How To Spot A Fish At the Table

6 years ago
How To Spot A Fish
20 Mar

In one of the many unforgettable scenes from the classic poker movie Rounders, main character Mike McDermott played by Matt Damon gave the poker world of the 90s a very useful piece of advice. He said:

Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker."

Pretty neat right? Very good advice indeed even by today’s standards, after 18 years of unparalleled poker progress. So whether you play online or on the green felt, the first thing you’ve got to do is spot the sucker or the fish as it is called nowadays. Don’t worry, to do that you don’t need HUDs and trackers, you can also do this the old fashioned way, the way players like McDermott used to do back in the days before Chris Moneymaker and the poker boom. All you need to do is pay attention. But what are you actually paying attention to? Are there obvious tells to spot the fish? Of course there are and the only thing you have to do in order to discover is just read the next few paragraphs. Are you ready? Shuffle up and deal then!


Limping is by far the most obvious tell in any poker game - whether it is live or online - that a fish is at your table. Every competent poker player who reads the basic strategy knows that you must always enter the pot by raising NOT calling the big blind especially in big-bet games like No Limit Texas Holdem and Pot Limit Omaha. There are very few situations in which limping is a real option - overlimping maybe with small pocket pairs when you are shallow or maybe in heads-up tournaments - but starting the action with just a call preflop is out of the question. If somebody opens under the gun with a call in a NLHE game, he’s definitely a player who is either unaware of the basic strategy or maybe who’s not that interested in hearing or reading all that poker mambo-jambo, either way he’s a fish.

Beware, the reverse is also applicable, if you start the action limping preflop, then you’ll be definitely tagged as weak and everyone will try to play pots against you and we know you definitely don’t want to be the sucker in your game. That’s why you’re reading this article in the first place.

Playing Too Many Hands

Ok, so maybe nobody’s limping, everybody at your table seems to be aware that playing passively preflop is genuinely bad. What now, you may wonder? Well you can also look at how many hands your opponents are playing. We all know getting involved in way too many pots can get you in a lot of trouble and isn’t profitable at all. Again, you really don’t need a HUD to notice the frequency a player enters the pot. While it certainly helps to have all those numbers and see something like 60 or 70 VPIP in front of a user, you can also notice by just closely observing the play at your table(s).

Remember this though: when playing online, players have the unique ability to multi-table, and the play is generally tight. So a villain with a 60 or 70 VPIP can signal a lot of red flags or green in our case. Loose winning players usually play something no greater than 25% to 30% of their hands. When playing live, however, the play is much looser and slower, not to mention the fact you can sit at only one table. That’s why you may encounter opponents playing many, many hands but surprisingly winning. They may not be the fish, just a very good players with a lot of experience under their belt. Learn to spot the difference.

Weird Bet Sizes

But how can you make the difference? He’s not limping, he’s raising at every opportunity he has, but still, he plays way too many hands. What to do now? Are there other tells? Indeed there are which brings us to the weird bet sizing part. Weird? Well, everything that is out of the ordinary and unconventional. For example, the conventional raise size preflop to start the action is two to three and even four big blinds (although the 4x is now regarded as incorrect) in a NLHE game. If you see somebody inflating the pot and raising preflop eight times the big blind without any limpers behind him whatsoever, then he may very well be a fish.Similarly, in tourneys, watch for when the villain open shoves 50 big blinds deep.You just spotted a fish there.

And that’s not all. You can also spot a fish by observing his bet sizing postflop. In most cases, the half pot, two thirds pot or full pot is standard after the flop; when you raise, it typically is something close to three times the initial bet. If you find yourself in a spot when your opponent minbets on the river even though the pot is fairly large - 30 to 50 big blinds - then you just spotted the sucker right there. The reverse is also true by the way: if the pot is small and the villain instant shoves with a huge overbet on a card that completed many draws, then they must be a fish since they doesn’t know much about extracting value from a strong hand. Easy game right?

Too Passive Or Too Aggressive

And if all those tells didn’t provide your poker game with a helpful hand, how about our last useful tip to spot the sucker at the table: the polarizing play of your opponent. Nowadays, the winning players must be balanced and use all of their options whether to check, call, bet, or raise. If you polarize your play, you risk losing money and the well balanced players will try to hunt you down.

So whenever you sit at a poker table, try to observe your opponents’ play. Who is too passive? Who likes to call down way too often and can’t fold top pair with weak kicker? Who can’t fold the bullets on extremely draw-heavy boards? Those are the passive weak players and the best tactic is to constantly bet when you have a strong hand and carefully consider your weak holdings. And yes, don’t bluff against them.

On the other side of the spectrum is that aggro whale. Is he raising and re-raising too many hands preflop? What about post-flop? Is he playing like a crazy lunatic not raising and caring about the texture of the board? Then he must bluff a lot, so check/calling can be very profitable against this type of weak villain.

And a last rule of thumb: look for the link between preflop and post-flop. Treat them separately as there are many weak players who play very aggressive pre-flop but are very careful after the three community cards are face up. Don’t just treat them as if they are crazy all the way ‘cause you’re going to lose a lot of money against them.

Observation Is Key

All in all, if you look for the four tells explained above, you should be perfectly fine and you should spot the fish easily. Just pay close attention to what happens at your table and don’t play like a robot. Observation is key in any poker game and can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.

So you looked around and haven’t spotted the sucker yet? Sadly, that means you ARE the sucker… Don’t worry, we’re just kidding, we know our PokerTube readers are very competent poker players and we also know, given enough time, you will be able to spot the fish in your game. Using some other tells, you say? Then ready your keyboard and start typing below in our comment section. ‘Cause we are definitely curious to find out your secrets.

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Florian is a freelance journalist and avid poker player with a strong passion to create unique and appealing stories.He is an experienced researcher on various topics, from business and the financial markets to psychology and the gambling industry.He blogs at more


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