcore bumhunters (people who only sit with huge fish) it is just the beginning. This is because they know (and you should too) that getting the seat to the left of the fish which is often referred to as the "Jesus Seat" is where the big money is made in this game.

The power of position is an often misunderstood concept for newer players. By this I mean that they massively underestimate it's importance. When you have immediate position on someone at the poker table (you are on their direct left) you have an advantage so large that even against a much superior opponent you can expect to at least break even versus them over the long run.

The reverse is also true. An inferior opponent who has direct position on you will likely bust you given enough time. Getting on the direct left of the recreational player (or as close to it as possible) is of absolutely vital importance in the table selection process. If you are on the right of the fish it will severely restrict your ability to isolate them preflop and value bet and bluff them postflop. This will negatively impact your ability to get their stack in a huge way.

I will talk about getting the Jesus Seat a bit more later though. First things first, how do we find the tables with the recreational players on them?

Play Poker at the Right Times

As mentioned finding the big fish is not always an easy task in today's games even at the very lowest stakes. There are some strategies that you can take though to seriously improve your odds.

1) Play More on Weekends

This is the oldest and totally foolproof table selection "trick" in the book. The games are always a little bit better on the weekends because recreational players have jobs to attend to during the week. On the weekends they want to unwind, perhaps have some drinks and play a bit of online poker. I have been playing online poker for nearly 10 years now. It has always been my experience that the games are a bit better on the weekends. Fish are out in larger numbers and there are more intoxicated lunatics.

Obviously we all have lives outside of poker though and if we only played on the weekends then it would be hard to get much volume in. So the point of this is not to say that you shouldn't play during the week. Yes of course you should. But if you can, you should designate more hours on the weekends. Play those epic long sessions then as well.

2) Play More During Prime-Time Hours

This is another table selection method that may pre-date the dinosaurs. People ask me all the time when the best time to play is. The answer isn't so clear in today's games though. Before the American online poker market was decimated by Black Friday several years ago the best time to play was clearly during the prime-time North and South American hours (6pm-12pm roughly).

In today's online poker climate game quality is much more balanced between the prime-time hours in North/South America and those in Europe. Prime-time in Asia is a distant third. Since most people reading this article aren't from Asia then this shouldn't be a big concern. If you do happen to live in a place like Thailand though, then it is advisable that you change your schedule a bit usually by playing early in the morning which is prime-time in North/South America.

Recreational Poker Players non-HUD Tells

As I have discussed before there are several clear as day "tells" that recreational players give off to identify themselves as bad players. None of these require any HUD data.

1) Stack Size Below 100bb

100bb is the maximum allowable buyin in most online poker cash games. Good poker players always want to have the most money possible in front of them. The reason is pretty simple. The more money you have in front of you, the more you can win. If you are the best (or among the best) at the table then it only makes sense to push your edge or "scale up" as much as possible. The only time when you should ever consider buying in for less than the maximum allowable stack size is if you are playing a higher stake than normal to chase a fish and he has bought in for less than the maximum.

There are some well known mid stacking and short stacking strategies out there. I do not advocate using either of them because no matter how you cut it you are placing an artificial ceiling on your potential winnings. However, you will occasionally run into some decent players in today's games who use one of these strategies.

The large majority of the time though when you run into someone at the tables who has bought in for less than the maximum (or they are not using the auto top up stack option) they will be a recreational player. The clearest sign of all is when somebody buys in for something like $17.63 on an NL25 table. This is clearly their entire bankroll and you should identify them as a fish right away.

2) Posting a Blind OOP

Anyone who takes this game seriously knows that you should always wait for the big blind to come around to you before posting a blind. The blinds can be thought of like a tax that you have to pay in order to play the game. Nobody would ever voluntarily pay more taxes than they owe.

The only players who disregard this are recreational players. When they sit down at the table they simply want to get playing as soon as possible. They have a limited amount of time to play and they want to get in the action as soon as possible. If you see anyone post a blind OOP you can identify them as a fish immediately.

3) Limping

There really is no justification for limping at the micros in any scenario. Pretty much everybody has realized these days that it simply makes a lot more sense to raise when first in the pot or if there are limpers. If you see anyone open limping then you can immediately identify them as a recreational player.

4) Min Bets Postflop

Another surefire sign of a bad player is a min bet after the flop. While there are some good players who will open for a min raise preflop, especially from LP, nobody who has any knowledge of the game would ever make a minimum bet after the flop. The reason why is because a bet of say $1 into a $10 pot is totally meaningless. Your opponent can profitably call with any two cards.

5) Playing One or Two Tables

Regs will almost always be playing at least half a dozen tables at once (and often many more) since they play tight and therefore have less decisions to make. They also want to increase their rakeback. Recreational players play a lot more hands and their decisions are often based on superstition and emotion rather than logic and repetition. They also generally have no clue about rakeback. Therefore they can often only handle a table or two at a time. Most poker rooms allow you to search a player. If you suspect that somebody is a bad player then search them and note the number of tables.

6) Low Rakeback Status

On sites where it applies such as Pokerstars a big clue to someone's ability is their rakeback status. It is advisable to never show your rakeback status for any reason. Giving out free information at the poker table simply makes no sense at all. However, recreational players don't care about this. If you see somebody showing Bronzestar or Chromestar on Pokerstars for instance, and you are playing NL25 or higher, this is a big clue that they are a bad player. Anyone playing these stakes regularly would have a higher rakeback status.

