The Bottom Line

In the long run, good poker players win and bad players lose no matter where they sit. But seat selection is probably one of the most underrated elements of winning play and can have a substantial impact on your profits. Sit in the wrong spot and you’ll spend the entire game swimming against the current. But choosing the right seat is like floating downstream with the tide gently aiding you along. In either case you can still get where you want to go, but the second way is easier and faster.

Seat selection is particularly important in flop-type games, like Texas hold ’em and Omaha, since your position in the betting action is always fixed. The central idea behind seat selection—which really underscores the overall importance of position—is that you always want to act after your most dangerous opponents, but you don’t really mind acting in front of the more harmless players.

“Dangerous” opponents include: maniacs, aggressive players in general, skilled players, tricky players, and—in no-limit and pot-limit games—players sitting behind big stacks. And while they’re not exactly dangerous, you’d also prefer loose players to act ahead of you. In a best-case scenario, every one of these players would be sitting to your right.

With aggressive players, you want to see what they’re going to do in the hand before it’s your turn to act. If they fold or just call before the flop, you can safely limp in with speculative drawing hands. By contrast, when an aggressive player is sitting to your left, you always have to play a guessing game about what he might do before deciding whether or not to enter a pot. In the case of a maniac, having him on your immediate right provides the added benefit of allowing you to three-bet and isolate him with your good hands. Since maniacs play a lot of trash hands, this gives you a decided advantage. However, this tactic doesn’t work quite as well if others in the game are wise to what you’re doing.

A similar logic applies to skilled, tricky opponents. For what should be obvious reasons, it’s always better to act on your hand after you can see what the cunning player intends to do. Take your turn in front of him, and you’re back to playing a slippery guessing game of trying to predict his actions. And in the case of loose players, while it’s not as important to have them on your right you’d still prefer it, since a raise from you won’t likely push them out anyway. So it’s simply better to know whether or not they’re going to be in the hand.

Tight, predictable players are the ones you want sitting on your left. The tighter and wussier they are, the easier it will be to bluff at them and steal their blinds, and so the more you want to act ahead of them. And predictable players are also good to have on your left, because they’re unlikely to present you with any nasty surprises after you’ve acted on your hand.

Of course, you can’t always get the seat you want, especially when the games are crowded. In a live card room, you might have to settle for whatever chair you can get. However, live poker does offer one big advantage. If a new and better seat opens up at your table, you can request a seat change. Online, you can be choosier. You’ll have a greater number of tables to choose from, as well as being able to lurk and monitor games before joining in. Then again, turnover in online games tends to be very high—so even if you do mange to score a prime seat with all the lions acting on your right and the lambs sitting on your left, in a matter of minutes even the most perfect seating arrangement can be shot to cyber-hell.

Mark Brown
Latest posts by Mark Brown (see all)