How To Spot A Fish In Poker
By Bob Garcia
One of the most important skills you can develop at the poker table is segmenting your opponents into 2 categories: fish (defined as a weaker or less experienced player) and not fish. Doing so will allow you to maximize your ROI by spending more time battling weaker players and avoiding unnecessary conflict with the regulars against who you will have a much reduced “edge.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at some classic ways to suss out the fish at your table.
7 Ways To Spot A Fish In Poker
Playing Too Many Hands
Most experienced players recognize that poor hand selection is one of the quickest ways to deplete their bankroll. As such, by and large, most regulars play a relatively similar number of hands based primarily on position. Meaning, they play tight from early position, and gently expand their range of hands as their position moves closer to the button and small blind. Fish, on the other hand, make no such distinction and often seem like they’re trying to win every single hand.
Calling Too Much, Raising Too Little
Most fish are notorious for calling a lot of raises, but rarely reraising them (aka 3-betting). If you see a player who is often flat-calling a raise – especially out of position – and hardly ever reraising them, you can feel pretty confident they are not a strong, experienced poker player.
Folding Too Much
One of the tell-tale signs that you are facing a fish at the poker table is that they call too often preflop, but give up way too easily on the flop and turn. Essentially, these players are playing a “fit-or-fold” strategy, meaning that if their pocket cards don’t connect very strongly with the flop, they are quick to throw in the towel and move on to the next hand. This is why continuation betting can be an incredibly powerful tool against them.
Not Folding Enough
On the other end of the fish spectrum exist the “calling stations”, which are players that refuse to fold any pair and love to chase every draw – pot odds be damned. Against these types of players, regulars will increase the size of their value bets and reduce the frequency of their bluffs.
Poor Bet Sizing
A classic tell that you’re facing a fish at the poker table is that instead of raising the usual 2-3x the big blind preflop, they’ll often raise some erratic amount like 5 or 6x. Then on the flop or turn, they’ll often either way overbet, sometimes going as far as shoving a huge stack into a small pot, or way underbet, c-betting the minimum into a large pot. Although there definitely is a bit of variety among them, most regulars have very standardized bet sizes – usually betting between half and three-quarter pot on most streets.
Sharing Too Much Information Unnecessarily
We’ve all sat at the poker table with a player who is seemingly unable to make it through a single hand without telling everyone exactly what they folded each time it would have connected to the board. “I should have played my 84” they might tell you after the flop comes A44 (never mind that they were in middle position already facing a raise). Astute players will do everything in their power to make this type of fish comfortable so they continue offering up free information.
Prone to Emotional Swings
Although there are plenty of regulars who fall into this trap as well, fish are highly susceptible to the swings of the game and do a poor job of masking their emotions. This often leads them to “tilt” and amplifies many of the bad habits mentioned above.
Taking Advantage of Fish
Once you’ve identified the fish at your table, the next step is to execute a preset strategy based on the exact type of fish they are. If they fold too much, bet relentlessly. If they call too much, value bet with reckless abandon. If they rarely bluff the river (another classic fish-tell), overfold when facing river bets or raises. And if they tilt too easily, call them down light and watch them spiral even deeper into the darkness. Whatever thing they do that caused you to label them as a fish, have a plan in place ahead of time for how you will take advantage of it. If you do this, you’ll be able to increase your profits and maximize your hourly rate at the table.