The Game of Selection

Poker Game Selection - Table Selection

Poker Game Selection“Alternatives, and particularly desirable alternatives, grow only on imaginary trees.” -- Saul Bellow

One of the least controversial winning poker concepts is the idea that game selection is important. Still, it also might be the least appreciated of the critical poker skills.

Exercising good game selection will mean different things to different people. For instance, unlike a successful part-time player who might be forced by other responsibilities to live in a place that only offers a handful of games to choose from, if you are a professional player looking for the best games to make a living from, you should be looking at the whole planet, or at least your native country, when you consider game selection. What locality best fits your temperament, bankroll, and game preference?

Las Vegas usually takes the house rake via a percentage of every pot, leading to tighter games; California games either have a button drop or time collection which unlike the Las Vegas rake spreads the cost equally to all the players, and leads to much looser, more aggressive games.

The weakest Las Vegas players generally are the much-maligned “tourists” who often are unable to play poker regularly so they tend to give more, and get in more, action than the game merits. In great contrast, the weakest Los Angeles players tend to play regularly and have a whole array of tricks and abilities that the tourists don’t have -- but have holes in their games you can drive a truck through.

The weakness of your opposition is the critical thing to exploit, but “weak” players can be tremendously different in their weaknesses. I believe that overall the weakest players play Hold'em. (It’s no coincidence that Hold'em is by far the most popular game.) However, Hold'em as a game protects weaker players much better than Omaha or Stud. Weak players have zero chance in Omaha, and not much of one in Stud, but weak players (loose weak players at least) have a fighting chance in Hold'em. It shouldn't be hard to see that a player who always plays 40/60 underdogs does have a chance to win over a reasonable period of time, or at least to not lose much. But a player playing games where he is a 10/90 or even 25/75 dog, this player is dead as a doornail. So, even though the weakest players might be playing Hold'em, the correct game selection might be to choose an Omaha or Stud game.

On the other hand, Omaha or Stud games containing mostly very good players are just awful. With its higher greater random luck, Hold'em games with decent players can still be profitable for very good players. A very good player has more to work with to “make things happen” in Hold'em.

Poker players best suited to winning are ones who can walk into a casino and conceivably play any game in the club. They select the best. Of course, most players are limited in their choices by bankroll considerations. We might also choose to limit ourselves temperamentally, for example, maybe forgoing a better Omaha game for a Hold'em game because Omaha is more routine. However, decisions like this should be conscious. If you select a game that isn’t the best $-choice, you better have a good reason.

It’s an interesting thing that game selection (and its cousin, table selection) really becomes critical when you have a lot of choices and when you have very few. Obviously if you only have two games to choose from, if one is far better than the other, you are making a huge error by not getting in the better game. On the other hand, playing online poker, you can have 100 games at your fingertips. You don’t need to find the single best game out of that 100, but it is a major mistake if you don’t find yourself an excellent game among the choices.

Especially if you are a fairly experienced player, don’t trivialize game selection. Ask yourself why you are playing the game you are playing in, at the table you are playing at. Look around the cardroom, or the online lobby, and find the next best game that you could be in, and ask yourself why you are choosing the game you are in over that other game. Since it is a basic, critical-to-success skill, constantly challenge yourself on game selection. Don't just take it for granted.

Also see Poker Experts