How to Easily Spot the Fish at the Poker Table

How to spot the fish at the poker tables
I talk about poker fish all the time on this blog and elsewhere. But many people may be left wondering what exactly is a fish and how exactly do you spot them at the poker tables.

Well, in this article I am going to explain precisely what a fish is in poker (also sometimes called "fun players" or "recreational players") and how to quickly identify them at the tables.

And the reason why this is so important these days is because the fish pay the bills. They are the ones who generate a large amount of the profit that you will make in this game.

Therefore, knowing how to quickly spot the fish and get on the tables with them is absolutely crucial for your success in poker.

1. Poker Fish Play 40% or More of Their Hands

Right away we can quickly identify a fish at the tables as someone who is playing 40% or more of their hands. It doesn't matter if you play 6max (6 players) or full ring (9 players), this is simply way too many hands to ever be profitable.

If you play online then you can know how many hands somebody is playing right away by checking your HUD. Once you get a sample of about 20 hands on someone this is good enough to know what percentage of their hands that they are playing (also referred to as their "VPIP").

Example of a poker game that is full of fish:

Once I see someone at the tables who is playing 40% or more of their hands, I make sure to tag them right away or make a note. This allows me to quickly spot them at any point in the future without even needing to know what their HUD stats are.

2. Fish Don't Raise Very Often

The fish in poker will also be very passive overall. This means that most of the time they will limp into the pot with all of these bad hands that they are playing. They will tend to just call most of the time after the flop as well.

So again if you use a HUD what you will usually see is a VPIP of 40% or more and a preflop raise percentage (PFR) which is a single digit. For instance VPIP = 40 and PFR = 8.

Sometimes you will encounter the aggressive variety of fish. They will have stats that look something more like this: VPIP = 40 PFR = 30. These guys hand over their money at lightning speed as well. It just requires a slightly different strategy to beat them.

Basically versus the passive fish you want to do most of the betting for them. That is, you want to value bet the crap out of them anytime you have anything remotely decent (top pair, middle pair, strong draw etc). This is because they will call with anything most of the time.

Versus the aggro fish though, you usually want to let them bluff at the pot and just call them down with a wide range of hands. Betting or raising will often just force them to fold whereas calling allows them to keep shovelling more dead money into the pot with all their bluffs.

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3. Fish Make Large Fundamental Mistakes

A common feature of all poker fish, whether they are aggressive or passive, is that they make large fundamental mistakes at all stages of the hand. By this I mean that they do things like check when they should be betting or call when they should be folding.

They also love to get all trappy with their big hands to the point where it is often incredibly transparent and easy to get away from your hand. Lastly, they love to play sheriff and catch you in a big bluff.

This is why I often suggest just absolutely hammering on the pot with your big hands (i.e. betting big, even just over-betting sometimes) because they never want to believe that anyone can have anything.

In fact, like I talked about in my first book, Crushing the Microstakes, fish are actually more likely to view a big bet as a bluff. This is basic "fish psychology" as I call it.

And this is an absolutely beautiful thing when you have a strong hand like an overpair, two pair, a set or even just top pair. So go ahead and give them exactly what they want. Let them make their big hero calls and then show them the nuts.

There is one very simple way to crush the fish that many new players misunderstand. The way to beat them is to simply stop thinking so much!

Just make the most stupidly obvious plays such as raise, bet, bet, shove with your AA even if it seems so incredibly obvious that even a 5 year old should be able to figure it out.

Always give them a reason to call. Don't ever try to trap them like most small stakes regs do. That is literally just throwing away your money.

4. Fish Bankroll the Entire Poker Industry

As I mentioned before the vast majority of your profits in poker will come from the fish. Most of the regs (regular opponents) are really just trading money back and forth with a few of the better ones making a small profit.

And of course the card room is also taking it's slice of the pie (the rake). Indeed they never lose at poker. The house always wins, it doesn't even matter what the game is.

So if the regs and the house are mostly only taking money out of the poker economy, then who are the people putting money back into it?

You guessed it, the fish. The recreational players are the ones who are consistently depositing their money again and again and bankrolling the entire industry.

The game of poker would literally cease to be profitable overnight if all of the fish disappeared. I made this simple infographic to explain why. Go ahead and save it to remind yourself.
How to spot the fish at the poker tables

5. Fish Have Very High Loss-Rates

To really hit home the reason why you need to play against the fish more in order to win, you only need to look at the numbers. I have done extensive research over the years in Pokertracker studying the win-rates and loss-rates of both the regs and the fish.

