8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Skilled poker players are called sharks because they can recognize a fish a mile away.

As Mike McDermott (played by Matt Damon) famously said in the movie Rounders:

“If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”

I would even go a step further and say that if you can’t spot the sucker in the first five minutes, then you ARE the sucker.

That’s because recreational players make glaring fundamental mistakes that put a huge target on their back, sometimes even before they sit down to play.

In this article, we’ll take a look at 7 obvious signs of recreational poker players.

You should avoid these at all costs, and look out for other players who exhibit these signs, as they are more than likely to be your best customers.

1. You Play Too Many Hands

One of the most common mistakes amateur poker players make is playing too many hands. This is also one of the most obvious tells that someone is a recreational poker player.

As a general rule, the more hands a player chooses to play, the worse poker player they are.

That’s because in no-limit hold’em, most hands miss most flops, so the more hands you play, the more flops you miss, and consequently, the more money you lose. 

Good poker players only play hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop in some meaningful way, and ditch the rest.

For Example (6max):

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

And 9max...

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

Check out my other article on EXACTLY which poker hands you should play and how to play them for more info on this topic.

Recreational poker players, on the other hand, don’t care about this. They primarily play for fun, and folding a majority of the hands dealt to them does not sound like fun.

Instead, they just want to see a bunch of flops and hope for the best.

The problem is, most hands miss most flops in no-limit Texas hold’em. 

You are going to miss the flop completely 2 out of 3 times. 

And if you play a bunch of trash hands, you’re going to miss the flop even more often than that.

That’s because trash hands have less ways to connect with the flop in some meaningful way.

For example, a hand like Jack-Five offsuit (J♥️5♣️) is going to miss the flop far more frequently than a hand like Jack-Ten suited (J♦️T♦️)

By playing a bunch of trash hands, you’re automatically putting yourself at a disadvantage against players who play better starting hands on average.

Players who only play strong starting hands make stronger hand combinations more frequently than players who play just about any random hand and hope for the best.

See my latest video for more on this...

2. You Are Open-Limping Instead of Open-Raising

Open limping means just paying the big blind instead of raising when you are the first player to enter the pot. 

This is a telltale sign of recreational players, and you should avoid it unless you want to get targeted instantly.

In fact limping is literally statistically proven to be a losing poker strategy at this point, as I provided all the evidence in my first book.

So it is crazy to me that some people still use this strategy. But I will save that rant for another time!

If you are the first player to enter the pot, you should do so with an open-raise.

There are multiple reasons why open-raising is better than open-limping.

1. You can often win the pot outright preflop.

If you open-raise, you can often win the pot if other players fold. When you open-limp, on the other hand, you can’t get your opponents to fold, meaning you’ll need to play the rest of the hand to try to win the pot.

Trying to win more pots preflop is a great way to quickly boost your poker results. For example, try these 6 easy strategies to make $20,000 a month from poker.

2. You win more money with your strong hands.

If you have a strong value hand, you should build up the pot as soon as possible. 

By failing to build up the pot early on, you’ll end up with a significantly smaller pot on later streets. This has to do with pot geometry: small changes in your initial bet sizing leads to drastically bigger pots on later streets.

3. You will have the initiative in the hand.

If you enter the pot with a raise, you are the one that’s perceived to have the strongest hand. This puts you in the driver’s seat throughout the hand; you are the one dictating the tempo.

If you are the preflop aggressor, you have the opportunity to make a continuation bet (or a c-bet for short) on the flop.

If you make a strong hand on the flop, you can build up the pot further with a c-bet. 

If you miss the flop, you can still take down the pot with a bluff c-bet (or a light c-bet), because you’re the one that’s perceived to have a strong hand.

Either way, c-bets are usually profitable, and knowing when to c-bet is an integral part of the winning poker strategy.

Check out my other article on everything you need to know about flop c-betting for more info on the topic.

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3. You are Betting a Minimum Amount Into a Huge Pot

Min betting means betting the minimum amount into the pot, and it’s another telltale sign of recreational players you should avoid at all costs.

For example, let’s say you are playing NL5 online. The pot is $2 and you bet 5 cents.

