Choosing a winning seat scientifically

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2006) in Bluff magazine.

“The secret to poker,” a young woman I’d been trying to date told me long ago, “is to find a lucky seat.”

Back then, I needed to set people straight. So, I prodded, “What would make one seat luckier than another?”

Provoked, she curiously asked about my birthday. “You’re a Taurus,” she told me. It was the sixties, the age of astrology, and if you didn’t know your sign and how it interacted with other people’s signs, you probably weren’t going to get laid.

“I don’t believe in that stuff,” I blurted, choosing confrontation over affection.

“It’s proven,” she stammered. “It’s science. It’s real. You’ll never be able to choose a lucky seat. I pity you.” These words seemed strange to me, coming from a woman I’d lent $500 to yesterday. As she stormed away, I nodded in a cocky, knowing, superior way, so the audience that had gathered wouldn’t think I stood there defeated.

If you weren’t part of the poker dating game in the hippie era, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Emotions were volatile, except mine. I still believed in logic at a time when the mere word itself was disdained. Anyway, I’ve been sidetracked again.

No lucky seats

There are no lucky seats. Cards arrive randomly, and although there are hot seats and cold seats, you can only see them by looking in the rearview mirror. It’s always after the fact. On the very next hand, the chances that the hot seat gets good cards are no better than that the cold seat does. Weird streaks really do happen. Often. But if you declare a fresh starting point during any perceived lucky or unlucky streak, the cards from that point on average what is expected. They may continue to be good in a “lucky” seat or continue to be bad in an “unlucky” seat, but the reverse is exactly as likely.

Now that I’ve told you that there’s no reason to presume any seat will be luckier than any other, I want you to think about this:

It’s important to choose the best winning seat in poker! You see, there’s a difference between a lucky seat and a winning seat.

Profitable seats

Although your chance of getting good or bad hands remains constant in any seat, your expectation of profit is not constant. There are good seats and bad ones. Here’s what you need to know.

You often have a choice of seats when your begin playing. Even if there’s only one seat available, you might still choose a different game where the seat is more favorable. Or, once you’re seated, you can watch for an opportunity to switch to a more profitable seat. There’s a huge difference between having a policy of choosing and moving to better seats and just letting fate decide. I suspect if you’re just spinning your wheels, not paying attention to choosing the most profitable seat, then you can race toward the big profit just by being selective.

Don’t worry. I wasn’t going to end today’s column without telling you which seats are more profitable. Here goes…

How to decide

Players who act after you have a positional advantage, because they get to see what you do before they decide. And players who act before you have a positional disadvantage, because you get to see what they do before you decide. This is advantage is so powerful that if you could put a weather satellite up in space and have in focus on a poker table, you see a powerful current at the money flows clockwise around the table, from right to left – the same direction as the action.

In order to take advantage of position, you need to ride the wind, cruise the current, go with the flow, whatever. We understand each other, right? Okay, there are two main types of players you want seated to your right, so you can act after they do.

  1. Loose players. They barge into pots with pitiful hands. You want to act after a player like that, because then you can apply your aggressive raises when you hold superior hands without chasing away that action. Loose players call most blinds and most bets, but they don’t call most raises. So, if you’re in the wrong seat, acting before them, your raise is likely to scare their weak hands out of the pot. But once they call that first bet and then you raise, it’s different. They’re committed and usually they’ll call, already having trapped themselves. Even if they don’t call, they’ve surrendered something to your pot that you wouldn’t have gained had you acted first. So, favor a seat that puts the loosest players near your right.
  2. Skillful and aggressive players. The reason for this is that if you take a seat on the opposite side, letting this type of player act after you, then you won’t have dominance over your game. You’ll have an intelligent, assertive, and often tricky foe muddling up your strategy. This is precisely the type of player you would like to see act first, negating his positional advantage.

Sometimes the choice will be difficult. Do you want to take the seat with the loose player is on your right or the one with the aggressive player on your right? Although that will be a tough choice sometimes, usually it won’t be. Whether the choice is easy or hard, chasing down the most profitable seat helps build your bankroll.

One last thing: There’s a type of player who can safely sit to your left and act after you. That’s a tight, timid player. Although everyone who sits to your left has a positional advantage over you, the tightest and least aggressive players won’t maximize that advantage.

So, there aren’t any lucky seats in poker. But there are winning seats. Go find them. — 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.


4 thoughts on “Choosing a winning seat scientifically”

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  1. How about do an experiment with say 50 deck of carda preshuffled ready to play. 2 sets of 25 shuffled to play exactly the same played at two diff tables. See what kind of winners take down the pot. That might prove that the signs n voodooism dont matter instead its the rational of loose,timid, or any other type of player who wins. Poker to me is about making the right decision all the time whether i win or lose. That alone should justify whether astrology will map out the size of your bankroll

  2. High Mike,

    I was wondering if you ever gave any consideration to the seat that has the best view of all the action, and other players at the table?? I find that when sitting at most oval tables, the seats directly next to the dealer to be the worst, and the seats the be at both ends of the oval to be the best, as far as player observation goes. Nice if you don’t know the playing style of anyone at your table.

    1. I agree. If I have no other infomation (such as a new table being opened) I like the 3,4,6,7 seats for the best veiw of all the other players. Then I would try to see where it is best to move as seats open up.

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