Poker Awareness: Sizing Up Your Fishy Opponents

Unlike many popular casino games, poker is played solely against other players, rather than the house itself. The house has no advantage against you in a live poker game. Because of this dynamic, skilled poker players have a long-term advantage over their non-skilled inferior opponents. These inferior opponents are prone to constantly making mistakes that can be capitalized on, assuming you exercise patience and discipline. Opportunities are constantly available to exercise exploitation of your weaker opponents, assuming you understand how each unique opponent approaches the game.

Identifying Fish at The Poker Table

guy laliberte poker

Guy Laliberte: Billionaire Entrepreneur, High Stakes Fish.

“Fish” is a term used in poker to label an opponent who consistently loses in the long-run. These “fish” consistently make fatal mistakes against opponents without ever consciously realizing why they are making the mistake in the first place. Skilled poker professionals pry on fish, and consider them to be “dead money.” An easy target to exploit for profit in the long-run.

If we want to maximize our return on investment (ROI) from playing poker, we must exercise our poker knowledge and skills against the bad players at our table. Often times, there will only be one or two extremely weak players at your table. Your job is to identify these weak spots, and wait for opportunities to capitalize on their mistakes.

Isolating Fish

Understand that the better players at the table are aware of who the fish are, and will try to play pots against them constantly. They will try to “isolate” these fish by raising, and re-raising them in position with a wide range of hands. It is sometimes acceptable to re-raise these isolation bets with a weak holding in position against the stronger players at the table. While not something we should be doing constantly, we can pick up a lot of pots pre-flop by 4-betting the 3-betting skilled player in position. The fish will fold most of his open limps, and the skilled player will not often want to get involved in a 4-bet pot out of position. Understand that your opponents will eventually catch on to what you are doing if you constantly 4-bet their 3-bets, so make sure not to abuse this move too often or you will be faced with aggressive 5-bets that will ultimately commit you to go all-in or fold pre-flop.

If you are new to the game, it is recommended that you simply wait for your opportunity to isolate the fish, rather than playing the meta-game of countering solid opponents.

The power of position enables us to play many speculative hands with the advantage of acting last on every street. We can determine our opponent’s perceived range of hands based on how they react to our actions. We will be able to know with almost virtual certainty when our opponent is weak, and when our opponent is strong. We don’t necessarily have to have a strong hand ourselves, as we are able to bluff more frequently in position with all of our potential holdings. The weak fish are usually only concerned about the strength of their own hand, and fail to take into account the perceived strength of our hand.

Most weak fish will play hands very passively, only betting and calling bets when they have a strong hand. Other weak fish will try to play aggressively, betting, raising, and re-raising with less than premium hands. It is important to recognize who is playing passively, and who is playing aggressively so we can employ a strategy to counter their play.

The Passive-Aggressive Fish

Jason Mercier prys on fish in tournament poker.

Jason Mercier pries on fish in tournament poker.

One of the easiest targets to exploit at the poker table. These fish will play a wide variety of hands pre-flop, hoping to hit a big hand on the flop. When they miss, they fold. When they hit, they bet. We can safely bet a majority of flops in position against these players and steal many small pots. When we hit a big hand, we want to disguise it and hope that the fish has a hand like top pair or better. Top pair top kicker is a very common hand that fish can simply not fold, and when we have that beat, we must build a big pot intending to capture our opponent’s entire stack.

I like to play a wide range of speculative hands in position myself, knowing I will have control of the pot on every street, and knowing I can fold for cheap when I know I am beat. When I know I am ahead, I can slowly build a pot on every street, with the intention of jamming all-in on the river without over betting. Most fish think they understand the concept of “pot committed”, and will rarely fold when they have invested a good portion of their stack into the pot. They simply can’t recognize the fact that their opponent has them beat, and will want to pay to see their opponent’s cards whenever possible.

Having position on the fish means that we get to act last on each street of action. We get to see what our fish does before we have to act. We control and dictate the action, and our fish has to react to our actions, rather than us reacting to his or her actions. The fish plays the guessing game with their hand virtually face up. We play our cards appropriately in relation to how they react to our action.

