The key to table selection is having a good seat at a great table. Beware, there is such a thing as a bad seat at a great table.
I primarily look at games with 6-8 players and a large pot size. I do this so I’m less likely to join a game that’s already been filled. I get a choice of a couple seats at the table and games that are a little short handed punish the fast ‘n loose players less harshly.
Before I join a game, I look at stacks and limpers (hard to squeeze blood from a stone). If there are too many stacks under $12, it’s not worth my time. In the first 2 hands I watch I want to see more than 2 limpers outside of the blinds or a fair raise with 2 callers. I want to play against players that take the adage “any hand can win” too far. I also look for betting that’s a little wild. Generally, I only look at a hand or two before claiming a seat. I don’t want to have my target fill up or loose the best seat!
When taking a seat, ideally I want position on tall to moderate stacks and loose/aggressive players. I want to give position a short stack or a very tight player. No point in having position on someone that won’t be playing many hands or doesn’t have the chips to pay me off. Also having position on a somewhat manic player allows me to hide behind their bets and waste less money folding weak positions to them after betting/limping.
Generally, I post a newbie blind unless I’m 2 or fewer hands away from my big blind. I get right into the action, but am quick to leave if I don’t like what I see. The first time around the table I’m looking at who is calling raises, who is weak, etc. I’ll get a little more aggressive with pre-flop raises to feel out the table (well worth the $1.5 IMHO to raise a hand I might otherwise limp in with to get this information).
Signs I’m at the right table:
* Multiple players limping in
* Position on a loose and aggressive player
* Players calling raises after trying to limp with weak hands
* Players showing weak hands outside of the blinds (Ace-little offsuit, unsuited connectors, etc.)
* Outrageous raises on top quality hands (so I know when to fold.)
* Players limping or only raising to $1 with top quality hands
It’s probably time to find another table when:
* 1 or fewer players limp a couple times in a series of 8-10 hands. Getting down to just the blinds is a very bad sign.
* Maniac with position on me by 1 or 2 seats. Dealing with his (re)raises can be trying and the check + call counter to that is a pain. Also, I’m less likely to be the last to act when I’m in late position, but don’t have the button.
* I can’t pick out the weak players at the table.
* Many of the weak players go all-in on a single hand suicide pact, then several leave.
* Multiple strong/tight players. Particularly filling seats left by weak players.
* No one is calling my pre-flop raises with weak hands. If I can regularly take the blinds with a $2 pre-flop raise, I’m probably at the wrong table.
* I have position on the short stacks.
Fnord makes very good points in his criteria for table selection AND seat selection at a given online No Limit Hold’em table. I play the $25 buy-in no limit tables where the blinds are $.25 and $.50. When I enter Party Poker or Full Tilt Poker, I will start looking at the tables that have a larger average pot size. This tends to be pot sizes around $20 or more. However, before I take a seat at that table, I will look at the position of the seats relative to the large and small chip stacks, again, seeking the right position at the right table. It’s important to try to sit to the LEFT of the big chip stacks so you have position on the money. The chips tend to flow to the left around the table, so having this position can help your profitability. I tend to play multiple tables at once, so I will usually take the best seat at the best three tables simultaneously.
Now, of course, you don’t really know for sure the quality of the table until you start playing. But one of the benefits of playing online, and specifically playing at Party Poker or Full Tilt Poker is the vast number of available tables at the stakes we play. So, if I find that one of my tables is tougher than initially anticipated, I just leave and look for another. It’s that simple.
One last important note I’d like to add. Do not let the table, and the players at the table, affect your emotional state. If you find that you are seated at a tough table, and have lost some money (or all your money) at this table, don’t let it become personal where you want to stay and make your money back. There are easier tables out there. Use your option to get up and find them. In the end, we are looking to make money. Not make money from particular players or tables. Let it go, and make your life easier.