15 ways to spot a fish…

and how to skin it when you've caught it

1. Calling station

Poker’s a game based on information… why give it away for free when you don’t have to?

If you’re not sure what you’re doing in a game, the easiest thing to do is follow someone else’s lead. That’s why in poker you’ll find a lot of novice/weak players calling every bet regardless of their starting hand. It can be horrific watching an opponent calling every bet nonchalantly before timidly turning over a Jack-high, to your palpable relief, at the end. But it’s even worse when they call all the way and reveal Aces at the showdown – a hand you could never put them on in a million years because they didn’t bet or raise at any stage.

2. Tells

If you’re playing live then all you need to do is use your eyes. Dead giveaways include not being able to shuffle or deal properly; spilling cards; holding hole cards up to the chest to get a good look at them; shaking hands that only just about pick up the chips and put them in the middle without spilling them everywhere; eyes that light up when they see a good pair; a body that slumps back into the seat when a flop comes down… These are all signs that you’re up against a very weak player, or a very inexperienced live player.

3. Under/overbetting

1. An Ace has just dropped on the river and there’s 3500 in the pot when your opponent looks at his cards again and makes it… 50 to go. You only have bottom pair but decide to call because it’s stupidly cheap and he shows a bluff. 2. You’re in a $10 sit-and-go online when a player – Ovrbttr – puts in 1000 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 1000 chips to steal 30? The only hands he’s going to get called by are ones where he’s dominated – Q-Q, K-K, A-A. Note down his mistake and make him pay later.

4. The show-off

There are people who when playing poker just can’t help themselves. They show every bluff they make, every hand they rake… in fact, they just keep on showing hands when they simply don’t need to. This makes them highly aquatic. 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? One word: fish.

5. 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. Was he drawing to ridiculous pot odds to make his gutshot straight? If you can give yourself a mathematical edge against your opponent(s), you’ll be a winner against them in the long run.

6. Aces

Everyone loves an Ace but fish get dazzled by them no matter what the kicker. If you see someone call a three-way all-in with A-6 suited early on in a sitand- go then pray he gets lucky and takes all the chips because you’ll be able to get them off him easily later on.

7. Chatterbox

It’s true that 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’ or ‘wp’ when someone shows Aces is a weak player, no matter how nice their sentiment. And if there’s a lengthy conversation going on you can be sure the chatters are not focusing on the game properly. In real life you can talk and play cards if you’re skilled enough. But online, typing and using the mouse, while keeping on eye on the screen and making tough tactical decisions is a lot harder.

8. Hand ranking

It’s the very least that you need to know to get by. So, if you see someone referring to a hand ranking chart while playing in a live game, then you’ve found one of the fishiest fish around. HillyTheFish was doing exactly this less than a year ago.

9. 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 and leave the table with their money. There’s a famous saying – ‘don’t tap on the aquarium’ – which translates as ‘don’t scare the fish away’. If someone’s tapping away then they either don’t know enough to know this maxim (in which case they’re a fish), or know it but choose to ignore it (and are thus stupid, which is the same thing).

10. Hole cards

If you’re playing online you can look at your hole cards all the time and no one can see you doing it, which is fine. However, when you’re playing live it’s a dead giveaway that you’re a novice player. A competent poker player will know what they’re looking out for; they’ll know what suits they’re holding and whether they’ve hit the straight.

11. SharkScope

Test the waters before you take the plunge. Log onto www. sharkscope.com, enter the online alias of someone you’re about to play and you can find out quickly and easily whether they’re winning or losing players. You get five free searches a day or you can pay to register for unlimited use. It’s limited to the PokerStars, FullTilt, CryptoLogic, Ongame, Pacific Poker and Poker.com networks, but if you play on them it’s an invaluable free tool that you can also use to see how much money you’ve been making (or losing) on all types of sit-and-gos.

12. 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 suicide.

13. Position

Position is paramount in poker but it’s quite a tricky concept to grasp when you’re starting off. 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.

14. Heads-up

If by some miracle a fishy player has managed to get to the headsup stage of a sit-and-go (and it does happen – luck plays a big part in poker) suddenly their amateur status is magnified. After a few hands 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. At which point, unless you’re holding a monster yourself, you can just fold and wait for a better position. You’ll also notice lots of checking and folding pre-flop because they don’t lower their starting hand requirements short-handed.

15. Betting

When playing online, players are prompted when it’s their turn to act, blinds are posted automatically and it’s impossible to bet below the minimum or above the maximum (if you’re playing in a limit game). However, when playing live all these things – and more – are not only possible, but almost inevitable if you’re playing with novices. Don’t get impatient with your opponent(s) if they keep making elementary mistakes like this. Keep reminding them to put their blinds in; tell them how much the minimum bet or raise is; and remind them to take their coat(s) when they get up to leave hours before you do.

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