The Ultimate Guide to Table Selection in Poker [2024]

Table selection in today's online micro stakes cash games
Table selection has come a long way over the years at the micros. It was literally a foreign concept when I first started playing online poker in the mid 00's.

Nobody paid any attention to what table they sat down at and they certainly didn't care what seat they got. Fast forward to today's tighter games and if you aren't table selecting in a big way (even at the very lowest stakes) then you are doing yourself and your winrate a huge disservice.

Here in a nutshell is what table selection means:

Table selection in poker means finding the games with the recreational players and fish in them. These players play way too many hands (VPIP of 40%+), call too much and lose all their money in the long run. You need to table select to find these players.

Now, long gone are the days when you can sit down at a random NL25 table and expect to have a couple of huge whales splashing around.

You can get lucky and find this on rare occasions (especially on a weekend) but this is very much the exception to the norm now. The typical table these days will consist of a bunch of tight regs and one semi-bad, slightly loose player.

It is impossible to crush the games if you insist on sitting at tables like this all of the time. No matter how much you study how to beat the regs or stay on top of every new strategy that comes out you will still face a winrate ceiling. This is the point where your winrate simply cannot go any higher because your opponents just aren't making enough fundamental mistakes.

No matter how bad many of your tight opponents are they simply aren't in enough hands to make the same kinds of massive mistakes that recreational players do.

Just look at this poker hand if you still don't believe me.

Good poker players also don't put themselves in positions to make second best hands as often by getting get out-kicked or out-flushed because they don't play as many weak hands.

There are some people out there who still refuse to take table selection seriously in today's games. If you are in this category then this article is not for you. A mediocre winrate is the best that you can hope for due to your decision to neglect this absolutely crucial part of the game.

Some people also refuse to stop playing Zoom poker, a format which makes it literally impossible to table select. Once again, if this is you then there isn't much that I can say to you.

To the rest of you who are interested in having a big winrate in today's games I am going to outline below some of the key strategies that I use to find good tables and perhaps more importantly, good seats. Make no mistake, mastering this aspect of the game is a huge part of the "secret" to crushing today's games.

Table Selection Versus Seat Selection

Let me first get into a key distinction that I just brushed over. Finding the right table in today's games is only half of the battle. In fact for many hardcore table selectors (people who only sit with huge fish) it is just the beginning.

This is because they know (and you should too) that getting the seat to the left of the fish which is often referred to as the "Jesus Seat" is where the big money is made in this game.

The power of position is an often misunderstood concept for newer players. By this I mean that they massively underestimate it's importance.

When you have immediate position on someone at the poker table (you are on their direct left) you have an advantage so large that even against a much superior opponent you can expect to at least break even versus them over the long run.

I don't mess around when it comes to finding the fish. It is a full time job to me.

The reverse is also true. An inferior opponent who has direct position on you will likely bust you given enough time.

Getting on the direct left of the recreational player (or as close to it as possible) is of absolutely vital importance in the table selection process.

If you are on the right of the fish it will severely restrict your ability to isolate them preflop and value bet and bluff them postflop. This will negatively impact your ability to get their stack in a huge way.

I will talk about getting the Jesus Seat a bit more later though. First things first, how do we find the tables with the recreational players on them?

Play Poker at the Right Times

As mentioned finding the big fish is not always an easy task in today's games even at the very lowest stakes. There are some strategies that you can take though to seriously improve your odds.

1) Play More on Weekends 

This is the oldest and totally foolproof table selection "trick" in the book. The games are always a little bit better on the weekends because recreational players have jobs to attend to during the week. On the weekends they want to unwind, perhaps have some drinks and play a bit of online poker.

I have been playing online poker for nearly 10 years now. It has always been my experience that the games are a bit better on the weekends. Fish are out in larger numbers and there are more intoxicated lunatics.

As I discuss in this week's new video, if you want to make $5000+ a month playing poker, you need to have these guys at your table at all times!

Obviously we all have lives outside of poker though and if we only played on the weekends then it would be hard to get much volume in. So the point of this is not to say that you shouldn't play during the week.

Yes of course you should. But if you can, you should designate more hours on the weekends. Play those epic long sessions when the games are the best.

2) Play More During Prime-Time Hours

This is another table selection method that may pre-date the dinosaurs. People ask me all the time when the best time to play is. The answer isn't so clear in today's games though.

Before the American online poker market was decimated by Black Friday several years ago the best time to play was clearly during the prime-time North and South American hours (4pm-12pm PST roughly).

