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Good Table
CEO "Rocket Boy" 11.02.2006

What makes a good table? A bunch of tight-weak players folding when you bet? Maybe. A bunch of maniacs raising each oher all-in on every hand? Maybe. Or is there a happy medium?

Well let's see now. We'll define a "good table" as a table where you can win a lot of chips in either a tournament or a cash game. You want people to fold when you're bluffing and to call you when you have the winning hand, right? Of course! But what kinds of players will do that for you, and can you really find them all together at one poker table?

Last time "Troi" discussed the four player types generally used to categorize players' styles. The tight-weak players are the most likely to fold when you bet. So you'd want a table full of them if you like to bluff. The trouble with that scenario is that you'll only win small pots because you won't get called often after the flop. Sure, small pots add up to decent hourly rates. It doesn't sound like much fun but you could just sit there, steal, and grind it out.

In tournaments, you certainly can and should build up chips by bluffing. Early on, you probably won't be barrelling people off of large pots unless they're really bad players. Especially in rebuy tournaments. But eventually even weak-tight players can get to a point where they have to make a stand, because they're short stacked and the blinds are going up in a tournament. This is what a bluffer wants. His opponents are now prepared to pay him off if he really does make a big hand and they don't give him credit.

What about a high-action table full of loose-aggressive gamblers? Is that a "better" table? Well it could be, if you're not trying to bluff. You'll either need to gamble right along with everyone and get lucky or wake up with aces or kings and not get cracked. Versus multiple "live card" hands, your odds of winning with just one pair goes down significantly. So either way, you'll need the deck to hit you at that table. And if it does, you could have a huge winning session.

In a tournament, this kind of action usually only happens in rebuy events, before the rebuy period ends. This may actually be the best way to play such events, since having a big stack does provide an advantage in tournaments. If everyone at your table rebuys many times, on average the players at your table will have larger stacks than anyone else. Assuming that all players in the event are equally skilled, and assuming a random distribution of cards, the number of chips you have is a rough indication of your chance of winning. If you have 10% of the chips in play, you have roughly a 10% chance of winning.

In a freezeout event, or after a rebuy event's rebuy period ends, it's very rare to have that much action at one table. Reckless players that somehow survived are few and far between. So, while they last, those players will act like the "donors" in a cash game. But more often than not, you want your table to be populated by weak-tight players in a tournament. They're predictable and they will rarely challenge you for dominance.

You can steadily build your stack without any major showdowns, bluff them off pots with small fractions of your stack, and cruise through the early and middle blind levels without too much risk. When they do come over the top, you know you're beat and you can get away from your bluffs. If you are dealt aces, you can just check-call instead of trying to get it all in against your weak-tight opponents, who may not pay you off anyway. As long as you're winning more small to medium pots than you're losing, you're doing fine. And the simple act of playing many pots will cause your opponents to play more hands too. You can't always "have it" so they'll try to outflop you with nothing, and you can outplay them after the flop.

Daniel Negreanu and others refer to this as "small ball". It's like hitting many base hits instead of a few home runs. It all adds up, and you aren't relying on a few high fastballs to score. You can bunt, hit bloopers, steal bases, and actually play as opposed to just swinging for the fences. (Of course, in small buyin tournaments with aggressive blind structures, you'll probably need to be more aggressive from hand number one...)

So the definition of a "good table" depends on your playing style and the type of game you're in. If the loose-aggressive bluffing style works for you, having a calling station or two at your table will slow you down. They'll usually snap off your bluffs, so you'll be forced to actually make hands against them. If everyone else at the table is also loose-aggressive, you'd better hope that you can rebuy if it's a tournament, or that you're playing a cash game with a big bankroll.

But if you're tight-aggressive, weak-tight opponents will almost guarantee a profitable session. You could win pots from the calling station AND the bully if you find yourself in the right situations. Note that the word "aggressive" appears in both these player type categories. If you're weak-tight or weak-aggressive, you'll never find a good table.