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We analyze theoretically optical gains in vertical‐cavity surface‐emitting lasers (VCSELs) for various crystal orientations. The calculation based on the multiband effective‐mass theory takes into account the effects of anisotropy and nonparabolicity on the valence subband dispersion. It is found that in VCSELs employing InGaAs/InP strained quantum wells (QWs) with non‐(001) orientations except (111), the polarization in the QW plane can be controlled and high gains are obtained. In particular, the gains in VCSELs with (NN1)‐oriented (N≥2) strained QWs are markedly higher than those in the equivalent (001) lasers. © 1994 American Institue of Physics.