In today's online poker climate though the best time to play is much more balanced between the prime-time hours in North/South America and those in Europe. The evening hours in Asia are a distant third and you should avoid those games.

Since 90% of the people reading this article are from somewhere in North/South America or Europe then this shouldn't be a problem at all.

If you are Aussie or live in a place like Thailand like me then you might want to consider getting up really early in the morning or as many grinders here do, stay up all night.

Recreational Poker Player non-HUD Tells

Guide to table selection in today's online micro stakes cash games
As I have discussed before there are several clear as day "tells" that recreational players give off to identify themselves as bad players. None of these require any HUD data.

1) Stack Size Below 100bb

100bb is the maximum allowable buyin in most online poker cash games. Good poker players always want to have the most money possible in front of them.

The reason is pretty simple. The more money you have in front of you, the more you can win.

If you are the best (or among the best) at the table then it only makes sense to push your edge or "scale up" as much as possible.

The only time when you should ever consider buying in for less than the maximum allowable stack size is if you are playing a higher stake than normal to chase a fish and he has bought in for less than the maximum.

There are some well known mid stacking and short stacking strategies out there. I do not advocate using any of them because no matter how you cut it you are placing an artificial ceiling on your potential winnings.

However, you will occasionally run into some decent players in today's games who use one of these strategies.

The large majority of the time though when you run into someone at the tables who has bought in for less than the maximum (or they are not using the auto top up stack option) they will be a recreational player.

The clearest sign of all is when somebody buys in for something like $17.63 on an NL25 table. This is clearly their entire bankroll and you should identify them as a fish right away.

2) Posting a Blind Out of Position

Anyone who takes this game seriously knows that you should always wait for the big blind to come around to you before posting a blind.

The blinds can be thought of like a tax that you have to pay in order to play the game. Nobody would ever voluntarily pay more taxes than they owe.

The only players who disregard this are recreational players. When they sit down at the table they simply want to get playing as soon as possible.

They have a limited amount of time to play and they want to get in the action as soon as possible. If you see anyone post a blind out of position you can identify them as a fish immediately.

3) Limping

There really is no justification for limping at the micros in any scenario. Pretty much everybody has realized these days that it simply makes a lot more sense to raise when first in the pot or if there are limpers. If you see anyone open limping then you can immediately identify them as a recreational player.

4) Min Bets Postflop

Another surefire sign of a bad player is a min bet after the flop. While there are some good players who will open for a min raise preflop, especially from LP, nobody who has any knowledge of the game would ever make a minimum bet after the flop.

The reason why is because a bet of say $1 into a $10 pot is totally meaningless. Your opponent can profitably call with any two cards.

This is something that Daniel Negreanu discusses a lot in his new poker training course. The typical bet sizes that somebody uses can tell you a lot about them as a poker player!

5) Playing One or Two Tables

Regs will almost always be playing at least half a dozen tables at once (and often many more) since they play tight and therefore have less decisions to make. They also want to increase their rakeback.

Recreational players play a lot more hands and their decisions are often based on superstition and emotion rather than logic and repetition.

Therefore they can often only handle a table or two at a time. Most poker rooms allow you to search a player. If you suspect that somebody is a bad player then search them and note the number of tables.

6) Low Rakeback Status

Some poker sites will show the rakeback status of a player. For example, PokerStars, under it's old VIP program would show if somebody is Goldstar, Chromestar, Supernova etc.

While not a guaranteed tell, a low rakeback status is sometimes a sign of a weaker player. And a high rakeback status is a sign of somebody who plays a lot (and therefore, is probably at least decent at the game).

7) Smart Phone or Tablet Players

Some poker sites will tell you if somebody is playing on a smart phone or a tablet. In general, this is often a weaker player.

The reason for this is that most serious online poker players will be playing on a desktop computer or a laptop because it is easier to multi-table and use a HUD.

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Tag Recreational Poker Players Right Away

If you notice a player that is showing any of these 7 signs then you should tag them as a recreational player immediately.

Almost all poker sites allow you to put a color tag or a note beside a player. These essentially last forever and make table selection much easier in the future because you already know who is a fish. On Pokerstars go:

Options > Player Notes > Left click player to assign label
table selection in micro stakes cash games
This will allow you to tag somebody as a recreational player with one click. Whenever you have down-time at the tables (nothing is happening) you should be making sure that you are on good tables and tagging all the bad players.

Always make sure that you tag them as you are closing down your session as well since you will have the maximum amount of information on everybody. Speaking of that, I am going to talk about how to identify recreational players with your HUD next.

