The single most significant decision you'll make which will affect how much money you can win, or how much you are likely to lose, is table selection. You must find a table where the majority of the people make more mistakes than you do, and if you find that table you will win in the long run and if you don't then you will lose.
You can be a world class player but if you sit at a table where everyone else is a better world class player you will lose. So when your goal is to make money (maybe it's not--maybe you just like the smell of felt) then you need to find, and recognize, tables under your skill level.
So how can you tell if a potential table is likely to be profitable? The best kind of table is one where a lot of people having fun and not raising very much. Sometimes it can be challenging to find a table like this, especially with online poker, but this is the ideal that you should be striving for at all times.
When you first sit down at a poker table, don't post the big blind. Instead, wait and watch how the people at the table behave. In just a few rounds you'll begin to get an idea how they play, and take special note of their starting cards, how they bet them. Do they like to bet on the come? Do they overvalue pocket pairs or an ace with a low kicker? Do they seem to understand position? In short, look for the common mistakes that new players and gamblers make when playing Texas Holdem.
At first you are looking for a general sense of how things are going at the table, and as you sit and play you should be constantly refining this estimate.
Rating a Poker Table for Profitability
One of the qualities of a table is, overall, how loosely the players play both before and after the flop. This should obviously be one of the first things you look at before sitting down at a table. If you see a table where 5 or more people are repeatedly seeing the flop and where many river showdowns are between more than two players then you are where you want to be.
At low limits in Brick and Mortar cardrooms you'll often see nearly every player see the flop every time. This would be maximum looseness. Most of the advice on this site is geared towards very loose tables (often called no fold 'em hold 'em tables) which not only means that a lot of players see the flop each hand, but that they also, and VERY IMPORTANTLY, continue on past the flop when they shouldn't. Contrary to what you might have heard these tables are extremely profitable if you make some adjustments to your game.
The opposite extreme would be a table where the blinds are often won uncontested by a raiser and on hands that see the flop where two or three people are usually in the hand. These tables can still be profitable when your opponents are weak tight, but your starting hand selections have to adjust to these sorts of tables and you will definitely lose money if you use the starting hands described on this site without adjustment. In general you want to avoid tight tables and play in loose games.
The other quality of the table is its aggressiveness, or how often do players raise? To get a rough idea how a table is playing observe one round of action. Every time a player bets or raises count up by one (don't count the big blind as a bet) and every time a player calls count down by one. After a round if the count is negative then the table is passive. If it's positive then the table is aggressive.
At passive tables players usually call... They call with their good hands, they call with their bad hands. By playing this way they encourage other players to also make weak calls because of the size of the pot. The advantage of this style is deception because, since a passive player always calls you will never be able to put them on a hand. The disadvantage is that passive players are paying too much money on bad draws and not getting paid enough for good draws.
Naturally the opposite of a passive table would be an aggressive one. When there are lots or raises the table is aggressive. The money fluctuations in an aggressive game are always greater than a passive game. Be careful about sitting down at a wild table, even if everyone there is playing any two cards. The variance at a table like this is going to be huge and if you get a run of bad cards or bad beats it can take a serious chunk out of your bankroll. Loose passive tables are your best bet for solid low-risk poker income.
The ideal table for our starting hand selections is a Loose Passive table. You'll make the most money with the least risk at this kind of a table. You can also play at a Loose Aggressive table but keep in mind this will have you only playing cards listed in Group 1 of our starting hands since you can count on three raises before the flop.
Other Things to Look For at the Poker Table:
Opponents who seem to be following the direct text of S&M's medium limit hold 'em book. That is opponents who frequently semi-bluff, bet second pair with Ace Kicker, etc.
Opponents who check-raise with top pair weak kicker.
Opponents who bet and raise on the come when they are not drawing to the nuts. (Betting and raising on a four flush when they do not hold the highest possible flush card)|
Opponents who like to play any two cards (including 72o, etc.)
Opponents who play well!
Usually you are making money from everyone who is playing worse than you and giving it to everyone who is playing better. That means that you should be sure that you are better than at least half the players at the table (and preferably better than ALL of them)
Remember: you don't need to play every hand!
If you are feeling frustrated from an especially bad beat, or the table is wild you can simply sit out. This is often a better approach than "tightening up" as the second or third bad beat in a row with "good cards" can easily drive any player into a bad poker-playing frame of mind.
Order some fries and a coke and sit back and watch. When things calm down take your blind and start again.
Do not play poker when you are not able to make good decisions!
That means don't play when anger and frustration are ruling your thoughts and especially don't play when you are bored or tired. Some players bring CD players and listen to music during the game. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself awake and alert and ruled by logic and not emotion.