Selecting and changing seats at poker


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2011) in Bluff magazine under the title – The Myth of the Magic Poker Seat.


I’ve seen three people die playing poker. One man was sitting next to me on my left, another to my right. The third was at an adjacent table and fell dead at my feet. All three deaths happened in the legal cardrooms of Gardena, California in the 1970s.

Three heart attacks. Three seats temporarily empty. In each case, the games continued after only a few minutes interruption. Back then, there were no professional dealers. Players took turns dealing. And the dead players were dealt out – as a courtesy, I guess – while casino staff and, later, paramedics worked futilely to revive them.

Me? I couldn’t bring myself to keep playing. I took my chips and left those games.

Perspective

I wonder if there was something about the poker players in those days that made them less feeling, less humane – something that allowed them to tune out the tragedy in the surrounding world and believe cards to be a more reliable reality. And, if so, is it different today?

Why am I talking about this? I guess it’s to share a perspective. It’s easy to feel the cards are being cruel to you, that your seat is unlucky. But if you’re still alive to witness your own misfortune, you’re probably better off than the three players I just told you about.

I’ve known some players to change chairs regularly, trying to find a lucky seat. But here’s the truth: There’s no such thing as a lucky seat in a poker game. And there are no unlucky seats, either. The seats where players died weren’t unlucky. They just served as the staging area for tragic events.

And that’s the way you have to look at poker and life. You can’t inject superstition into science. Even if poker chairs had tiny brains, they would lack the mental force to figure out good hands from bad ones and to communicate to the deck which card combinations should land in front of them.

Chairs just aren’t smart enough. I mean no disrespect to the chairs that surround a poker table when I assert that they don’t have tiny brains. They have no brains whatsoever. There, I finally said it out loud.

No authority

And because chairs have no brains, they have neither the capability nor the authority to dictate what cards will come or who will survive and who will die. Hence, there are no lucky seats and no unlucky ones. Seats may seem lucky or unlucky after the fact, though.

But that’s just because luck is something you notice later. It isn’t something you can predict. Streaks occur in poker and in life. When we say events happen randomly, that doesn’t mean they line up in neat sequences that seem fair, like heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails. That uniform pattern is unusual. Cards come in great flurries of fortune and mountains of misery. And although you can’t predict this beforehand, you can see it after it has happened.

Now, listen. Even when you look back and notice that a consistent flow of bad cards has visited the chair where you sit, that reality has no influence on what will happen next.

Okay, here’s the good news. Maybe you’ve heard me talk about winning seats in poker. It’s not superstition. It’s science.

Some readers already know what I’m about to recommend regarding seat selection. However, they might not grasp the importance of following my advice. First the advice, then the importance…

Advice

The advice is to look for good seats when you enter a game. Often there will be two or more choices. Sometimes there will be multiple games with one open seat in each, and if the games are fairly equal in potential profit, you want the game with the better seat. Sometimes you’ll be in a game when a seat opens across the table and you’ll have a chance to switch.

Whatever. The magic is that there are two types of poker players you want seated to your right.

When players are on your right, you have a positional advantage, because most of the time, they’ll have to act first. That’s because poker action is clockwise. Then, you’ll get to see what they do before you make your decision. In poker, that advantage turns out to be so powerful that even top pros lose money for their lifetimes to players sitting on their left and win most of their profit from opponents sitting immediately to their right.

You can dramatically increase your profit by choosing which players sit to your right and which to your left. On your right, you want loose opponents, who play too many hands. That way, you can let them enter pots and then raise. If you act before they do, because they’re on your left, you’re apt to chase away their action if you raise someone else.

There’s another type of opponent that you want on your right – aggressive, skillful players. That’s so you can see if they’re going to play before you enter the pot. If you allow these players to be on your left, they’ll often interfere with your money-making tactics against weaker opponents.

And who goes on your left, where they have a positional advantage over you? Obviously, it’s the players who won’t maximize their positional advantage. These turn out to be tight players, especially ones who don’t raise enough when they have quality hands. Think tight and timid. Since they play fewer pots, they won’t interfere with you nearly as much – and you can often chase them out of pots by raising.

Importance

I’ve just given you the keys to profitable seat selection. Good.

But this isn’t just minor advice that adds to your profit. Practicing what I just advised can account for your entire profit if you’re a break-even player now. And that profit can be substantial. Sudden major profit – just because you started thinking about winning seats.

If you haven’t been adhering to this advice previously and you’re a small loser, well – wake up – when I clap my hands, you’re a winner! Already, a winner? That advice will add greatly to your profit.

The secret is to care enough to actually choose the right seat. Don’t be glued to the one you’re in.

Someday you’ll hear someone sit down, get bad cards, and utter that worn-out attempt at humor, “Who died in this seat?” And you’ll be glad it wasn’t you. You’re alive and know which seats are the most profitable. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

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