7) Smart Phone or Tablet Symbol on Pokerstars

Pokerstars intoduced the smart phone and tablet symbols beside each player using them awhile ago. These can be turned off in the options. Once again recreational players are more likely to leave them turned on though. Also, recreational players are far more likely to be playing online poker using a smart phone or a tablet. The large majority of regs would rather use a desktop or a notebook in order to play as many tables as they want and utilize all of their poker related software. Players showing these symbols on Pokerstars are almost invariably bad players.

Tag Them Right Away

If you notice a player that is showing any of these 7 signs then you should tag them as a recreational player immediately. Almost all poker sites allow you to put a color tag or a note beside a player. These essentially last forever and make table selection much easier in the future because you already know who is a fish. On Pokerstars you should go:

Options > Player Notes > Left click player to assign label

This will allow you to tag somebody as a recreational player with one click. Whenever you have down-time at the tables (nothing is happening) you should be making sure that you are on good tables and tagging all the bad players. Always make sure that you tag them as you are closing down your session as well since you will have the maximum amount of information on everybody. Speaking of that, I am going to talk about how to identify recreational players with your HUD next.

Recreational Player HUD Tells

Finding the fish in today's online micro stakes cash games
If you read this blog regularly then you will know that I highly suggest using a HUD in today's games even at the lowest limits. You can certainly still win without one but it is just silly to forgo the kind of information that these programs are capable of providing you with. They will often pay for themselves in a week or two at the most.

The absolute easiest way to spot a recreational player is by VPIP (percentage of hands that they play) and PFR (percentage of hands that they raise with preflop). Bad players will have a VPIP that is at least 30 or more. This goes for 6max or full ring. And they will often have a PFR that is considerably less than this. The true bumhunter specialist is looking for the recreational players with a VPIP of 40, 50 or more though. These are the players who burn through stacks at a truly incredible pace.

Sometimes they will have a PFR of just a single digit (52/7 for instance). This is often referred to as a whale or a "drooler" fish. Sometimes they will have a PFR that is much closer to their VPIP though (52/37 for instance). This is often referred to as a maniac or an "aggro fish." While the strategies to exploit these two player types differ in some ways both are like rocket fuel for your winrate. If you spend all of your time at the tables playing against these kinds of opponents it is literally impossible not to crush these games beyond belief.

Always make sure that you play a few orbits before you make a final decision on somebody. Just because you spot a player with an 80% VPIP doesn't necessarily mean that they are a recreational player if the sample size is only 5 or even 10 hands. It is definitely possible to simply have a good run of good cards over a sample like this. I prefer to wait until I have about 20 hands on someone before I decide for sure whether they are a bad player or not.

Start Your Own Tables

One of the best ways to find recreational players in today's games is to simply let them come to you. The easiest and most well known method of doing this is to simply start your own tables. As I mentioned before, fish only have a limited amount of time to play poker and when they sit down at the virtual felt they want to get dealt in as soon as possible. Because of this they are more likely to choose a table that has empty seats on it. Start your own table and watch them come to you.

Many people do not like to do this because they are not confident in their abilities when it is heads up or ultra short handed. The first thing that you need to remember is that the tables that you start will usually fill up really fast. You will often be playing 6 handed or 9 handed like you are used to before you even know it.

Secondly, even if you have to play a few hands short handed just play your normal game and don't worry about it. We are talking about terrible players here. You win money off of them by making hands and value betting the crap out of them. Therefore the same method to beat them applies whether there are 2 people at the table or 9. Just open with a few more hands than usual and play normal poker after that.

Lastly, if no recreational players show up and you find yourself playing heads up against an obvious reg (he doesn't limp the button, 3Bets a fair bit etc) then simply leave the table or sit out. There is no need to prove anything versus another reg. Just move on and start another table or sit out and wait for the fish to show up.

Snipe The Jesus Seat

This final method is in the arsenal of all hardcore bumhunters these days. It is also highly effective. The idea of starting your own tables to attract the recreational players is not a new idea. Therefore, you will probably notice a few other regs doing the exact same thing. Simply open up a bunch of those tables and observe them but don't sit yet. As soon as an unknown player or a known fish sits down at any of these tables immediately grab the seat to the left of them. There is no easier way to get the most profitable seat in the game.

Don't be afraid to simply hop around the table and grab the Jesus Seat if the table is not full either. This isn't live poker, you won't be hurting anyone's feelings. Don't bother waiting for the blinds to come to you. Just leave the table straight away and rejoin at the seat to the left of the bad player. You want this seat at all costs.

The Importance of Table Selection

I hope that some of the above methods will help you better identify the bad players and get the best seat against them. I have to reiterate that choosing to ignore table selection in today's games is an absolutely colossal mistake. I would go as far as to say that you should be spending upwards of 50% of your actual time at the tables looking for bad players and getting the right seat against them.

You can study all of the latest and greatest poker strategy theories until the sun goes down. Against decent thinking opponents this stuff can only help your winrate in a small way though. You simply cannot crush these games anymore at any level above NL10 if you are not fully committed to finding the worst players and playing with them a large majority of the time.

Many people are stubborn (or ignorant) though and refuse to accept the fundamental rule that you cannot create a big winrate against players who are not making many huge mistakes. The latest fad is GTO (game theory optimal) play. If I can just figure out how to balance my ranges perfectly against every opponent in every situation then I will finally be able to crush these games! Err...no. You are still trying to draw blood from a stone. The real money in this game will always be in playing against extremely bad (or tilted) players.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

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  1. Good one Nathan. A couple of questions: Do you use any sort of table scanners? What do you consider to be a potential profitable table, in relation to a rec player position, I mean would you sit in if your target is right across you or worse?

    • Thanks Ted. I have never really used any table scanners. Rec player on the direct right or a couple of seats to the right is what I am generally looking for.


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