Even the very worst regs tend to have loss-rates of no worse than about 5bb/100. However the average fish has a loss-rate of 25bb/100 and sometimes even more in a few insane cases.

To put this in plain English this means that the average recreational player is losing his money 5 times faster than the very worst regs. They also tend to tilt like crazy once the cards go south on them and then they are literally just giving their money away.

So how do you start winning more money at poker? Easy, go play with the guys who are losing their money way faster than everybody else!

This is literally the most obvious conclusion that you can come to in this game, but for some reason so many people still ignore it or miss it.

There are several ways to consistently find the fish and play with them that I have covered numerous times on this blog and elsewhere.

It really starts with site selection. That is playing on the easy poker sites or the ones that tend to attract the most fish.

You should also be table selecting even at the very lowest limits every time you sit down to play poker. So yes, this means even at NL2.

Many people think that at the lower stakes like this they don't need to table select these days. This is a serious mistake and it will end up affecting your results in a massive way.

The people who put in the effort to consistently find the best tables and get the best seat against the fish will have much, much higher win-rates and have a much easier time climbing up the stakes and getting to where the real money is at in poker.

This is something that all top pros focus on. Daniel Negreanu even discusses it in his new poker training course.

6. Always Respect the Fish (Your Customers)

The last point that I want to make is that you need to always respect the fish. Yes sometimes they are going to hit some ridiculous draw on you or toss multiple bad beats in a row your way.

Here is another perfect example of this (poker hand):

But you really need to make sure that you don't "tap the glass" as some people put it. I know it can be easy to get frustrated and fly off the handle and start rage venting on them.

But you need to ask yourself what good does this actually do. Do you want them to start playing better? Do you want them to feel embarrassed and quit playing?

Think for a moment about how ridiculously bad both of these outcomes are for you.

Why would you want your #1 profit source in the game to get better and stop making all these bad plays? Or just chase them out of the games so they go find some other hobby to throw away their money on.

The best course of action when the fish start getting lucky against you is to either say nothing at all or to honestly (and not sarcastically) compliment them. Look, the fish are your customers at the end of the day. They are the reason why you make money in this game.

Treat them with respect and they will keep coming back again and again to give you their money.

Final Thoughts

Quickly being able to identify the poker fish and spot them at the tables is one of the most important "skills" that you need to develop as a winning poker player.

They are usually very easy to find because they will be playing 40% or more of their hands. They will be playing very passively overall and they will be making tons of absolutely ridiculous and fundamentally incorrect plays as well.

It is very important to understand that these players will be your main profit source in poker because they lose their money way faster than anybody else. This is why it is also important that you respect them and keep your composure when they inevitably dish out some bad beats against you.

Look, I have some of the highest win-rates in the history of online poker at the lower stakes. People ask me all the time how I do it. My answer is always the same.

I consistently play against some of the worst poker players on planet earth. And I have learned how to separate them from their money in the most efficient way possible.

I do this first by finding the fun players and then making the most stupidly obvious plays against them over and over and over again. Seriously, that's it!

If you want to have big time success playing poker, then I highly suggest that you learn to do the same thing.

Lastly, if you want to learn how to start consistently making $1000 per month in low stakes poker games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Let me know in the comments how you spot the fish at the poker tables.

find the poker fish


  1. Thank you Nathan. Your books and blog posts made me stronger in this game. Last saturday I had winrate ~13BB/100 hands on NL10 (12 tables, full ring cash games). My profit was approx. 8-9 USD per hour. I crush full ring tables and have problems with 6-MAX tables. 6-MAX tables harder for me )))

    1. Glad I could help! Stick with full ring for now, some people are better at one than the other. Winning is all that matters :)

  2. I agree. I was doing great last night at nine player tables. Came back after midnight playing six man and started losing. Plus I was playing tired which is never a good idea. Great job begun.

    1. Some people are more suited to full ring or 6-max imo. Best to pick the one that you feel more comfortable with and play that :)

    2. The thing is that the fr tables on many poker sites are dying out at least above nl10.Try finding fr table at nl 50..sniff sniff..It may be even embarrasing for some to be seen playing fr.

  3. Excellent article/advice as ever. thank you