In poker, playing against the fish is definitely one of the most underrated skills. Nowadays there is so much emphasis on how to outplay the regulars that playing against the fish is often neglected. In the following article I aim to give you the best practices for profiting against the fish.
In order to give you best practices for playing against the weak players, we need to tell you what the main mistakes the fish tend to make whilst playing poker. These mistakes tend to be:
- Calling too many raises pre-flop with weak starting hands.
- Calling too many 3-bets pre-flop with weak starting hands.
- Often folding to too many c-bets on the flop.
- Often calling too many c-bets on the flop.
- Will generally make call downs with weak hands like top pair weak kicker.
- Will generally bluff in poor spots.
- Will generally not value bet thinly and will take pot control lines on the river with medium strength hands.
Categorizing the Fish (Aggressive/Passive)
The most important thing you have to do when playing against a fish is to categorize them as either aggressive or passive.
Passive fish are without a doubt the easiest types of fish to play against. Passive fish generally do not bluff much. They also do not value bet thin. The most common characteristic of the passive fish is that they will check and call frequently.
In order to beat the passive fish, you simply need to make a better hand than them and value bet accordingly. Many passive fish will be unaware of the nuances of bet sizing, so if you flop a strong hand, you can usually just bet large on each street and the passive fish will call you down with a weak hand like middle pair or top pair weak kicker.
Commonly you will find passive fish with both low and high fold to continuation bets. Commonly most passive fish fold to continuation bets a lot. Against these players you will want to play a wide range of hands pre flop and continuation bet all of the time if they are folding a lot.
Against passive fish who fold very little post flop, you will have to play a tighter style to exploit their biggest leak. To beat this player, just simply play tight, isolate with a strong range of hands and value bet ruthlessly.
Isolating the Fish
So far we have ascertained that the fish are the weakest players. They will have all kinds of leaks such as calling too much or folding too much, some will be passive, others will be aggressive, however what is universal about these players is that they are all usually huge losing players.
The bulk of your profits in poker will come from the weak players. Logically, we will want to play as many pots as possible against them. For this reason, when the fish limps I recommend isolating a wide range of hands.
What do I mean by this? Simply, when the fish calls pre flop we will want to raise their limp to push out the other players and play a pot heads up with the fish, preferably in position with a deep pot to stack ratio.
The size of my isolation raise is dependent on both the fish and the other players at the table. For the most part I will isolation raise between 3 and 5 big blinds, assuming that there is one limper. Factors that might cause me to isolate to a smaller size could be:
- There are regulars who 3-bet a lot left to act.
- There are short stacked players left to act.
- The fish is short stacked.
Factors that could make me isolate larger would be:
- The fish is deep stacked.
- The fish has a high fold to continuation bet (Increase raise size and increase raising range).
- Players left to act are passive and do not 3-bet much.
- I am out of position (I will raise to 4.5 or 5bb usually – Often with a stronger range).
On top of this for each additional limper in the pot I will add another 1bb to my isolation raise size.
Fold To Continuation Bet
As previously touched on, the fold to continuation bet statistic is important when playing against the fish. This statistic alone will tell me whether the fish is a folder or a caller on the flop.
If they are a caller, you will want to skew your flop betting range to value. You will also want to reduce your pre flop raising range so that you are value betting more often. So for example, if there is a fish in the big blind and I am on the button, if the fish has a fold to continuation bet statistic of 15%, I may want to decrease my button raising range from 60% to somewhere around 40%. This is simply a counter to them calling too much pre flop and rarely folding to my flop bets. Also bear in mind, not all fish continue onwards after calling the flop. You will find some fish that fold to a lot of turn continuation bets; you will find other fish who will rarely fold at all. It is important to categorize your fish and develop these kinds of reads on them.
If they are a folder, you can increase your pre flop raising range and increase your flop continuation bet percentage. This is in essence printing money against players who call with too many hands pre flop and fold too many flops. There will be certain boards you will want to continuation bet with your whole range (Ace and king high, dry rainbow boards) and time when you will want to not continuation bet with air (9JQ with a flush draw). However against players who fold a lot to continuation bets you will want to increase your continuation betting frequency.
3-Betting the Fish (Merging your range)
When playing against regulars I generally advocated having a polarized 3-betting range. The reason for this is simply that regs 4-bet or fold more often and flat less. When they do flat, it will be with decent hands. So for example, if a regular is calling your 3-bet with hands like KQ and AQ every time you 3-bet, 3-betting hands like QJ would be bad, whereas 3-betting a hand like 86s will be good. Anyway, that concept should be saved for another article.
