“Alternatives, and particularly desirable alternatives, grow only on imaginary trees.”
-- Saul Bellow
One of the least controversial winning poker concepts is the idea that game selection is important. Still, it also might be the least
appreciated of the critical poker skills.
Exercising good game selection will mean different things to different people. For instance, unlike a successful part-time player who
might be forced by other responsibilities to live in a place that only offers a handful of games to choose from, if you are a
professional player looking for the best games to make a living from, you should be looking at the whole planet, or at least your
native country, when you consider game selection. What locality best fits your temperament,
bankroll, and game preference? In the United
States, Las Vegas offers the largest number of the biggest games ($100/200 and up). Los Angeles offers the widest selection of games
between $3/6 and $60/120. The Northeast offers the widest selection of
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Las Vegas usually takes the house rake via a percentage of
every pot, leading to tighter games; California games either have a button drop or time collection which unlike the Las Vegas rake
spreads the cost equally to all the players, and leads to much looser, more aggressive games.
The weakest Las Vegas players generally are the much-maligned “tourists” who often are unable to play poker regularly so they tend to
give more, and get in more, action than the game merits. In great contrast, the weakest Los Angeles players tend to play regularly and
have a whole array of tricks and abilities that the tourists don’t have -- but have holes in their games you can drive a truck
The weakness of your opposition is the critical thing to exploit, but “weak” players can be tremendously different in their
weaknesses. I believe that overall the weakest
players play Holdem. (It’s no coincidence that Holdem is by far the most popular game.) However, Holdem as a game protects weaker players
much better than Omaha or Stud. Weak players have zero chance in Omaha, and not much of one in Stud, but weak players (loose weak players
at least) have a fighting chance in Holdem. It shouldn't be hard to see that a player who always plays 40/60
underdogs does have a chance to win over a reasonable
period of time, or at least to not lose much. But a player playing games where he is a 10/90 or even 25/75 dog, this player is dead as a
doornail. So, even though the weakest players might be playing Holdem, the correct game selection might be to choose an Omaha or Stud game.
On the other
hand, Omaha or Stud games containing mostly very good players are just awful. With its higher
variance and greater random luck, Holdem games with
decent players can still be profitable for very good players. A very good player has more to work with to “make things happen” in Holdem.
The poker players best suited to winning are ones who can walk into a casino and conceivably play in any game or any limit in the
club. They select the best game. Of course, most players are limited in their choices by
bankroll considerations. We might also choose to limit
ourselves temperamentally, for example, maybe forgoing a better Omaha game for a Holdem game because Omaha is so boring. However,
decisions like this should be conscious. If you select a game that isn’t the best $-choice, you better have a good reason.
It’s an interesting thing that game selection (and its cousin, table selection) really becomes critical when you have a lot of choices
and when you have very few. Obviously if you only have two games to choose from, if one is far better than the other, you are making a
huge error by not getting in the better game. On the other hand, playing online poker, you can have 100 games at your fingertips. You don’t
need to find the single best game out of that 100, but it is a major mistake if you don’t find yourself an excellent game among the choices.
Especially if you are a fairly experienced player, don’t trivialize game selection. Ask yourself why you are playing the game you are
playing in, at the table you are playing at. Look around the cardroom, or the online lobby, and find the next best game that you
could be in, and ask yourself why you are choosing the game you are in over that other game. Since it is a basic, critical-to-success skill,
constantly challenge yourself on game selection. Don't just take it for granted.
Also see: Poker Experts and