The Loose-Aggressive Fish

ilari sahamies poker

Ilari Sahamies

This type of fish loves to get involved in the action, and will often do so by betting, raising, and re-raising with strong and also weak hands. Our goal is to trap these type of opponents when we have a big hand, and we are certain they will force the action. We allow them to build the pot as we disguise our hand strength. We allow them to continue to bluff into us by acting passively with our strong hands, intending to trap them when they least expect it.

Once again, I like to play a variety of speculative hands pre-flop against these fish, knowing that if I hit a big hand, I have a high potential to get paid off. I will have to fold many small pots, but when I get involved in a big pot, you can expect me to be ahead. I will know that I am ahead, but my opponent will fail to recognize my hand strength. The loose aggressive fish will find every possible opportunity to try to bluff at a pot when they think they can steal it. We counter this approach by waiting to hit a big hand that has the capability to felt our opponent.

The Loose-Passive Fish

The loose-passive fish is the ideal opponent to play poker against. The loose-passive fish will play a lot of hands by simply calling or folding. They rarely raise unless they have a monster, and will not bluff very often creating a dynamic we can exploit in the long-run. We can sit back and value bet relentlessly against these opponents when we know we have them crushed, and we can bluff frequently in small pots where they have no interest. When our fish decides to finally raise us, we can assume they have a strong hand, and we can fold for cheap. All of these cheap folds pay off in the end when we get involved in a hand that has the potential to felt our opponent. When we hit our big hand, we have the potential to win back all of the small pots we lost, in addition to what we can extract from our timely value bets.

There is no reason to try to bluff a loose-passive fish, as they will rarely fold. These fish are known as the ATM of the poker world, and will constantly pay off opponents who are patient enough to wait for a big hand. There is no reason to get involved with a marginal strength hand in a big pot against a loose-passive fish as we will never know if we are truly ahead or behind. Poker is a game of incomplete information, and we want to assure that we don’t make marginal mistakes against unknown information about our opponent.

Fish Are More Prone to Tilt

viktor blom isildur1 poker

Viktor Blom

“Tilt” is one of the biggest bankroll killers in the game of poker. Tilt occurs when negative emotions affect a players ration judgement at the table, resulting in that player playing below sub-optimal poker. Any player is prone to tilt, but fish will tilt more often, especially when they get unlucky in a big pot and lose. They will often “chase their losses” by playing very fast, bluffing more frequently, and calling more value bets than normal. A fish’s body language will give away indicators that they are emotionally distressed, and we can capitalize on these tendencies when the situation is appropriate. It is best to be patient and wait for a strong hand before getting involved with a fish on tilt. Allow them to donk off their stack to you when you have a strong holding, and don’t bother bluffing them because they won’t want to fold.

Focus on Playing Solid Poker & Ignoring Short-Term Results

While poker is a game of long-term skill, short-term luck may not go your way. If it weren’t for short-term luck, many fishy poker players wouldn’t bother to play poker. Due to the fact that they can get lucky on any given day is enough incentive for them to sit down and play. You will constantly be getting your money in good against these weak opponents, but you will still be prone to getting sucked out on in big pots when the fish get lucky. You cannot allow these short-term results to affect your play, you will need to stay consistent.

Take each hand you play as an entirely separate “session” within itself. At the start of each hand, you are neither up or down, regardless of your results up to this point. Focusing on this concept allows you to determine the best possible maneuver in each pot to experience a profit in the long-run. If you consciously account for how much you are “up” or “down” for the day at the start of each hand, you are setting yourself up to fail. When you are down, you will want to play faster to erase your losses, and when you are up, you will frequently involve yourself in pots you have no businesses in, both resulting in long-term negative results.

Don’t be results oriented, instead focus on making the correct +EV (Estimated Value) play in each situation. The more volume you play, the more the results will be in your favor in the long-run assuming you are a solid, skilled player. Respecting proper bankroll management is essential for positive long-term results. Without proper BRM, expect to eventually go broke due to bad short-term luck. Proper BRM lowers your risk of losing money in the short-run, while simultaneously allowing you to experience a profit in the long-run assuming you put in the required amount of volume.

Good luck at the tables! 🙂



About TD
Live Consciously, Expand Your Awareness!

One Response to Poker Awareness: Sizing Up Your Fishy Opponents

  1. Pingback: Poker Awareness: Timing Tells, Table Talk, & Body Language » Zazen Life Zazen Life

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