Whether you love to play poker from the comfort of your own home or in the convivial setting of a Grosvenor casino, poker players have one thing in common: they all like to win.
Unfortunately for those who haven’t quite honed their poker skills, winning can often come at the expense of their inexperience. As Mike McDermott said in the classic poker movie Rounders, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”
To the so-called “sharks” of the poker world, novices (also known as “fish”) are the low hanging fruit who readily (but unwittingly) hand over their chips by making obvious moves. Here are a few tips to work your way up the poker food chain…
Play fewer hands
A good indication that someone is inexperienced is if they play far too many hands. These types of players are described as “loose” and often get into pots where they are a heavy underdog.
An experienced player knows that getting involved in too many pots isn’t profitable in the long run and can lead to unnecessary trouble. A novice, on the other hand, will often follow the lead of others. This could mean calling a three-bet or four-bet pre-flop, even when they have an unfavourable hand. In these situations, they are waiting for a miracle: often hoping they make a straight, trips or a two pair on the flop. In reality, the odds are nearly always stacked against them.
These spots are fantastic for more experienced players, as it allows them to extract value from premium hands. In situations where a player repeatedly calls a large raise pre-flop and then folds to a continuation bet, it opens up the opportunity to expand the bluffing range and force the player off their hand with a strong post-flop bet.
It’s worth remembering, however, that these type of players are extremely volatile and can sometimes have a premium holding. You will need to use the following tips to further evaluate whether they could be bluffing.
Watch the showboating
Does someone regularly and voluntarily show their cards at your table? If so, they could be giving away valuable information that can be harnessed and utilised by ‘sharks’. A more experienced player may voluntarily show their cards to create a false generalisation about how they play, but recreational players often do this without any strategic purpose. This could be for any of the following reasons:
The player loves to show a bluff just to try and rile their opponents.
They have a favourite ‘junk hand’ that they love showing when they win.
They want approval and respect from other players.
They’ve had one too many to drink.
Whatever reason a player has for showing their cards, it’s up to you as a more educated player to use this as ammunition. Note their card holdings at showdown and think back to how they played their hand – did they raise a particular amount on the flop? How did they play the river? You should be asking yourself all these questions after you see their cards, as it could provide you with information that could become useful later on.
Remember, fish are creatures of habit and often make the same kind of plays; it’s up to you to make mental notes of these patterns.
Irregular bets are a common theme amongst many fish. This can come in the form of underbetting or overbetting. For example, it’s common for a novice to ignore conventional raises (x2, x2.5, x3 etc.), and instead, put forward an arbitrary amount of chips into the pot.
Amateurs typically raise a minute proportion of the pot (giving other players value to call) or too much of the pot. By making a tiny raise on the river, despite there being a large pot up for grabs, the player displays a huge lack of knowledge to their opponents.
Most fish don’t know much about extracting the maximum amount of value from their opponents, so if you see an odd move, you should ask yourself whether it’s worth calling or if you’re getting reeled in.
Any poker player worth their salt knows how important position is. Playing out of position is like fighting in a dual, only to give the other cowboy your gun. It’s really that important.
If you spot players opening up the betting from early position with poor hands, or playing too loose from the blinds, you can safely assume they are more of a fish than a shark. With position, we are able to act upon the knowledge of our opponents’ action, which allows us to make a more informed decision.
In contrast to novices, you should be playing more hands from later positions (the cut-off and the button) and fewer hands from under the gun and UTG+1. Typically, fish will open-raise from early-to-mid position with junk hands, and subsequently find themselves calling players who have better hands.
While it’s okay to sometimes open up from early position (to balance your pre-flop raising range), you shouldn’t make a habit of it.
Want to practice your newfound ‘fishing’ skills? Head over to grosvenorpoker.com and let us know how you get on!