The Waiting Game: Selecting your Online Poker Table

When I signed up for my first online poker account at PokerStars, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had years of experience playing Texas Hold’em in live card rooms and casinos, but I had never played poker online. In fact, I barely knew how to check my email or download photos from my digital camera.

tpsThe first thing that threw me for a loop was the PokerStars lobby and the tremendous amount of cash games (ring games) and tournaments offered. These ranged from freeroll events that were free to enter, all the way up to high stakes games that I couldn’t even fathom having a large enough bankroll to sit down at.

The second thing that attracted my attention was that several of these ring games had waiting lists, while others with the same buy-ins and blinds, did not. It immediately got my curiosity asking the question “why does everyone want to play at this table when there are plenty of empty seats on all these other tables?”

After playing online poker for a few days it became apparent that the tables with long waiting lists had two things in common: one, the average pots per hand were larger, and two, the percentage of players to the flop per hand were greater than on those tables that did not have waiting lists.

For example, Table A where everyone wanted to play, averaged $12.00 per pot and 44% of players to the flop. While Table B, where there was no waiting list, averaged $8.00 per pot, and 15% of players to the flop.

What these statistics indicated to me was that Table A was likely filled with less skilled or  loose players who weren’t afraid to call the blinds and pre-flop raises in hopes of catching trips or a flush on the flop. In other words, Table A was the ideal feeding ground for advanced players looking to swoop in and chomp up some easy chips. Or at least that’s how it appeared.

I immediately bought into the waiting list hype and found myself signing up to play on tables with high average pots and a high percent of players to the flop. “It’s worth the wait,” I would say to myself, and waiting is exactly what I did until I finally received the invite to sit down at one, a half-hour later. As soon as I took my seat I realized something was up. No one was limping in on the blinds. No one was calling my pre-flop raises, and the average pot had dwindled well below what it had been before. In fact, there was no longer even a waiting list for my table.

PokerStars Lobby

I played a few hands, lost a few chips, and decided it was time to go. This wasn’t a table full of amateurs with loose pockets anymore; these were experienced poker players who knew damn well what they were doing. In fact, these were the same people I had been waiting in line with the entire time. All the original ducks from Table A had left the pond and were now either  trying to earn back their money on another table, or were on their sofas flipping through Phil Hellmuth’s book trying to figure out what went wrong.

Soon after this experience I began adopting a new game plan when it came time to select a table. I would find a table that had just been created, preferably one with three or four available seats, and I’d sit down and play a few hands and see how things went.

If the table was tight, and I could gauge that the competition was up to my level or greater, I would move on. If the table was loose however, with players that I knew I could beat, I would stick around and reap the rewards. Then as soon as the waiting list for my table began to pile up, and the lower tier players began running out of chips and departing for what they hoped were greener pastures, I would jump ship as well, and leave the lobby dwellers to battle it out amongst themselves.

The point of this article is this: just because there’s a long waiting list for an online ring game doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good table to sit down at, at least not by the time you get your chance to play. My advice is to find a table with a few seats available, play a few hands, and see how it goes from there. Don’t waste half of your poker session waiting in line just for a chance to play. Sites like PokerStars offer dozens of tables for each level of buy-in, so there’s always a game waiting for you. Just take your mother’s advice and don’t follow the crowd. Get in early, and go home happy.