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Choosing Poker Game

There are two main factors involved when evaluation the money-making potential of any poker game:

  1. How well do you play this particular game?
  2. How well do the other players play?

Which of these two factors do you think is more important?  Well, unless you are a superstar, I think it is No.2. A good poker player figures to win more bets from a bunch of bad players than an expert figures to win in a fairly tough game.

If you are a fairly good player who is more interested in winning money than just having a good time, the most important aspect of your play is your game selection.

As long as you aren’t looking to play $ 30-$ 60 or higher, you should be able to find a variety of games of the size you want to play. 

(This page is obviously directing itself toward players who complete in casinos in Nevada, California, Washington, New Jersey, and Mississippi where there is  a large choice of games.)

The question is which one to choose.  I have already mentioned two factors involved in your decision.  I now list them all in the approximate order of importance.

  1. The ability of your opponents.
  2. Your own ability at the game.
  3. The size of the game.
  4. The rake.
  5. The speed of the game.
  6. The number of players.

Let us look at these factors one at a time.

Unless you are an excellent poker player, it is critical that the game have at least a couple of bad players.  A bad player is one who either:

  1. Plays far too many hands.  Or
  2. Plays in a way that completely gives his hand away.

Very bad players do both.  Of these two bad ways to play, A is worse in a full game with a relatively small ante and B is worse in a short-handed poker game with a large ante. 

If two different types of games have approximately equally bad players, you should naturally choose the game at which you are better. 

After all, factors 1 and 2 could really be combined into the difference between your level of play and your opponent’s.

By the way, along these lines, I think that it is inexcusable not to learn every game fairly well.  I have often seen Las Vegas “hustlers”  playing in a terrible seven-card stud game while there was a great hold’em game going on at the next table. 

Since they didn’t play hold’em at all, they couldn’t take advantage of it.  Don’t you make this mistake.  Learn all games!

If two games seem very close in your mind, you should pick the game with the larger stakes if you can afford it and everything else is equal.  In fact, even if the smaller game seems slightly better you still should choose the larger game. 

As long as you have the bankroll to sustain fluctuations, it is better to play, let’s say, $ 10-$ 20 where you figure to average winning approximately three bets per hour than to win four bets per hour out of a $ 5-$ 10 game.

Don’t go overboard on this, however.  I have seen these same misguided hustlers play in bad $ 30-$ 60 games when the neighboring $ 15-$ 30 game had to be worth more to them in the long run.

The “rake” is discussed in a later essay.  It is only a major factor in the smaller games.  If two casinos have similar games, choose the one with the smaller rake.

Even a good game is not that good if it is slow.  This is quite common, for instance, if there is a drunk in the game.  No matter what the reason, be aware that a slow game cuts into your hourly profits. 

Conversely, a fast game increases them. For this reason, you might want to choose to play in a somewhat tougher game if it is much faster. 

This is especially true if you are an expert poker player and are thus capable of beating tougher games.  You will win less money per hand but more money per hour than in an easier, but much slower game.

The number of players in a game may also be a significant factor. A short-handed game may be preferable because it is faster. However, there are two reasons why you might be better off in a full game. 

For one, the rake in a short-handed game is usually proportionately much higher.  Secondly, it is very difficult to play short-handed poker well (unless you are up against very bad players).  If you are not use to short-handed games, you would be wise to stay out of them.

Do not underestimate the importance of game selection. The ability to choose a game is almost as importance as the ability to play well.  If you use the criteria outlined in this essay, you should usually find yourself in the game best suited for you.

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