Last time I promised to talk this time about game selection, and if there’s one thing you can count on in the world, it’s JV keeping his promise to talk about something. Anything!


Some poker pundits (your humble scribe among them) count game selection as the single most important decision a poker player can make. Sure it helps to know whether the odds are in your favor on any given hand or draw, but it helps much more to be in a game that’s in your favor to begin with. But what’s a favorable game? And how will you recognize it when you see it?


First, understand that poker isn’t like tennis. In tennis, you can definitely improve your game by playing against superior players. In poker, you may or may not improve, but in any event it costs too much to butt heads against the best. All other things being equal, you want to find the poker game that has the greatest number of bad players in it. The good news is that there’s no shortage of bad players out there. The other good news is that they’re easy to spot. But before you go looking, memorize this useful piece of poker advice, for it will serve you very well for as long as you play poker:


Don’t challenge strong players. Challenge weak ones; that’s what they’re there for!


Okay, there you are in the card room, trying to decide which game you want to join. Let’s say that seats will be coming open in four different $3-6 hold ’em Slot Online games soon, so now you have to evaluate the games and choose which one you want.


Table one has nine players seeing the flop on every hand, and nobody raising before the flop. This game is known as weak-loose, and it’s the best possible place for you.


Table two has fewer players taking the flop each hand, but still no raises, or anyway damn few. This game is weak-tight, and is also quite playable.


Table three has only a couple of players seeing the flop, and those who are getting involved tend to come in with raises. This game is strong-tight, and is not your best choice because you’ll encounter good, solid play from too many opponents, and weak, loose play from too few.


At table four, the betting is capped before the flop, with many players calling the bets, on many hands. This game is strong-loose, and while there are mighty big pots to be won, the wild gambling atmosphere may make it hard for your bankroll (and your psyche!) to survive the swings or fluctuation.


So in this quick overview, you can see already what kind of table you want: You want a game where the players are passive, and where strong plays such as raises and reraises are few and far between.


Another way to evaluate your chances in a prospective game is to compare the size of the various players’ chip stacks in relation to the size of the stack you plan to have when you buy in. If you want to put $100 into a $3-6 game (a reasonable buy-in) take a look around and see how that $100 stacks up against your prospective foe. If $100 is about average or better than average, then you’re good to go, but if you see several players with several times that much, it means that those players are either very good or running very well, and either way you want to avoid mixing it up with them. Find a softer game!


In practical terms, of course, you don’t always get your choice of tables. A seat may come open in a bad game before it comes open in a good game. Or you may be in a good game that turns suddenly bad with the subtraction of a few inferior players and the addition of a couple of sharps. In either instance, remember that you have a powerful tool at your disposal: the table change. If you’re in a game you don’t like, you always have the option of asking the floor manager to switch you to a different game at the same limit. Simply say, “I’d like a table change when one becomes available,” or “Put me on the change list for table three.” Then just play your best, squeaky-tightest, game of poker until your seat change comes along.


You also have the option of changing to a different game (from hold ’em to stud, for example) or to the same game at a different limit. These are perfectly acceptable strategies for making sure that your table choice is optimum. Whatever you do, try not to stay too long in a game where you’re outclassed. As the saying goes, “If you look around the table and can’t spot the fish, you’re it.”


Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re outclassed. This is because many players are actually better than they appear to be, and part of what makes them better is the ability to appear to be not so good. You may also have trouble seeing that you’re in a bad game if you let your own ego cloud your vision. Many is the poker player who has thought, “I’m much better than these woodentops! How come I can’t beat them?” Well, that player may not actually be better than his foes, and his own inflated sense-of-self will keep him from seeing the truth. You’re not likely to fall into this very common trap at first, because you, being a novice poker player, are keenly aware of your limitations. As your play improves, though, your confidence will grow, and sometimes it’s hard to tell where confidence leaves off and arrogance begins. All I can tell you is to try to see the game honestly. If you’re bested by the competition, be man enough (or woman enough) to admit it, and get away from that competition before that competition grinds you down and wipes you out.


On the other hand, don’t assume that everyone is better than you are. As I said before, bad poker players are plentiful in this world. You’ll encounter your share, and when you do you should attack them without mercy. That, after all, is what they’d do to you if they could.


Now, go get ’em! Your assignment for this month is to go out there and mix it up in a real poker game against real opponents. If you haven’t done so yet, now is the time to start!