The Importance of Picking the Right Game

One of the lessons a poker player learns fairly early on is the importance of exploiting even small edges.

We know that over the long run the cards will essentially breakeven; therefore we learn to make thin value bets and how to bet on every street in order to get the maximum value. Failure to do so means we leave money on the table and will have a hard time beating the rake and the inevitable bad beats.

One of the lessons many players fail to learn is the importance of game selection. This not only relates to the games in the poker room but those throughout the casino.

Unless you are playing in a home game, odds are you will have a choice of tables. After putting your name on the waitlist, spend some time observing the tables. You are looking for one where your style and level of play gives you an edge.

You have to take an approach similar to that of a race handicapper. Serious players go to the track with one or two races in mind. Most will only make a bet on those particular races and even then only if the odds are correct. As a poker player you have to have the same discipline and be willing to wait for a seat at the table that is right for you.

Table Types

The Tourists – First look for a table where everyone is talking and laughing; lots of alcohol on the side tables is a plus. More than likely these players are recreational players and came to the table to “play some poker.” While they may be decent players, they are most likely there to have fun, not grind out a win. These games require a bit of patience and the variance can be fairly high. Since “playing poker” doesn’t mean folding, most pots will be multi-way and bad beats are inevitable.

Grinder Tables – Many of the tables will have players that take the game fairly seriously. Observe their style of play and decide if this is a game for you. Notice things such as the size of the opening raises, number of players that see the flop, and especially what hands are tabled at showdown. Take note of the average chip stack as well. One of the older poker axioms, “If you look around the table and can’t spot the spot the fish, the it’s probably you” is to an extent true. Just make that analysis before you take your seat. If you are a loose aggressive player, look for a table of tight players. If you are tight aggressive, pick the table full of maniacs.

Other poker variants are becoming more popular. Once games such as PLO, Omaha 8/b, Razz, and Courchevel were only found online, but they are beginning to make their way into the brick and mortar card rooms.

You: Action is your middle name

Your Game: Pot Limit Omaha


You know those guys in Hold’em games that are firmly convinced that any two cards can win? Well imagine them with four cards. Make no mistake: there are players at the table that know exactly what they are doing along with those that relentlessly chase hands. Unlike Hold’em, Omaha is a drawing game so the players aren’t making as much of a mistake. Just remember the winning hand in Omaha is often the stone cold nuts. Your chip stack is likely to undergo wild swings, but learning PLO is well worthwhile.

It is rare to find a place where you can play poker that does not offer other games as well. Usually taking a seat at the poker table is a fairly long term commitment. When you decide to move away from the poker table, either due to time or just to try another game, picking the right game is just as important.

You: Life of the Party

Your Game: Craps



Going to a casino is supposed to be fun. If you like a party atmosphere and players that sound more like they are at a sporting event than in a casino, then craps is for you. The players usually win or lose as a group so the table develops a team dynamic in very short order.

The pace of craps is very fast; there are lots of bets being made between every roll, and the game has a language all its own.

If you have never played craps, it is far easier than it appears. Keep your first venture at the table fairly simple; make a pass line bet, take double odds, and place the 6 and 8. You’ll find the other players eager to assist. Craps odds vary depending on the bets, but in general the house edge is very low.

One other note; craps players are notoriously superstitious. The best way to stay on everyone’s good side is to NEVER say the word “seven” when the puck says “ON.”

You: Sedate and Elegant

Your Game: Baccarat



Baccarat conjures the image of tuxedoed gentlemen and elegantly dressed women sitting quietly around a table. The elegant baccarat tables of the movies do exist in some high roller and VIP areas of American casinos, but usually the game is played on the familiar seven-seat casino tables.

Baccarat is extremely simple and relatively slow paced. When playing baccarat the house edge is very low as well. All of the action at the baccarat table is carried out by the dealer. Players have three possible wagers; player, banker, or tie. The player and the banker each receive two cards; the one closest to 9 wins. The banker and the player can both draw another card in hopes of improving their hand. The rules for drawing are very specific and the dealer makes all decisions. A tie bet, when both players have the same hand, pays 8 to 1, while other bets are paid even money.

The game is played with an 8 deck shoe, and players are given a scorecard to track the play.

You: Slow and Steady

Your Game: Blackjack


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Blackjack is the most popular game in the casino. It’s easy to play and the house edge is a very favorable .5% when you play basic strategy. To most players, this is enough information and means that they find an empty seat and play. In blackjack, it also pays to “table shop.”

Blackjack describes a wide number of variants which have minor rule variations. It is not unusual to find tables with different rules in the same casino.

The following table rules help lower the house edge:

  • Dealer stands on 17 (including soft 17)
  • The least amount of decks the better. Double deck games are best; four and six deck shoes are next. Eight deck shoes are rare but do show up from time to time.
  • Double down on any two cards.
  • Double allowed after split.

As with craps, the table sometimes wins or loses as a group, so there is a social aspect as well. The slower pace of the game makes it more likely you will end up talking with other players at the table.

You: Slow and Steady, but like an adrenaline jolt from time to time.

Your Game: Pai-Gow


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Pai-Gow is a very simple game with a very low house edge.

All of the players are playing against the dealer. Each player receives seven cards. The object is to make two poker hands; a high five card hand and a lower two card hand. Once the hands are set the dealer turns over her cards and sets her hand. If the player has the best high and low hand, she wins; if she has the worse high and low she loses. If the dealer wins one and the player wins one, it is a push

New players have to be careful setting their hands; if the low hand is higher than the high hand, the player loses. Players can always ask the dealer for advice and they will happily give it. The dealer has to set her hand in a very specific manner, which is called the “house way.” House way varies from casino to casino; most tables have a copy of the house way at the table.

For the adrenaline jolt, Pai-Gow will allow any player to be the bank during the course of play. This means you get to be the house. If a player loses, you keep the chips; if he wins you pay. The casino dealer will play a hand as well, betting the same amount as you wagered on your last hand. You should be the bank whenever it is offered.

You: Analytical and Studious

Your Game: Sports betting


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Poker players need to approach the sportsbook the same way they do their poker game. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with betting on your favorite team, it pays to play smart. Players willing to do a bit of research can find sports betting, including daily fantasy sports, to be very rewarding.

The main piece of advice for anyone looking to visit a sportsbook is to shop the odds. The odds vary from sportsbook to sportsbook. Look at shopping for the best odds, the same as deciding where to play poker. Just as you are unlikely to play at a game with a $10 rake when a $4 rake game is nearby, finding the best odds at a sportsbook equals more value for your winning bets.

If you are not as serious sports bettor, look at the proposition bets. Proposition bets require little or no study and are extremely popular with players. Sportsbooks make very little profit from prop bets, but offer them to keep the player base happy.

As a poker player, you have learned the best starting hands, how to calculate odds, and other winning facts of the game. Looking at the various tables and the best games for your personality to find the best value is just as valuable as the other skills, and a nice addition to your player skillset.

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