Game selection is something every serious poker player should have in his mind when he starts a session. Obviously what kind of table you are at and which opponents you are facing, is gonna be crucial for your expected win. Game selection gets more important the higher in stakes you get, but even at 10NL, Iíd definitely recommend considering what kind of tables you chose to sit down at.
Different kinds of players prefer different types of opponents. For instance, if you are a loose aggressive player who get a lot of your profitable situations from fold equity, youíd perhaps prefer tight, passive and nitty opponents that will be easier to run over. If you are a tight aggressive player who usually have the goods when you play big pots, you probably like to have the loose/passive kind of fish, who calls down a lot, by your side. For serious uNL players, this is usually the case, because pretty much no matter what kind of micro stakes table you are at, bluffing several streets with air/a marginal hand, is something you arenít gonna be doing, even if they are kind of tight.
So how do you find the typical loose/passive fish that go to showdown a lot? At 10NL for instance, most of the tables are gonna be filled with them. But even there you would like to find the very juiciest tables, with perhaps even 2 or more 70/8/1-ish types. However, the higher you get up in stakes, the fewer will the true fish be. At 50NL for instance, every table will have at least a couple of TAGs on it. There are of course a lot of fish on 50NL too, but they are rarer. This is where game selection gets even more important.
The POT SIZE strategy A lot of people start their session by putting themselves on the waiting list for the games with the currently highest average pot sizes. The reasoning behind this tactic is obvious, at the tables where the pots are big; the players seem willing to usually put a lot of money in the pot. This is good for us, who will usually have good cards when we decide to play those big pots. Personally I have used this game selection strategy a lot, and I have had mixed experiences with it.
Problems with this strategy: 1. As a result of other people using the same strategy, there arenít usually any free seats at the table with the highest average pot. Most of the time there are even a couple of people on the waiting list already. So itís probably gonna take something like 10-15 minutes from when you register to when you actually get a seat. By that time, the fish who were putting all that money in the pots might already have been stacked by one of the more solid players at the table! Several times have I waited for a seat at the juiciest game, only to eventually sit down on it to find a bunch of 17/13 tight aggressive players sitting around folding preflop. Clearly this kind of table is also beatable if you adapt, but it is not where the highest possible winrate can be achieved.
2. Big pot size doesnít necessarily mean bad players. First of all, it could simply be a result of variance. For instance, if in one hand BTN pick up KK while BB has AA (theyíll probably get it all-in preflop or on the flop), and then in the next time to deep-stacked players both flop a set, then those pots, and thus the average pot size is gonna be huge no matter how skilled the players are.
Also, good players know how to value bet their strong hands, and build big pots with them. Letís say you have a 6-handed 50NL game with $10 as the average pot size. This is a pretty low number, and the logic assumption about the players at it, is that they arenít gonna pay off your big hands. But is this given? Not necessarily. Ask yourself, what is your favorite kind of fish? Different people might have a different answer to this question, but personally, I definitely prefer the loose passive kind of opponent. Iíd like him to play a lot of hands, call preflop raises all the time and rarely use aggression himself but rather call, call, call. The advantages of facing these kinds of opponents are obvious. We get the ability to decide when the money goes in against them, and they arenít even the aggressive type who bluffs us off the best hand from time to time.
Example hand: Hero (CO): 100bb: TT Fish (BB): 70bb [70/6/0.5]: 97
Turn: K (24.5bb, 2 players) BB checks, Hero checks.
River: 7 (24.5bb, 2 players)
Now this is a spot where a lot of villains will usually put out a bluff. He missed his OESDFD (something that makes most players frustrated), and he saw us showing weakness by checking behind on the turn. So most of the time they are gonna put out that bluff, taking the pot away from us. However, the 70/6/0.5 player doesnít bet that river. He just wants to see that showdown, after all he has a pair (and we all know how these players overvalue their hands). So he checks, and we get to check behind and take down that 24bb pot.) Such small pots make a surprisingly big difference in your final result.
A table with a small average pot size, may very well be filled with that kind of loose passive fish. Their passive nature has just prevented them to build a lot of big pots. For instance, letís look at another hand where both the involved players are fish with similar stats to the villain in the other hand:
Now only on the preflop round have we seen an example of bad players who youíd love to sit with, but still they donít create big pots. If at least one of these players was a TAG, there would have been at least a raise preflop in this hand, maybe even a 3bet.
CO sees the card completing the draws. In a scared fashion he puts out a small value/blocking bet. BTN who is also afraid of the draws, just calls! The final pot size is 15.5bb. An incredibly small pot considering the monsters the players had, but such hands go down between passive fish all the time. If this hand had been going on between two TAGs, the final pot size would by all likeliness have been 260bbs.
So a high average pot size doesnít always mean bad players, and a low one doesnít always mean good ones. However, if a good, aggressive player sits down at a table full of these opponents, he will be able to control pot sizes against them. They usually call down too much, and if the aggressive player picks up a bunch of hands that qualify to value bet multiple streets with, pots involving the calling stations and him could get rather large. This is why the tables with the low average pot sizes might not always be that bad at all. Players at it could be very willing to put money in the pot with medium hands. All they need is someone to make bets that they can call. Someone who will build big pots: YOU.
How do you find the tables with this kind of opponents? Personally, there is a strategy I have been using more and more lately. When I start a session I open a couple of empty tables, and sit down at them. What kind of players do you think is gonna sit down with me? Do you think the other decent TAGs who play multiple tables are gonna sit down and play heads up with another regular? Very unlikely. Most of the time the people that come to me are total fish. They usually buy-in for like 20-50bb (a very good sign), and start limping all over the place. It usually doesnít take long before I have 5 sweet loose/passive fish sitting with me, and the average stats of my table are amazingly often along the lines of 50/10/1 when I use this strategy. Then the fish double up through each other and I get to play with them 100bbs deep. uNL, I encourage you all to use this table selection technique the next time you start a session.
Sitting heads up is an interesting strategy, and probably effective as long as the tables are filling up. I hate the amount of rake you have to pay, though, in shorthanded uNL tables.
As far as the pot-size selection strategy, I agree that it does have its drawbacks (i.e. short term variance and lack of dependence on players' abilities), but bigger pots magnify the mistakes of your opponents. If you're a solid post-flop player, big pots play to your advantage and you should seek them out with regularity.