But you shouldn't be sitting around waiting for the nuts in order to get involved in pots against recreational poker players. There are many other situations where you can extract value with a hand as unimpressive as middle pair, bottom pair or even ace high.
In this article I am going to discuss some of the top ways that I use to extract the maximum value out of fish by making bets that they simply can't say no to.
Understanding Fish Psychology
I have an entire section in my first book devoted to the topic of "fish psychology." I am not sure if I invented this term but I have never really heard anyone else discuss it before.
Basically what I mean by it is getting inside the head of a bad player and attempting to see the game how they see it. Easier said than done but bear with me.
Businesses in every industry do the exact same thing. When you know the customer's specific wants and needs then you can provide them with the best product or service and ultimately maximize your revenue.
The same principle applies in poker. Since fish bankroll the entire poker industry I like to refer to these players as my customers. When I can figure out how they see the game then I can make bets which deliver the highest EV (expected value) to me.
If there is one unifying trait that you will find among nearly all recreational poker players it is this:
They are deeply suspicious of everyone.
Most people tend to think that everyone is bluffing them more than they should especially at the micros. Fish take this to a whole different level though.
They literally think that everybody is trying to pull a fast one on them every single hand. This is why they are so in love with the call button. It doesn't matter if they get shown the nuts 9 out of 10 times. That one time that they catch you in a bluff makes up for everything.
The Big Call is the Entire Reason That They
A lot of this comes from movies and the way that poker has long been portrayed in popular culture. A lot of us tend to get wrapped up in the modern skill based game played on the internet where we talk about multi-tabling, long term winrates, HUDs and ranges.
We completely lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the population still views the game as some kind of luck based machismo contest played by gangsters in smoke filled underground clubs with guns on the table.
Even if they have progressed from archaic Hollywood depictions of the game to tournament poker on TV these programs are still highly edited to only show the big exciting hands where a player is "put to the test for all of his chips."
So it is important to understand that the vast majority of recreational players have a very distorted and inaccurate view of the game where it is all about the big pot, the big decision and the big call.
So they love getting into ridiculously huge pots with a mediocre hand where they hope to catch you in a huge bluff. If they are tilted then they might try and make a huge bluff themselves.
This is the very reason why they play the game. They get a huge thrill out of it. It is also the reason why they invariably end up losing big time in the long run.
Value Bets Need to Always be About Value
You have probably heard the mantra "don't bluff the fish" many times. It makes perfect sense when you understand how they view the game. Trying to bluff a player who is deeply suspicious of you and lives for the big hero call is obviously a really bad idea.
So this is why our value bets versus the recreational players always need to be about value. But as I mentioned above, what often gets left out here is that you don't need to have the nuts in order to turn a profit.
1. Thin Value is Key
Most fish routinely make hero calls with ace high or worse even when they have no history with you at all. Many people make the mistake of waiting for two pair or better to value bet hard though like they would against a reg.
This is a disaster and you already know why. Yep, it is because middle pair beats ace high. Bottom pair beats it too. Why not get value in these spots (which happen a lot more often) too?
Anyone can value bet two pair or trips against a bad player. This takes no skill at all. It is the thin value bets with weak hands where good players get ahead.
2. Size Also Matters
The other mistake that people commonly make is not adjusting their bet sizes versus fish. They use a "one size fits all" approach towards all players.
This strategy is a good idea versus reasonable thinking regs. When you always bet the same amount it makes it very difficult from a game theoretical perspective for your opponent to know if you have the value hand or the bluff this time.
But we are not talking about reasonable thinking opponents in this article!
We are talking about people who play the game for fun and to relieve stress after work. They are not paying attention to your bet sizes. They are not taking any notes on you. And they definitely aren't using any sort of a HUD.
It would be a huge mistake not to take advantage of this by varying your bet sizes in certain situations in order to get the preferred reaction from them.
So let's get into some actual example hands here because I think that will help illustrate everything that I have talked about so far.
Example #1 - The Donk Bet Raise
Hero raises on the button with A♥9♥ and gets called by a fish in the blinds.
The flop comes:
The fish donks out for 20% of the pot
I have discussed donk bets a few times on this blog before. So you may know that I am a big fan of raising them with a wide range especially versus bad players.
This hand is a perfect example of that.
A recreational player calls us from the blinds preflop. Since these players often play something like 50% of their hands, our opponent here could literally have almost anything.
This board is insanely draw heavy with a ton of different straight draws, flush draws and pair combinations. With middle pair top kicker we are well ahead of most of these hands. So instead of just calling the small bet we should raise here for value.
What if we get called and he donks into us again on the turn?
It depends a lot on the turn card.
If it is a total blank like the 2♣ then I would just go ahead and raise a silly bet like this again. After all, this card changes nothing and he will likely call with all of his draws and worse pairs which we have even more equity against now with only one card to come.
