Saturday, May 02, 2009

Things people ask me, #4: Where I sit

A recurring question in comments and emails is why I favor seats 1 and 10 (or 9, at nine-handed tables; for this post, I'm just going to always call them 1 and 10), next to the dealer. I've mentioned this preference many times in my stories, and for most players those are the least favorite positions, so it's a natural question.

Let me start by asking you to ponder this question: Is there any position at the table that has an intrinsic strategic or tactical advantage over the others?

I first came across this concept in a column in Card Player magazine when I was still living in Minnesota--probably early 2006, though I've searched for it in the online C.P. archives and can't find it, so I can't give proper credit. The answer is yes: Seat 1 has the clear advantage. That's because you want to be looking at the players on your left to see if they are telegraphing information about their intentions. Because of the curve of the table, you can do that from seat 1 more easily and naturally (i.e., without craning your neck and otherwise being obvious about it) than from any other position. Depending on the exact size and shape of the table and positioning of the seats, seat 7 or 8 might offer a similar advantage, but it's less consistent, and the angle usually isn't quite as good.

After that one objective advantage, all of the rest of my reasons are purely subjective personal preferences. In no particular order, they include:

--There are many dealers that I like, and it's much easier to chat quietly and semi-privately with them from one foot away than from across the table.

--I fairly often find a need to point out something to the dealer (pot not right, button not right, foreign language being spoken, improper talk about the hand in progress, etc.), and it's easier to do so from close at hand. Again, I like being quiet and discreet when possible, rather than having to make myself heard above the din of the casino and voices of the other players.

--With the exception of the player on the other side of the dealer, I usually have an excellent view of everybody else.

--For reasons not entirely clear to me, players in the 1 and 10 seats sort of disappear from the sight--at least the conscious sight--of the other players. From a couple of seats (2 and 9, especially) this is partly a function of blocked sightlines. But there's something weird psychologically, too, that I can't really put my finger on. I can tell you this for certain, after many, many hours of observation: The players who most often get skipped in the action are those in the 1 and 10 seats. I.e., seat 1 will tend to act before seat 10 has, seat 2 will tend to act before seat 1 has, etc. It seems that the occupants of those positions just fade into the background. Since being unnoticed is the effect I want most of the time, those two seats are a natural match.

--Because most other people ditch seats 1 and 10 as soon as something else opens up, they are the two most likely to be the open ones when you join a table. It's convenient to like the thing that you will most often be forced to take.

--As a corollary of that, you can often get seat 1 or seat 10 even if there are no vacancies. (This happens if, e.g., one of the players in them wanted to change, but didn't notice or was away from the table when another seat became available, so he missed his opportunity.) You just ask their current occupants if they'd prefer to sit where you are, and if the answer is yes (as it often is), make the swap.

--I have the shortest possible distance for mucking cards, for putting chips within reach of the dealer, passing tips, etc. No overshooting, no undershooting, no accidentally flipped cards while mucking.

--Nearly every poker room has the tables oriented so that the dealer is facing the front desk, to facilitate communication with the floor, brush, etc. I like kind of keeping an eye on what's going on in the whole room (well, not the big rooms, but the smaller ones), so picking the 1 and 10 seats automatically puts me where I can see what's happening.

--Conversely, if there are any disadvantaged seats for watching television, it will tend to be those two. The casino doesn't need its dealers watching football. I don't care what's on, and it's better for me not to be distracted anyway.

--Seats 1 and 10 nearly always have the most elbow room at the table, the least chance of that awkward, silent struggle for control of the no-man's-land between seats. Similarly, unless you get somebody with unusually long legs in the adjacent seat, the foot area tends to be less contested than other table positions.

--You only have to sit next to one other player. Since poker players frequently smell of B.O., stale cigarette smoke, booze, bad breath, etc., cutting in half the number of them you have to share personal space with is a boon. You also halve your chance of sitting next to a chatterbox who will want to prattle in your ear about every thought that passes through his feeble and/or drunken brain. In those two respects, it's a lot like the advantage of a window or aisle seat in a commercial jet, compared to the center seat. We misanthropes leap at the chance to cut in half the number of our unwanted contacts with the great unwashed.

--When the dealer isn't looking, it's easy to reach into the tray and steal a few chips.

(Just kidding! Relax!)

To be fair, there are also some disadvantages that you have to put up with:

--I have banged my knee on the damn rake collection boxes more times than I can count.

--If you're playing when security comes around to change those boxes, you'll probably have to move out of their way.

--Other players will muck their cards in your direction and accidentally kill your hand if you don't keep it well protected.

--Similarly, unprotected cards sitting that close to the dealer are in greater danger of being prematurely scooped up into the muck if you don't cap them.