Recreational Player HUD Tells

Finding the fish in today's online micro stakes cash games
If you read this blog regularly then you will know that I highly suggest using a HUD in today's games even at the lowest limits.

You can certainly still win without one but it is just silly to forgo the kind of information that these programs are capable of providing you with.

They will often pay for themselves in a week or two at the most.

The absolute easiest way to spot a recreational player is by VPIP (percentage of hands that they play) and PFR (percentage of hands that they raise with preflop). Bad players will have a VPIP that is at least 30 or more. This goes for 6max or full ring.

And they will often have a PFR that is considerably less than this. The true table selector specialist is looking for the recreational players with a VPIP of 40, 50 or more though. These are the players who burn through stacks at a truly incredible pace.

Sometimes they will have a PFR of just a single digit (52/7 for instance). This is often referred to as a whale or a "drooler" fish. Sometimes they will have a PFR that is much closer to their VPIP though (52/37 for instance). This is often referred to as a maniac or an "aggro fish."

While the strategies to exploit these two player types differ in some ways both are like rocket fuel for your winrate. If you spend all of your time at the tables playing against these kinds of opponents it is literally impossible not to crush these games beyond belief.

One last thing. Always make sure that you play a few orbits before you make a final decision on somebody. Just because you spot a player with an 80% VPIP doesn't necessarily mean that they are a recreational player if the sample size is only 5 or even 10 hands.

It is definitely possible to simply have a good run of good cards over a sample like this. I prefer to wait until I have about 20 hands on someone before I decide for sure whether they are a bad player or not.

By the way, if you are curious about the complete selection of poker software tools that I use as a pro to quickly identify these players, click here.

Start Your Own Poker Tables

One of the best ways to find recreational players in today's games is to simply let them come to you. The easiest and most well known method of doing this is to start your own tables.

As I mentioned before, fish only have a limited amount of time to play poker and when they sit down at the virtual felt they want to get dealt in as soon as possible.

Because of this they are more likely to choose a table that has empty seats on it. Start your own table and let them come to you.

This strategy is something that I discuss in much greater detail in chapter 19 of my latest poker book, The Micro Stakes Playbook.

And the reason why is because it is so effective! Why waste your time hunting the fish when you can just let them come right to you?

Now believe me, I get it though.

Many people do not like to do this because they are not confident in their abilities when it is heads up or ultra short handed.

The first thing that you need to remember is that the tables that you start will usually fill up really fast. You will often be playing 6 handed or 9 handed like you are used to before you even know it.

Secondly, even if you have to play a few hands short handed just play your normal game and don't worry about it. We are talking about terrible players here.

You win money off of them by making hands and value betting the crap out of them. Therefore the same method to beat them applies whether there are 2 people at the table or 9. Just open with a few more hands than usual and play normal poker after that.

Lastly, if no recreational players show up and you find yourself playing heads up against an obvious reg (he doesn't limp the button, 3Bets a fair bit etc) then simply leave the table or sit out.

There is no need to prove anything versus another reg. Just move on and start another table or sit out and wait for the fish to show up.

Snipe The Jesus Seat

This method of table selection is in the arsenal of all hardcore table selectors these days. It is also highly effective.

The idea of starting your own tables to attract the recreational players is not a new idea. Therefore, you will probably notice a few other regs doing the exact same thing.

So instead what you can do is simply open up a bunch of their tables and observe them but don't sit yet.

As soon as an unknown player or a known fish sits down at any of these tables immediately grab the seat to the left of them. There is no easier way to get the most profitable seat in the game.

Don't be afraid to simply hop around the table and grab the Jesus Seat if the table is not full either. This isn't live poker, you won't be hurting anyone's feelings.

Don't bother waiting for the blinds to come to you. Just leave the table straight away and rejoin at the seat to the left of the bad player. You want this seat at all costs.

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Don't Play Zoom Poker

I know that Zoom/Rush/Zone poker is all the rage these days. And it makes sitting down and playing poker incredibly easy. However, if you are serious about table selection then you absolutely have to stop playing this format.

When you sit down to play Zoom you are simply at the mercy of whoever happens to be in the player pool. It is impossible to isolate anyone or get position on them because you are moved to a new table every single hand.

Furthermore, the fast fold button encourages people to play tighter because they don't have to get "bored" anymore by waiting to get dealt a good hand. They can simply spam the fast fold button until they get something good. This goes for regs and fish alike.

These games are tight nitfests full of mass multi-tabling regs and a few fish who don't play as many bad hands anymore. You simply cannot ever expect to turn a big win rate in an environment like this.

The word "crushing" and Zoom cannot be put in the same sentence together. If you are serious about having a big win rate, then you need to stop playing Zoom poker.