In poker, there are two main reasons why you choose to put money into the pot.

You can either bet for value or bet as a bluff.

When you’re value betting, you are looking to get called by weaker hands. When you’re bluffing, you are hoping to get stronger hands than yours to fold.

Min betting accomplishes none of those things. 

If you have a strong value hand, you want to bet more to build up the pot. 

If you are bluffing, nobody is going to fold their hand if they’re getting 40:1 odds on a call!

In other words, min betting accomplishes nothing except announcing to the whole table that you are a fish.

So for the love of God, please avoid this...

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

Some players use min betting as a sort of a blocker bet. A blocker bet is a small bet (usually made out of position) used to discourage the other player from raising.

The idea is that the other player will simply call a blocker bet instead of making a bigger bet themselves. This way, you get to see the next card cheaply, or even get a cheap showdown.

But here’s the problem. Betting a minimum amount into a huge pot is not an effective blocker bet. In other words, there’s nothing stopping the other player to raise you.

If you want to make a blocker bet, you should aim for something in the range of 20% to 40% of the pot.

For example, if the pot is $2, a good blocker bet would be somewhere between 40 and 80 cents.

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4. String Betting - Never Do This!

This one is only applicable to live poker.

String betting is the act of calling, betting, or raising, then quickly adding to the betting amount after that.

String betting looks like this:

I call your twenty dollars…AND I raise another twenty.

Not only is string betting a sign of a recreational poker player, it’s also an illegal move.

In the above example, your raise wouldn’t be valid, and it would be considered that you only made a call.

When you make a certain action in poker, be it calling, betting, or raising, you have to do it all in one motion. 

For example, if you’re making a raise, you can’t keep splashing one chip after another into the pot. 

You have to prepare the amount you decide to bet or raise, then put it in the middle in a single motion. You also need to verbalize what you are doing in order to avoid confusion.

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

For example, if you put a single chip in the middle without announcing that you are making a raise, this would mean you are in fact calling, not raising. 

One of the reasons string betting is prevalent among recreational poker players can be attributed to Hollywood. 

This is also why no good Texas Hold'em player will ever do this.

If you watch any poker scene in a movie, there’s a good chance the players will make some form of string betting.

I see your 10,000 dollars…(dramatic pause) AND I raise to 50,000 dollars.

This may make the scene more compelling, but it doesn’t make for a realistic poker scene. Then again, if you were to make an accurate depiction of poker in a movie, it would more than likely flop spectacularly.

The reason string betting is frowned upon is because it’s a form of angle shooting. 

Angle shooting in poker means certain actions that aren’t necessarily cheating, but go against the spirit of fair play and gentlemanly conduct. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the line between cheating and angle shooting isn’t always clear cut.

If you’re string betting, you can theoretically gauge your opponent’s reaction before making the “official” bet, so you can adjust your bet size according to your opponent’s reaction, or simply just call instead of raising altogether.

For more information on how to read your opponents without resorting to angle shooting, check out The Microstakes Playbook.

5. You Buy in For Less Than the Table Maximum

If you’re playing cash games, you should always buy in for the maximum amount. This way, you’re giving yourself the best chance to maximize your potential winnings. 

You can only win as much as you put into the pot, so good poker players will always try to have as much chips in their stack as possible.

A lot of amateur poker players, on the other hand, aren’t comfortable with buying in for a full amount, because they’re afraid of losing their whole buyin. So they settle on buying in for only 40 blinds instead of 100, for example.

However, there are a couple of problems with this approach.

First of all, as mentioned, you can’t win as much money if you buy in for less than the maximum amount. It’s also true that you can’t lose as much, but this brings us to the second problem.

In poker, losing some money from time to time is inevitable. You should be comfortable with this fact, and be prepared to lose your entire buyin at any moment. 

Only then can you play your best and make the best decisions possible. 

If you constantly worry about potentially losing a coinflip, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re not completely comfortable with losing your entire buyin (or a couple of them, for that matter), you shouldn’t be sitting down to play poker in the first place.

