Know Your (Table) Limits by Paul Wolfe

In the 18 months that I’ve been playing poker at Full Tilt Poker, the one question I am asked most often is a variation on the following:

"Hey Paul? What are you doing in this $10-$20 No-Limit game? Ivey, J-dags, and Matusow are at the $25-$50 No-Limit table, and E-dog is playing in the $50-$100 Limit game. Why don’t you join them?"

The first thing I do when I walk into a poker room is put my name on the lists of games I’m interested in; the next thing I do is have a good look at the particular games I’ve just signed up for. More often than not, I’ll sit at the first available table when my name is called, but I immediately take stock of the game and behave accordingly. Often times, everything is just fine, but sometimes I’ll ask to be added to the table change list. Other times, a seat change button is enough to make the game palatable. On rare occasions, I simply leave the table.

As I play, I take note of the loose players and tight players, and then use that information to decide which seat will be most profitable. Likewise, I keep a casual eye on the other games. If I get called for a table change, I make sure the new game is the more lucrative one; if it’s not, I’ll stay put and ask to be put at the bottom of the transfer list. And while I have seen unbeatable $3-$6 games and very soft $10-$20 games running side by side, it’s safe to assume that higher limits mean tougher games.

If you’re playing to learn, nothing will challenge your poker skills like being at a table with Howard Lederer and Phil Gordon. If you’re playing poker for entertainment and making money isn’t your goal, by all means choose your tables according to where you’ll have the most fun. But if your only goal is to make money, forget about everything except picking the weakest game at a limit you can afford, even if it’s the $1-$2 game when you’re itching to play $2-$4. In ring game poker, it is better to play smaller at the table you’re likely to beat than it is to play bigger at a tougher table. You also need to take your time about moving up a level. I have seen many $1-$2 players sustain steady win rates at those stakes for a month, then disappear for weeks after taking a shot at the $2-$4 game.

Knowing where to play is as important as knowing how to play. If you pay close attention to your game selection, you’ll grow the kind of bankroll that will allow you to have more games to choose from.

Paul Wolfe