Now, with all that said, there are some benefits as well to playing Zoom poker. Zoom poker is just really, really bad if you want to table select!

For much more on all the pros and cons of Zoom poker make sure you check out my massively popular Zoom poker strategy guide.

Poker Site Selection

poker table selection
The final frontier for all serious table selectors is without a doubt site selection.

Anybody who is really serious about table selection will probably have at least a dozen different poker sites on their computer and money spread around on many of them.

Often you don't even need to make a deposit. You can simply download the poker site's software and just watch some games for a few minutes.

You should be looking for all of the non-HUD tells that I discussed above. And if the poker site allows you to collect data on observed hands then you can run a HUD as well and get undeniable proof of how many fish there are.

There are significant differences in game quality between the various poker rooms out there and those who are serious about having a big win rate have long known this.

I often look for online poker rooms that are smaller and lesser known. I also think it is a good thing if the poker site has a significant side business attached like a sports-book or casino.

Because this tends to attract more of the pure gamblers. Exactly the kind of people I want to play poker against!

Live Poker Table Selection

Lastly, even though I am primarily an online poker player, let me touch a bit on live poker table selection, (casino or private games).

In some live games (if there are multiple empty seats at the table), you can still pick your seat at the table. So if there are any known weak players in the game, you will want to choose a seat on their left.

Live poker is all about tells and reading people, so you can also make initial observations about a player type by how they dress, their mannerisms, even their age.

I am generalizing here, but a young guy wearing a hat and sunglasses and headphones is often an online player who takes the game at least somewhat seriously.

Whereas an older guy (again I am generalizing here), who is splashing the chips around, talking a lot, possibly drinking too, is often going to be the weaker player in the game.

You always want to be paying attention to any verbal or physical tells that you can pick up while playing live poker. This will help you choose the right seat and the right table.

Final Thoughts: The Importance of Table Selection

I hope that some of the table selection methods in this article will help you identify the bad players easier and get the best seat against them.

I have to reiterate that choosing to ignore table selection in today's games is an absolutely colossal mistake. I would go as far as to say that you should be spending upwards of 50% of your actual time at the tables looking for bad players and getting the right seat against them.

You can study all of the latest poker strategy theories until the sun goes down. Against decent thinking opponents this stuff can only help your winrate in a small way though. You are simply trying to draw blood from a stone.

The big money in poker comes from playing against extremely bad opponents and all top players know this.

You cannot crush the micros anymore (save for maybe NL2 and NL5) if you are not fully committed to finding the worst players and playing with them on a consistent basis.

If having a big win rate is a priority of yours then taking action on the steps outlined in this article will get you further towards that goal then any other strategy on earth.

After all, if you sit around and play against clueless fish all day long, how can you lose?

Lastly, if you want to learn how to start consistently making $1000+ per month in low stakes games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Let me know in the comments below how you table select at the micros these days.

poker table selection


  1. Nice article man! The "Snipe The Jesus Seat" is really good, dont tell people that!

  2. Haha Willian, thanks! I actually use this all the time now. I should perhaps give you (or Paul) credit for it :p

  3. Very good advice. I think you just about covered everything a wannabe bumhunter needs to know.

  4. GG on the ending with the GTO thing. 100% agree with you there. Keep'em coming! gl

  5. I think I'm one of those player you're talking about who are unwilling to table select, but mostly is because I've been focusing on playing Zoom Poker. But then again you're right. I'll start playing regular tables and using some of the strategies you suggest to see if things move along better ;) really enjoy reading your blog keep it up!

    1. Thanks Jorge. I talked about Zoom recently here on the blog. There are pros and cons. Table selection is probably the biggest con of it.

  6. I have seen this advice in the past, but this brings it back into total perspective. I have actually gotten up when I had maniacs to my left and regs to my right. Which is totally the opposite of what you are saying here. So thank you for this.

    I read CTM recently, and saw how you said to go for full tables vs shorthanded ones. I was intrigued about your suggestion about starting new tables. I have toyed with some heads up strategy and feel that playing a good game against a fish HU or even 3 handed, I play 6 max, would be profitable. Would you agree?

    1. Having a maniac to your left is really not the most profitable spot. I have gotten up and left in a situation like this before also. Having a maniac to your right is a totally different story. I would never leave this seat.

      I don't think I stated that FR is better than 6max in CTM. I think they are both fine. I actually play 6max more often these days just because I enjoy it more now. I play a fair bit of HU too. There is no question that it will yield the highest potential winrate if you table select well because you get to play with the fish every single hand. With that said, you miss out on the volume and rakeback that 6max and FR give you.

