Four ways to spot a fish at the poker table (part 2)

The easiest way to win big at poker is to play all your pots against fish. But how do you spot a fish? Cash game pro Ross Jarvis is here to let you in on some fishy secrets in the second part of his ‘Spot the Fish’ series


Fishy clue 3: mindless drivel

What is the evidence of fishy behaviour? The chat box may look like a pointless waste of space clogging up vital grinding real estate but look closer and it can point you in the direction of some easy money. The majority of pros and regs rarely use the chat box, except to say hello to friends or offer the odd ‘FML’, ‘nh’ or ‘ul’ pleasantry. Fish, on the other hand, absolutely love the chat box because it gives them a chance to complain. Be on the lookout for phrases popping up in the chat box such as ‘[insert poker site] is F’N RIGGED!’, ‘I hate AK’ and ‘I never win with Jacks’. If you see anything along these lines it’s a fair indicator that the player in question doesn’t understand variance, is not that strong post-flop and is absolutely awful at keeping hold of his money.
How can we ‘Hellmuth’ them? There’s no hard and fast rule to exploiting fish that use the chat box over and over again. Just identifying them as fish is the most important thing – from there you can adjust your game to take advantage. For example, if they call too much you should be value betting thinner and so on. One specific way you can increase your edge is to get in the chat box and interact with them. If it looks as though they are on huge tilt a simple cutting dig such as ‘probably should fold there mate’ might seem harsh, but it will be all that is needed to send them into hyper-tilt. From here some fish will make it a personal battle to try and win every pot against you, which plays right into your hands.

Fishy clue 4: Calling all stations

What is the evidence of fishy behaviour? Fish love to call. It doesn’t matter whether they have a gutshot, bottom pair, a flush draw or just King-high – there are tons of players out there that smash the call button regardless. How can we ‘Hellmuth’ them? Initially, it can seem difficult to beat a player that is just calling everything. You’re afraid – quite rightly – to bluff because you know it won’t get through and if you are continually missing flops there seems no answer. 
The good news is there doesn’t have to be. Some players are simply unbluffable. This isn’t a skill of theirs though, it’s a major leak which you can manipulate to your advantage. First, if you’re up against a player that rarely folds to three-bets (folding less than 30% of the time is very loose) you need to adjust your strategy to combat this. Drop semi-bluffing hands like 7-8 suited and A-3 from your three-betting range and add in hands like A-T, K-J and Q-J. These hands you’d typically flat-call versus a good opponent can be used as part of an extended value range because you have evidence that the fish will be calling with a whole host of dominated hands.
If you hit anything on the flop you can bet with confidence that your hand is ahead of their range. Other subtle adjustments should be made too. Usually it will be a winning play to be aggressive with your draws, in an attempt to make your opponent fold before you find out whether you hit. Unless your hand has huge equity, such as a nut flush draw with two overcards, you should stop doublebarrelling draws against opponents that never fold. They’re never going to fold so you are throwing money away if you do. It’s easy to stack players like this. Simply wait until you hit a decent hand and keep betting for value. Always resist the temptation to bluff.

The Fish Quiz

It’s all well and good teaching you how to beat up the fish but the more important question is: Are you a fish? Find out with our fiendishly fishy mini-quiz…

1. You have Aces and there’s a raise to three big blinds in front of you. What should you do?
  • a) Three-bet to 10BBs
  • b) Three-bet to 5BBs
  • c) Move all-in
2. You pick up Q-J in mid-position. What should you do?
  • a) Raise to 3BBs because your hand plays well postflop
  • b) Limp in because your hand is OK but not that good
  • c) Raise to 6BBs hoping to take the blinds down
3. You lose a stack after a bad beat to some guy with an annoying avatar. What should you do?
  • a) Stay cool, forget about it and move on
  • b) Immediately start talking about your opponent’s mother in a fashion outlawed by the BBC
  • c) Talk about how unlucky you are


  • Mainly As: Well done, you are a competent poker player
  • Mainly Bs: You are a mega-whale
  • Mainly Cs: You have some fish tendencies but play slightly below average on the whole

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