Choosing the winning poker seat


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2006) in Casino Player.


First, let me teach you something about the lottery. You can’t select the luckiest numbers by picking birthdays. Anniversaries don’t work, either. In fact, you can’t select the luckiest numbers, period. That’s because all numbers are equally likely and, therefore, equally lucky. Over a year, some numbers will occurred more often than others, but there’s no way to predict them in advance.

Oddly, you can pick combinations of lottery numbers that are more profitable than others. These combinations won’t have a better chance to win, but they’re worth more, because they’re less likely to share the prize on the rare times they do win. If you pick 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and win the grand prize in a mainstream lottery, expect to have to split it many ways. Picking combinations of numbers that include many outside the popular birthday range of 1 to 31 will decrease your chance of having to split the jackpot and, so, increase the value of your numbers. Since some players know this, you shouldn’t pick all numbers beyond the birthday range, though – otherwise you’re more likely to split a jackpot with that group.

Okay, enough about the lottery. Why am I telling you this? It’s because, although scientifically there are no lucky lottery combinations, there are winning lottery combinations – or at least less unprofitable ones. (By the way, I’ve never purchased a lottery ticket in my life.)

About lucky poker seats

Here’s something similar about poker. There are no lucky poker seats. But there are winning poker seats. In the same way that no lottery number has a better chance to appear more often than others, no seat at a poker table has a better chance of being dealt good cards.

Yes, there are hot streaks and cold streaks, but they can only be seen in the rearview mirror. From any point onward, your expectation of receiving good hands or bad hands is exactly the same as it would be in any other seat.

So how can there be a winning seat, if there are no lucky seats? Remember, you can often choose your seat – sometimes when you first sit down or by voluntarily changing to another chair when the opportunity arises later.

The concept of winning seats has to do with the power of position in poker. The action goes clockwise. This means that any player sitting to the left of anyone else gets to see what that opponent does before responding. That advantage is so great that if you could shoot videos of a poker table from a weather satellite up in space, you’d see the money flowing around the table in a predominantly clockwise direction as all players benefit from position. That means players on your right are your main source of profit and players to your left are likely to beat you.

Skill

Of course, it matters how skillful you are. It should be the task of superior players to minimize the advantage of players on their left and to maximize their own advantage against players on their right. I teach that it’s even a good idea to make friends with players on your left, so they won’t be inspired to leverage their positional advantage against you, and to declare war on those to your right. How do you make friends? Use your imagination. Buying coffee, chatting, sharing thoughts about a past hand, asking respectfully for advice – anything like that makes opponents psychologically less motivated to stretch their advantage.

So, now we come to the best part. When you have a choice of seats, which players do you want on your right and which players do you want on your left? Carefully analysis and simulation point to clear conclusions that might not otherwise be intuitive. You want two types of players to your right, so you can act after them: (1) Loose, carefree players, because they are the main source of your profit; and (2) Aggressive, winning players, because they are most likely to punish you if they sit to your left.

Let me give you a way-too-simple illustration that proves why you want loose players on your right. Let’s say you’re dealt an unbeatable hand. The loose player is on your right and calls the big blind. You raise and the loose player, having already invested one bet, reluctantly calls. Now let’s change the situation and say that loose player is on your left, so you act first. You raise the blind and that same loose player with the same fairly weak hand thinks, “Well, I’m here to gamble, but I can’t come in for two bets with this hand.” Now you see it? In the first case, you trapped the loose opponent for two bets. In the second, you won nothing. Clearly it’s better to have loose players, the dominant source of your poker income, on your right.

Who else?

But it’s also best to have a nearly opposite type of player – aggressive, selective, winning – on your right. That way you can minimize their skills against you, because they must act first and can’t leverage their position.

Okay, so loose players and aggressive winners go on your right. Who goes on your left? Rocks – those solid players who just sit and wait for the best hand before taking a chance. You can allow them on your left, because their positional advantage is diminished by the fact that they don’t play often.

Once again: Choose a winning seat by placing either loose opponents or aggressive winners to your right and tight players (rocks) to your left. Your opponents won’t always be seated in a way that makes the best seat perfectly clear, but often they will. Making a practice of choosing and moving to more profitable seats is enough to turn break-even poker players into instant winners. It will also greatly enhance your bankroll, if you’re already a winning player.

Choose seats carefully. Choose wisely. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mikecaro
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/caro.mike

Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today’s foremost authority of poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full biography at Poker1.com.

7 thoughts on “Choosing the winning poker seat”

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  1. How do you compensate for the live tournament games where you sign in and you are assigned a specific seat at a specific table? I usually find my seat, but don’t sit down immediately (I fiddle w/ my jacket, order a drink, etc.) so I can see a hand. BUT, it the seat is in the blinds, I’ll sit and play.

    1. Hi, Roxie — You’re right. There’s not much (and usually not anything) you can do in a tournament regarding seat selection. I’m not sure I would hesitate to sit down just to observe how opponents are playing. You can take your seat, look at your cards, and still decide — albeit with reduced information. Of course, if you can delay taking the blind for a hand or two, that might help very slightly. Personally, I don’t do that. So, you can’t choose your tournament seats. You can, however, choose your tournaments. — Mike Caro

  2. With a moving button, doesn’t each seat have an equal number of shots at the positional advantage ?

    1. Vito, you will have position on the opponent to your immediate right every hand of an orbit except for one. The hand when that opponent has the button.

  3. Mike: Thanks again (and again) for another article with such good advice. Unfortunately selecting a seat at an online game is near impossible. If I find a table with one or more poor players I jump on or join a waiting list and take the first seat I can. I then adjust the hands I will play based on my position. Three nights ago I was seated between two poor players (they are not fish, they are not donks, they are poor players with money, that makes them my friends). That became one of my winningest nights ever. Position is King (sometimes it is the Ace).
    Rich

  4. but the lottery is a good thing right?
    if you really think about it… everyone is on your right…
    the only question is how far.

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