If the turn comes with an action card like the Q♠ though then I will probably just call the small bet in an attempt to get to a cheap showdown since we still beat all of his worse pairs and a few draws.
It should be noted that if he can make a real bet (i.e., 50% of the pot or more) I would likely just fold on this particular card since it hits so many draws.
Example #2 - The Ace High Value Bet/Value Call
Hero raises with A♦Q♠ from EP and gets called by a fish on the button.
The flop comes:
Hero CBets and the fish calls
The turn comes:
Hero checks and the fish bets 30% of the pot
As we talked about before recreational players love to get into silly situations with mediocre hands. This is one of them. They love to make bluffs and hero calls on double paired boards like this or bingo boards (i.e., 777).
They rightly assume that you probably don't have anything very often on a board like this. Therefore if you bet they just assume that you are always bluffing. They love to make dumb bluffs on these boards themselves as well.
So these situations are the perfect spot to just call down with ace high for value or make a value bet yourself with a hand like this. They will often be bluffing with worse and they will also call you down with worse.
Sometimes they simply don't even understand the rules of Hold'em and they think that they have 3 pair on this board with their pocket 4's!
It is important to note that I am once again referring to a spot here where they are making the typical fish bet of 30% of the pot or less. If they start potting it, it is probably a better idea to let it go unless there is some kind of crazy dynamic in place between the two of you.
And likewise, when value betting with ace high you shouldn't be potting it yourself or anywhere even close. This is a spot where you know that your opponent likely has very little and can only hero call you with something ridiculous like king high or queen high.
Therefore, you want to make a bet size that they just can't say no to. So as little as 30% of the pot is often a good idea for a value bet in these spots.
Example #3 - The Action River Card Massive Overshove
Hero raises on the button with 7♣7♥ and gets called by a fish in the blinds.
The flop comes:
The fish checks
The turn comes:
The fish checks
The river comes:
The fish bets 50% of the pot
This is one of my all time favorite spots to get absolutely sick value.
Many people make the colossal mistake here of just making a standard raise to 3x and allowing the bad player to happily snap call it with his straight or flush.
This is truly an epic bad decision for your winrate because we already know that fish don't like to fold anything. Do you think that there is any chance on earth that they are going to fold a straight or a flush?
Of course not, they would call it off for literally any amount. And that is why this is the absolute perfect spot for the massive overshove all in.
I can't tell you how many times I have instantly turned a 40bb pot into a 400bb pot versus some terrible player at NL2 or NL5 by recognizing that there is a good chance that he has a huge hand which I beat.
I probably don't need to tell you how good this is for your winrate either.
Example #4 - The Over Sized Value Bet
Hero raises in EP with A♦K♠ and gets called by a fish on the button.
The flop comes:
This is obviously a no-brainer CBet. We flop top pair top kicker versus a bad player on a board with a few draws. But as mentioned before, the mistake that a lot of people will make here is standardizing their bet sizes.
For instance, they will bet 60% of the pot here no matter what they have. This is a good idea versus the regs but it doesn't make any sense at all versus the fish.
The reason why is that if the bad player has top pair or a draw on this board then he is going to call 80% of the pot just as often as he will call 60% of the pot.
Since good hands are hard to come by, and we almost certainly have the best of it on this board, then why would we not opt for the higher amount?
This is especially important when there is a dynamic in place. I often talk about the benefits of pounding on the fish in position and isolating the crap out of them.
One of the main reasons is so that they pay out like a slot machine when you hit something good (doesn't need to be anywhere near as strong of a hand as this).
So in some situations you could even get away with potting it here or even over-betting the pot if such a dynamic exists. Always remember that this is No Limit Hold'em. You can bet whatever amount you want.
Don't Worry If They Fold
Some people are hesitant to follow my advice to bet big in a situation like this because they are afraid of scaring the fish out of the pot.
The reason why it is a mistake to think this way is because if the fish doesn't have anything then he is going to fold no matter what amount you bet. This is just how poker works.
However, if they caught a piece (top pair, middle pair or a draw) then they are going to call nearly anything within reason. So it would be a serious mistake not to charge them the maximum.
I hope that this article helped show you that there are many different ways to get big value out of the fish even with weak hands. We do this first by understanding the way in which they view the game and then by making bets that are tailor made to exploit their weaknesses to the max.
It is important to note that the plays mentioned in this article will always work versus these types of players.
The reason why is that when people talk about the games changing these days they are talking about the regs. Regs are the ones who are reading poker books, watching training videos and discussing hands with others.
Fish however play the game for fun and never even think about improving. Therefore they make the same mistakes over and over again. Once you learn how to exploit these effectively, then it becomes just like printing money.
Let me know your thoughts below on value betting versus the fish. Do you have any other strategies for getting the maximum value out of them?
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