What is a Fish at the Table?
A fish in a poker context is the term assigned to a weak player. New and inexperienced players who are yet to learn and appreciate event fundamental elements of the game are, of course, going to make numerous basic errors and will be ultimately unable to hide their many so-called leaks that opponents will look to exploit. However, poker tables are also populated by more experienced players who simply haven’t grown to properly understand how to play effectively, and who are losing players.
In other words, the sea of poker has no shortage of fish. As the saying goes: if you’ve been sitting at a poker table for a while and have failed to find the fish, it could well be you!
The term ‘fish’ is universal in the world of poker and is often heard or referred to in various contexts. While professionals and commentators readily use the word in a matter-of-fact manner when simply describing players as weak, such as recommending a specific online poker room to experienced players as a potential profitable hunting ground due to the player pool being full of fish, some find it offensive, which is why the alternatives “recreational player” or “fun player” tend also to be used.
Find the Fish As Soon As Possible!
Assuming we’re not the fish, it’s important to observe play constantly in order to determine which are the weakest players at the table. And the earlier we identify these players, the more we get to exploit them. Timing is crucial, because as the tournament progresses the field reduces in size, with many of those eliminated being recreational players, and thus opportunities to build our stack at their expense diminish as the levels go by.
Spot the Fish
It shouldn’t take more than a few orbits to seek out the fish, who tend to make themselves known through various unrefined plays, unsubtle moves, and good old-fashioned mistakes. They’ll jump into too many pots, call way too liberally (and with poor hands), bluff badly, play too passively, overbet, and so on. They’ll also lose chips.
Exploit the Fish
Having taken note of the weakest player(s) at the table, it’s time to get our hands on their chips. So, how do we increase the likelihood of weak(er) players’ chips making the journey across the virtual felt from their stacks to ours? The good news is that there’s more than one way to skin the proverbial rabbit. Weak(er) players have all sorts of ways of giving away chips. The trick is to engineer situations in which we can be the recipient of their generosity. Against calling stations, for example, we can relax our range a little because we’ll still be ahead of their loose calling range when value betting. Some players’ weak points are so extreme that we can let them do all the hard work for us. Maniacs and those players who like to throw their proverbial weight around can be trapped quite easily because they have no safety filter and will recklessly bet too big and execute unsubtle bluffs because, simply, they enjoy the thrill. This is something many players fail to appreciate – if we play sensibly and make a deliberate point of not wasting chips, and generally go about a tournament in a practical way, it’s easy to automatically assume that our opponents are in the main doing just the same. But this is absolutely not the case, and if it looks like someone is too loose and too aggressive, they probably are. Give them a chance to donate their chips rather than try to be the aggressor.
Also worth finding are those obliging players who happily call big pre-flop raises but then quickly fold having not connected with the Flop. Again, it’s surprising how common this habitual ‘strategy’ is, especially in a tournament context, where players erroneously believe that such leaky pre-flop calls are an affordable investment, hoping to hit big on the Flop. We should be looking to isolate these players at every opportunity, then bet the Flop accordingly. They will hit occasionally, of course, but not in the vast majority of cases, so it’s important to give them the reason to fold that they’re looking for. Players who are already expecting to miss are the easiest to push out of a hand.
This is just a taste of how to exploit weak players during the early stages of a tournament. If we aren’t doing it, it’s guaranteed others are, and the earlier we use this tactic, and the more we hammer away, the bigger our stack will be as we approach the more difficult stages of the tournament, when chips assume more value, and the player pool has a greater concentration of more experienced, skilled players.