What Is a Fish in Poker? Definition and How To Spot One

Chances are, you won’t find “fish in poker” anywhere in the dictionary.

But if you’ve ever played a poker game, no way you haven’t heard players talk about the “fish” at the table, how big of a fish someone is, and how much they suck.

Basically, in the poker ecosystem, players who aren’t particularly good at the game are referred to as fish. Spotting poker fish and playing against them is one of the easiest ways to win money.

In this guide, we’re going to teach you how to do exactly that.

So, read along to learn about the most common poker fish moves you should look out for and how to turn their mistakes to your advantage.

What Is a Fish In Poker?

Fish in poker, or else called a “donkey”, is the sucker at the table. Fish in poker is basically a belittling term for a player who isn’t very good at poker.

Fish in poker make blatant mistakes and frequently lose. That’s because they usually play for fun and don’t look at poker as a long-term way of making money.

The primary thing that distinguishes poker fish from your average player is the consistency and extent of their mistakes.

Poker is a complicated game, and even the most experienced players are prone to making errors. The difference is that good players try to control the number and severity of their mistakes.

Poker fish, on the other hand, consistently make thoughtless moves that cost them mistakes. They tend to limp too much, play too many hands, and critique everyone else—all the while having no set strategy and making things up as they go.

So, let’s review these rookie mistakes (and not only) in detail to make sure you’re able to spot the fish at your table within minutes the next time you play poker.

How To Spot a Fish In a Poker Game

Keep an eye out for the following mistakes – if you spot a player making them, you can rest assured they’re a poker fish.

#1. Playing Poorly

The most obvious way to tell if someone’s a poker fish is to judge their overall knowledge of the game. Poker fish lack the basic understanding of poker, so they play an overall poor game full of fundamental mistakes, such as checking when they should be betting, or calling instead of folding.

In addition, poker fish almost always view big bets as bluffs, therefore, they tend to make a lot of bad calls. So, when you’re playing with a fish and have a good hand, bet big to give them a reason to call.

#2. No Positional Awareness

Your position at the poker table is a determinant of how much money you win and whether you can actually win the hand at all. Understanding this effect is called positional awareness.

Fish poker players usually don’t possess positional awareness, meaning that they’ll play all kinds of hands from every position. So, for example, if you notice someone calling too much from the small and big blinds, chances are – that’s your poker fish.

#3. Being Too Aggressive or Passive

A winning poker player is always balanced.

They exploit all of their options to check, call, bet, or raise.

A fish in poker does the complete opposite. They’re either too passive (someone who rarely bets or raises, and is happy to call and fold), OR too aggressive (a player that raises and re-raises without too much thought).

#4. Playing Too Many Hands

An experienced player knows that sometimes, the only way to win is to not play at all.

A poker fish, on the other hand, doesn’t.

That’s why one of the most bankroll-draining mistakes poker fish make is playing too many hands.

This trait is typical among players who are at the table just to have fun and enjoy the poker experience. To them, folding is boring, so they come up with an excuse to play another hand.

Look out for anyone playing 40% or more of their hands – that’s simply too many hands to ever be profitable. Then, use the following tactics to profit off of such manic, fish players:

  • Sit immediately to their left.
  • Play tightly in an early position and aggressively in a late one.
  • If you’ve got a great hand, raise and re-raise them into pouring cash.

#5. Limping

If there’s one thing that a poker fish does more than anything else – something that basically screams they’re inexperienced – is limping.

Limping means entering the pot by calling, rather than raising. This is the cheapest way to enter the pot. Newbies usually do it because they recognize that their hand isn’t strong enough to raise, but they want to play the game anyway, so they play for the minimum.

This type of passive playing is a very poor poker strategy, though, because it puts the player in an unfavorable position from the get-go.

Think about it.

They don’t have a chance to take control of the pot, their opponents can see flops for cheap, and they can’t gain information on what cards they’re up against.

So, if you see a player who’s constantly limping in with weak hands, consider raising to a large size when you’ve got a good hand. This will either make everyone else at the table fold or it will isolate you against the fish and put you in a profitable position post-flop.

#6. Losing Control of Emotions

Sure, knowing poker’s basic strategy and rules is a big part of the game. However, more than strategy, you’ll need a ton of mental and emotional stability to handle the pressure that comes with putting your money on the line.

Poker fish tend to tilt very easily, which makes them both easy to read and beat. You’ll usually spot a poker fish talking to themselves or others about how unlucky they got whilst clenching their fists, tapping their fingers, or increasing their betting frequency in an effort to win their money back.

#7. Bad at Bluffing

Hollywood’s dramatic interpretation of poker has us thinking that bluffing is the best strategy to use at every opportunity. That’s why poker fish tend to think of bluffing as a bigger part of poker than it actually is.

The bad news (or good news, depending on your perspective) is that poker fish are usually terrible at bluffing. After they win a pot on a bluff, they can’t contain their excitement and satisfaction. And if that’s not enough, simply out of arrogance, poker fish may even openly admit that they were bluffing the whole time.

How To Get an Advantage If You Spot a Fish In Poker

You’ve identified the fish – what now?

Here are a few steps that will help you get the upper hand once you’ve spotted a fish in poker:

#1. Always Respect the Poker Fish

Being rude to a poker fish means letting go of your game’s main profit source. If you’re going to take all of their money, it’s in your best interest to be nice to them throughout the entire game.

Don’t get frustrated if they don’t know the rules well or make amateurish mistakes. Instead, remain silent or give them a compliment. Say something along the lines “wow, you played really well, you just got unlucky in the end.” It’ll keep them in the game and your pockets full until the end of the night.

#2. Observe Their Strategy

Just like in the real world, the poker world comes with different types of fish. Hence, you need to observe each player’s strategy and target it accordingly.

We’ve categorized poker fish strategies into three common types:

  • Passive poker fish who calls a lot. These are the types of players you’ll come across the most, especially if you’re playing online. Only bet against them when you’ve got a good hand, and if these players raise, be prepared to lay down.
  • Poker fish who’s constantly bluffing. A fish that’s constantly bluffing is usually also bad at controlling their aggression. If they think others have a weaker hand, they’ll most likely continue to re-raise. So, if you have a strong hand, refrain from re-raising; rather, only call them every now and then. This will encourage them to keep up the bluff, even though you have the strongest hand.
  • Poker fish who only folds. The strategy towards these players is obvious: just keep on hammering them, unless there’s a reason to suspect that they have a premium hand.

#3. Have Confidence and Discipline

Winning against poker fish and everyone else at the table starts with self-confidence. You need to look professional, put on your poker face, and leave emotion at the door. And regardless of how much money you might lose, remain graceful and don’t let your nerves get the best of you.

Key Takeaways

In summary, fish in poker is the worst player on the table.

They’re the ones who forget the game rules, play too many hands, limp all the time, burst out in anger when they lose, and don’t have any sort of rational strategy.

The best way to play against poker fish is by playing your best hands against them, as well as by being patient and respectful throughout the entire game. Otherwise, the end result won’t be optimal for you: you’ll frustrate them and their money off to another table.

Gordon Dyke

Poker Expert

Gordon Dyke has served as our poker expert since 2017. Gordon has been playing poker professionally and recreationally for nearly two decades.

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