Table Selection

Find or create environments where you’re likely to get the best result.

Table selection is a concept derived from poker. It teaches us that there’s more to victory than just skill: there’s also environmental context.

There are two variables to control for when seeking victory:

  1. Your own skill and performance, and
  2. The optimal environment for competition.

We often focus exclusively on the former and ignore the latter. This is a mistake. Choosing a battlefield with the best odds of success, and the best possible rewards, is just as important as being good.

This might feel “dirty” or dishonorable, but table selection is a key part of strategy and must always be factored into competitive plans. It’s an example of the path of least resistance: winning with the least effort.

How to select a table:

There are two main considerations when choosing a table:

#1: How easy will victory be?
A primary goal of table selection is identifying environments where you’re more likely to win. This often involves finding an environment where you have a massive competitive disadvantage, or your opponent has a massive competitive disadvantage. In the world of poker, one key variable for table selection is finding “fish,” or casual players who are easily defeated by pros.

#2: What are the rewards?
Winning is great, but good table selection also involves finding the table with the biggest pot. It’s all about return on investment: you don’t just want to win, you want the win the biggest possible prize.

Table selection in Jiu-Jitsu:

The most obvious example of table selection in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is weight cutting. The practice of weight cutting is a deliberate attempt to place yourself in a division where you have a notable size and strength advantage.

A more subtle example of table selection is finding a new gym or instructor. If your philosophy, goals, and attitude are not a match with your training environment, you may find significant gains from seeking a new training environment. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something “wrong” with your instructor; it could just mean that they’re not a good fit.

Table selection in real life:

If you want a promotion or a pay raise, the best results often come from seeking a new job. This is an example of table selection. Your current employer is less likely to advance you due to two cognitive biases:

  1. The anchoring bias: You boss will always look at you as the person you were when you started the job, not the person you could grow to be.
  2. The status quo bias: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you’re doing a good job, they’re probably happy with you where you are.

On the podcast:

Further study: