Regarding the statistics show in the tables list in a poker lobby, I think it’s most important to remember to use the numbers for comparisons; i.e. once you’ve decided the game and limits at which you wish to play, the next step is to use the numbers to help decide which particular table is likely to be the most satisfactory / most profitable (not always the same thing).
Technically, of course, the three stats fairly simple to decipher:
Average pot size – total $ in all pots for the last “n” games / “n”
Players per flop – average for the last “n” games of number of players seeing the flop / number of players at the table
Hands per hour – total number of hands completed in a previous 60 minutes period
Note that some additional information is needed to help you optimize your play:
First, the “n” in the calculations would be helpful, although this is not generally available (although some poker sites publish this information on well-hidden web pages). The reason this can be important is that the “flavor” of a table can change rapidly online, and a fishpond can become a sharkpool before the averages change enough to warn you what you’re getting into. However, we work with what we have.
The second factor that can really skew the averages is number of players AT the table. A 10-table with 3 players will naturally have a much higher H/hr rate than a full table, and will most likely have a higher PPF number as well (as most players will loosen their starting hand requirements with fewer competitors).
Finally, on the “techie” side, one would use the Average Pot Size (APS) figure together with the blind or limit size for that particular table to help decide how much bankroll will be “at risk”. It’s fairly typical, I think, to sit down at a limit table with 50x the big bet, and most sites seem to limit the buy-in for a NL table to 100x the big blind, so much of the decision here will be based on the table limits. However, once you know the total amount of money at the table, the APS number will give you a fair idea of how much is being committed to pots, and therefore a good feel for the post-flop aggressiveness of the players at the table.
Now, with all the math out of the way, I said earlier that “most satisfactory” and “most profitable” were not always the same thing. There will be times (many) when I sit down only to improve the bankroll balance. In these cases, I’ll look for a game with a large number of players (8-9), a fairly high PPF number (depending on the site and the limits, this can be anywhere from 45% on up) and an APS of about 15x big blind (NL). This tells me, in general, that there are several players calling preflop, but who do not have the hands to support aggressive post-flop action. In these cases, playing premium hands, and with a little help on the flop, I can usually catch all the fish I can eat.
On the other hand, there are times when I really want to play against premium opponents, just for the enjoyment of the poker. While one usually has to go into the higher limits for this kind of action, some quality games can be found in the lower limits if you know how to look. Lower PPF is a great indicator that a table is tight early, and a lower APS on this kind of table lets you know that the players are also tight late, leaving the way clear for some delightful one-on-one action for late play.
As far as actually using the H/hr number, this is really only useful to me in the way that knowing the alcohol content of my drink is: the higher the number, the more I can feed the “action junkie” monkey. Again, this mainly depends on my mood for the evening.
So how do the table statistics make your poker game better? Like any other information in our sport of “using limited data to best effect” they are tools to assist in selecting the best game to achieve your objectives for the session. If by “better” you mean “more profitable”, use them in one way; but if you mean “higher quality poker by playing higher quality opponents while minimizing your risk”, then use them another.