How to play

Poker fish: what is a fish and how to spot them?

In this section you’ll learn how to:

How to spot a fish

1) Calling all the way

If you're not quite sure what to do, the easy option is to follow someone else's lead. That's why you'll find a lot of poker novices calling every bet regardless of their starting hand.

2) Underbetting and overbetting

Keep your eye out for this, note it down if it happens and take advantage later. For example, you're in a $10 Sit & Go online when a player puts in 1,000 chips under the gun with only 10/20 blinds to pick up. Everyone folds and he reveals jacks. Now, it's not the easiest hand to play, but was it worth risking 1,000 chips to steal 30? Probably not, especially now you know how to play him in the future.

3) The showoff

Some people just can't help themselves. They show every bluff they make, every pot they rake and keep on showing hands when they simply don't need to. This looks like very fishy behaviour. After all, poker's a game that is based heavily on information. So why give it away for free when you don't need to?

4) The showdown

The showdown is the only hard and fast information that you get in a game of poker. What two cards was your opponent playing? And what did his bets mean? You don't even have to be in the hand to pick up vital information like this. This is the perfect time to get the edge against your opponent(s) and if you can you'll be a winner against them in the long run.

5) Chatterbox

Some decent online players use the online chatbox to create a false impression or put an opponent on tilt. But you can bet the last dollar in your account that anyone typing in 'nh' (‘nice hand’) or 'wp' (‘well played’) when someone shows aces is a weak player, no matter how nice their sentiment.

6) The critic

Bad players like to make themselves look good by critiquing everyone else. But the fact is that you want to be up against bad players and you don't want these bad players to be aware that they're bad players. Otherwise, they might leave the table – taking their money with them – and you definitely don’t want that!

7) All-in

Bad players don't like playing poker after the flop, because it involves far more skill. So watch out for an opponent who insists on pushing all-in every other hand, pre-flop or otherwise, when the blinds are still relatively low. Selective use of the all-in move can be a powerful weapon. Too much of it is poker suicide.

8) Position

Position is key in poker but it's quite a tricky concept to grasp when you're starting off. So here are the basics; look out for people who consistently limp in under the gun and then call a raise only to check and fold to any bet on the flop. And look out for people who don't use the button to bet and steal the blinds.

9) 1 on 1

If you play a bad player 1 on 1, suddenly their beginner status is magnified. You'll soon realise that, perhaps because they're nervous or simply haven't been in this situation before, they hardly ever raise, give you lots of free cards and only bet out when holding premium hands. So unless you're holding a monster yourself, you can just fold and wait for a better position.

10) Betting

Don't get impatient with your opponent(s) if they keep making elementary mistakes. Take note and take advantage. Remind them to put their blinds in, tell them how much the minimum bet or raise is and don’t forget to remind them to take their coat when they get up to leave hours before you do.

You've identified the fish – now what do you do?

Don't try and bluff them. They’ll call you with anything and if you're bluffing their 'anything' could be a lot more than your 'nothing'. You might to have to wait until you hit a hand but remember the saying; good things come to those who wait.

Get friendly with them. If you're going to take all their money and expect them to come back you're going to have to make them feel good about themselves. How? Turn on the charm, something like, 'Wow you played really well, you just got really unlucky,' should work a treat.

Make them pay when you've got a big hand. If you're sure you've got the winning hand you want to ruthlessly extract as many chips from them as possible. Don't scare them off with a big bet, but do put your money in if you think they'll call. Don't check to them and hope they bet into you.

Extremely passive players are much more likely to follow your lead – you check, they'll check; you stick in chips, they'll stick in chips. Also, if you haven't got a lock on the pot don't let them draw to a winning hand. There's nothing more annoying than losing to a fish on the river.