--You have one other player that is really difficult to see when you need or want to. The guy in the 1 seat often has to rely on the dealer to indicate when it's his turn, because sometimes you just can't see anything of what the 10 seat is doing.

Overall, I find that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, and I'm rather glad that mine is the minority view. It is rare that I have to compete with anybody else to claim one of my two preferred spots.

I'm going to stop short of encouraging readers to try the unfamiliar positions with an open mind, because I'm afraid everybody will discover that they really are superior, and it will foul up my little secret. So just forget everything I've told you, OK?


Matthew Yauch said...

Hmm I agree that players 1 and 9/10 typically are "forgotten" by the other players, but I prefer my opponents to not forget me, to instead be terrified of going into a pot with me. I want them as far from their comfort zone as possible.

I prefer the four end seats, 9 person table would be the 2, 3, 7 ,8 and 10 person 2, 3, 8, 9. The 3 and 7/8 are my favorites. You have a clear view of every player and the dealer. In the 1 seat you'll need to turn your head if you want to look from the 2 seat to the 8 seat, but from the 3 or 7 you can see them both at least with peripheral without moving your head. Your eyes can dart around and pick up everything. I'm definitely most comfortable in these seats, I get the most subconscious info, and my reads end up better.

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Just happened to listen to a podcast yesterday called "The Daily Grind" (over on Rounder's Radio), the 4/26/09 episode with Dr. Al Schoonmaker as a guest. This topic came up, and Dr. Al also made the case for those end seats (like Keiser). An interesting topic that I have to admit I hadn't thought a heck of a lot about before.

(show here:

dbcooper said...

My least favourite are 1 and 10. I prefer 3 through 7. Anytime I am right next to the dealer I feel out of the action.

Anonymous said...

I like seat 1, but seat 9/10 denies you a good look at seat 1 & thus their pending action.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the answers. It doesn't make me want seat 10 but I will now try seat 1 to see how it feels.

robison52 said...

I would have thought since you're older now and with your recent birthday you wanted to sit next to the dealer so you can be able to HEAR the dealer better and SEE the cards a tad closer?!? :)

Minton said...

I always will take seat 9/10 if it's open, I really like sitting in seat 10, granted the rake box can smack your knee, but I think it's easier to follow the action, and for some reason I am most comfortable in that seat.

Aces said...

Don't really have a favorite seat. As Tommy Angelo suggests I generally move to the seat that seems most advantageous, whichever one that is(and of course this criteria is subjective). Would like to hear your thoughts on his philosophy, or maybe with short-stacking at 1/2 you believe seat selection doesn't matter as much(I play both 1/2 and 2/5). All things being equal I probably prefer the middle seats for the room as the ends of the table get squeezed more often then the middle.

However, this blog entry and the replies did make me think about some things I hadn't considered.

diverjoules said...

I also prefer the same seats. And the reasons you stated hit the nails on the head.

Unknown said...

2 or 9 for Keiser, but I just take whats available and usually don't change seats (unless I want to sit left left of some particular player.) i can remember some profitable sessions from those seats as well. I wonder if I should track seat position as well???
Thanks Grump.

Cardgrrl said...

Okay, I can no longer resist chiming in. All other things being equal, I prefer the end seats (2/3, 8/9 at a ten seat table). I like the sight lines to other players that they afford, and unlike other commenters I think they provide more elbow room.

BUT, when joining a full table I almost always ask for a seat change button when I first sit down. I like having the option to move if a seat opens up and I believe I can get a more advantageous position on a particular player or players.

Jordan said...

Did you mention that it's easier to lift your cards without exposing them when the dealer is on one side of you? I didn't see it, but maybe I missed it in there. For what its worth, I like the 1 and 10 seats also.

The Vegas Flea said...

All valid points.

But I, like most others, prefer the ends.

I'm left-handed, and prefer any end seat that allows me to easily muck my cards with a back-hand motion from my left hand.

Anonymous said...

I too prefer seat 1 and 9/10. I always feel very confortable there. Great point, HighOnPoker! I really like the ease of looking at my holecards in that position. I can remain leaned back in my chair, look at my hole cards without having to lean over and cover up with both hands. I tend to be more relaxed with this posture & thus more patient. Being ignored in seats 1 and 9/10 allows me to not feel the need to get in the action and get creative when I haven't gotten any cards to play in a while. Overall I'm just more comfortable there, more patient, and more relaxed, which I think allows me to play a better brand of poker.

Will said...

I used to like seats #1 and #10 back in the old days when they allowed smoking at the tables.

Seats #1 and #10 were the no smoking seats since they were right next to the dealer.

I guess I figured those seats to be "less smoky" or something.

The problem with seat #1 nowadays is that you cannot see seat #10. And seat #10 had the drop box and it's many sharp corners in the way.

End seats for me now. Seats #5 and #6 for Omaha.