Fish however 4-bet very infrequently and call 3-bets very wide. So in a certain spot you could have a fish raise a5 suited pre flop and then flat a 3-bet with it. Against players who flat a lot of 3-bets, you will want to skew your range to not be hands like 56s, but more like AJs KQ etc. Simply put, the fish will make more pre flop mistakes with weak hands like q9 or a8, whereas regulars will not make mistakes by calling with these hands.
On top of this, by 3-betting a merged range you get to isolate the fish in a heads up pot. By flatting you allow other players to come in or squeeze to isolate the fish themselves. It’s almost as if you are 3-betting not just because your hand is ahead of the fishes calling range, you are 3-betting so that the other players do not 3-bet and push you out of the pot with the fish.
Keeping the Fish in the Pot
Keeping the fish in the pot is an important concept that is rarely talked about. I am going to throw out a blanket pre-flop rule that I abide by at all times:
- When there is a fish left to act, never 3-bet any strong hand pre flop.
What do I mean by this? Well here is an example: The cuttoff raises, we are on the button with pocket kings. The small blind is a fish and the big blind is a regular. In this spot I decided to flat kings on the button, simply because I wanted to keep the fish in the pot. Yes we miss some value when the cuttoff has a hand like pocket tens to queens or AK but my opinion is, whatever value we miss here, its more than made up for against the fish who will make big mistakes post flop.
Anyway, in this situation the fish indeed called in the small blind, and then the big blind did a big isolation 3-bet. To my shock, the cuttoff called. I tanked for a while and jammed all-in. The fish then tanked for a while and then called, so did the the cuttoff, whilst the big blind folded. Both players flipped over AQ and the board ran out good for me, earning me two buyins. Obviously the cuttoff put me on pocket jacks or tens.
Now just because this favourable hand happened for me, it doesn’t necessarily prove that it was the best play. Every action has many draw backs and benefits. In this case I kind of got lucky that the big blind decided to squeeze wide. However, In general I think that it’s more profitable to keep the fish in the pot. The fish will make more mistakes than me post flop whereas the regular will be of a similar level to me.
Pre flop raising ranges
When there is a fish left to act in the blinds, i will dramatically widen my pre flop raising range. So for example, let’s say I am UTG in a 6-max game and there is a fish on the button, in this spot I will always fold weak hands like KTo. However, if that fish is then in the big blind, I feel like I can profitably raise from this position. Yes my hand is weak and if called by a regular I likely an equity dog and have some reverse implied odds. That being said, I think these negatives are more than made up for when the fish in the big blind calls with a wide range of hands and makes a lot of post flop mistakes.
Any time there is a fish left to act in the blinds, I will widen my pre flop raising range. How much I modify my raising range depends on how many hands the fish is playing and how large I think my post flop edge is against him.
Fish Timing Tells
Both fish and poor regulars give off timing tells. The most common fish timing tells are as follows:
Fast call: Any time a fish calls super fast, it means they do not have a hand like two pair or better. On the flop it usually means any pair or any draw. However, if the fish had a strong hand they would take time to think about raising. Whether you should bluff them or not is dependent on your read of if they will fold weak hands. If I get this timing tell against weak regulars, I am much more likely to follow through with bluffs. However, against fish you can never tell if they are going to fold a weak hand. That is obviously read dependant.
Fast min-raise: The fast minraise by a fish is almost always a bluff. They often do it on dry boards with air when they think you are continuation betting a lot. In this spot I will fairly often 3-bet their flop min raise.
Slow min-raise: The slow min raise or slow raise is generally a very strong hand. When they take a number of seconds before acting and make a raise, it shows that the fish hasn’t just snap raised their hand. In my experience this is always a strong hand and you should almost always fold unless you have a very strong hand yourself.
Manipulating the Size of the Pot
One of the great things about playing against fish is that you do not need any balance. You can therefore tailor your bet sizes to accomplish what you want to accomplish. The better you are at hand reading, the better you can tailor your bet sizes. Some examples include:
- Betting small when you know the fish is weak for thin value.
- Betting massive when you are strong and you think the fish will not fold.
- Betting big when the fish is weak to fold out most of his hand range (As a bluff)
Generally when you are strong, it’s almost never correct to slowplay against the fish. Let’s say you flop a set with 44 on K64. If you are playing against a regular, they may fold KJ or better when you checkraise this flop. However, a fish might call you down 3-streets with a hand like k9. In these spots it’s much better to juice the pot when the fish is in the hand and you are strong. You never know how weak they may call you down, it is of course one of their biggest leaks obviously advisable to exploit.