  7. You and your article are the BEST!

  8. @Blackrain I play on 888 poker platform, not pokerstars and I must say that I see a lot of players who exhibit one of those seven signs... yet when I look at their statistics in 20 hands they are tight or in 50 hands they are still tight... sometimes even 12/9 , yet they post blinds OOP they limp a lot , they donk or cbet 1bb postflop and there are about 50% players like that on NL6 and NL4.

    So I am very reluctant to tag them as fish after I've seen that they are actually tight but they make fish mistakes.
    What do you think about that ?

    1. Yes these are called bad regs. They are everywhere on Stars as well. I often change the tag afterwards when I notice that they are a 12/9. You can still make money off of these players but it is the 40/9's that you should really be looking for.

  9. Thanks Nathan very helpful. Been wondering about the best times of day to play. I live in the UK and tend to play anytime 9am-3pm.

  10. Any experience with table tracker? I'm assuming you want to find the tables with players who are - bb/100

    1. I haven't really used it much so I wouldn't want to comment.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Hey Nathan, good article. I would like to know, is there any table selection software that you recommend? I have heard people talk about scripts that can help in that matter but I don't really know them. Any advice?

    1. Thanks Andres! Unfortunately I can't be of much help with software. I still table select the old school way. There are some programs like table scanner turbo (I think it is called) which may be useful but I don't have much experience with it. I wouldn't bother with scripts. They are likely to get banned in the future by poker sites anyways.

  13. Hello, many fishes are short stackers (40- BB), do you think it worth be sitting to your left, or you think it's a waste of time and should focus on those who have near 100bb?

    1. It is better to focus on 100bb fish but I will still go after the short stackers also.

  14. Extremely useful stuff as always, crushed NL2 in like two months thanks to your book and all your posts and now taking a shot at NL5, so thanks man! ;)

    If I just may add that if you are going to search a fish to see on how many tables he's playing, and you see that he's actually playing on like 4, you might as well join all 4, especially if you already have stats on the guy.

    That is providing there aren't 4 regs waiting in line ofc.

    Thanks again, and I hope not to see you at the tables !

  15. do you use any table tracker type software to search for fish?

    i've tried the one that came with pokertracker, ut it isn't working correctly.....

    i might try a free download of another version

    1. No I don't use any software like that. I just use tags/color coding and the HUD stats.

  16. Natham great article again. I´m new in table selection. But I have had some troubles when trying to get the seat on the fishes' left because my HUD doesn't move to my new position. then I have everyone with the wrong HUD. Could you help me. Dont know where to fix it. Thanks!

    1. Hey Josseph,

      Usually it only takes one or two hands to update at least with Pokertracker 4. Make sure that in whatever program you are using that you check the settings. Sometimes you need to select your preferred seat for instance.

  17. Nathan,

    Any opinion or comments on Global Poker?
    It sounds like they are making a big push to get more players and claim to be the world's fastest growing poker site. Would this also be considered a soft site?

    Thanks as always,


    1. Hi TK,

      Sorry but I don't know enough about this site to comment.

  18. Nathan, what you mentioned about starting your own tables or sitting at full ring tables with less than 5 or 6 players, could be a game change because sometimes at NL5, there are too many REGS and total NITS and this stops me or anyone from being profitable to the level we want to be. I am trying to find the best methods to enhance my table selection at NL2 and NL5 and NL10. Any other advice or tops would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hey Armon,

      Starting your own tables or sitting down in short-handed games are two of my best ways to try and find the bad players. I also recommend always tagging them immediately so you know in the future.

      And lastly, I try to play more on sites that tend to have more recreational players. Such as these ones:

    2. The problem is that some of these sites, I can't seem to access. Maybe have to check again but Bovada, for example, it says its not available in my region, living in England. Starting new tables and tagging every single player! Every recreational player and every Decent REG. :) Hahaha, no easy path. Thank you, I agree.

  19. Hey Nathan, very nice content as always! But I think you should update the item 6) Low Rakeback Status . Tks for sharing your content!

    1. Hey Haroldo,

      Thanks for pointing that out. I have indeed updated the article now to reflect that.

  20. I like to play against good players sometimes, but for skill gain not for profit.

    1. Hey Tim, awesome. Nothing wrong with that!

  21. Thanks for the guide man, it's very helpful, may I know how do you table select in 888poker?

    1. No worries I am glad it helps! Sorry but I don't comment on individual poker sites on this blog.

  22. Thaks Mr. Williams, a lot again!