If you’re not completely comfortable with buying in for a full amount in live poker games, you can try playing poker online where you can buy in for as little as two bucks on most sites.

Check out Nathan’s article on how to crush NL2 online poker cash games.

You should bear in mind, however, that there’s a relative skill difference between live and online poker players, and the stakes you can play aren’t correlated. 

For example, you might find a bunch of amateurs in your $1/$2 cash game at a local casino. 

But if you play a $1/$2 cash game online (or NL200), you will likely run into a bunch of skilled, regular players, and even full time professional poker players.

So you should take the relative skill difference into account and start at the lower stakes, and gradually work your way up.

Whether you play live or online poker, buying in for less than a minimum amount is usually a bad idea.

One of the main reasons for this is that it puts a huge target on your back. Everyone at the table will immediately peg you for a recreational player, and they’ll do their best to take your money away. 

Another reason why you shouldn’t buy in for less than the maximum amount is the fact that short-stacked and deep-stacked poker require different strategies to be played successfully.

When you are playing with a short stack, there’s not much manoeuvrability available, as most of the money will usually go into the pot on the flop. 

For more info on how to dominate in today's small stakes cash games, check out Crushing the Microstakes.

6. You Tilt Easily

Another telltale sign of recreational poker players is poor emotional control. If you’ve played poker before, you already know it can be incredibly frustrating at times.

Sometimes you can lose for prolonged periods of time, even if you play perfectly. You can’t control how you’re running session to session. 

You can’t control the cards you’re being dealt, you can’t control whether or not your draws will complete, and you can’t control your opponents’ actions.

The only thing you can control is trying to make the best decisions possible and playing to the best of your abilities.

This is easier said than done, of course, but it’s the only way to achieve long term success in this game.

The problem is, most amateur poker players aren’t focused on the long term. They are focused on the here and now, and they often can’t get over the fact that they’re running badly at the moment.

But here’s the rub: everyone will run bad from time to time. 

This is the great equalizer in poker. Play it long enough, and everyone will get their fair share of both good and bad luck, respectively.

Therefore, what separates the winners from the losers is how they handle the inevitable periods when they’re running badly.

Despite the widely available information on winning poker strategy today, a lot of poker players still have very poor emotional control.

Everyone can play well when the deck is hitting them in the face. But when fortunes inevitably swing the other way, few players are able to keep their calm and keep playing their best.

Check out Nathan's recent video where he discusses what truly separates the winners from the losers in poker.

7. You Complain About Your Bad Luck

Another telltale sign of a recreational poker player is peddling your bad beat stories to anyone who’s (pretending to be) listening.

Here’s a protip: nobody cares about your bad beat stories. 

It’s like telling somebody about what happened to you in your dream. It’s boring, it’s only interesting to you, and people only pretend to listen to it out of politeness.

This may seem harsh, but it’s the reality. 

There is a reason why bad beat stories are boring. It’s because bad beats happen to everyone. Secondly, all bad beat stories follow the same format, and they only differ in minor details.

You put the money in as a clear mathematical favourite, and some idiot player called you down with J3 suited and caught a backdoor flush draw. Riveting stuff right there.

The problem with bad beat stories is there’s very little substance in them, and there’s no point to them. 

Poker is unfair at times, and sometimes you lose despite playing perfectly.

Everyone who has played poker for some time knows this already. 

Good poker players have already made peace with the fact, and they know that bad beats and suckouts are an integral part of the game.

When you play versus crazy wild players, the suckouts will simply happen to you sometimes.

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table

That’s why they don’t complain about it, and they don’t have the need to lament about their bad luck.

In poker, everyone gets their share of good luck and bad luck, respectively. 

Ironically, those that complain the most about their bad luck don’t even realize when they are the beneficiary of good luck. 

You can’t always be unlucky. It’s statistically impossible.

In other words, you need to learn to take the bad with the good, or just take a break from the game.

Peddling your bad beat stories won’t give you any sympathy. You will get an indifferent reaction at best, and other players will deliberately target you at worst, because they’ll sense that you can be thrown off your game easily.

If you want to tell a bad beat story, do it with a sense of humour, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Make other people laugh.

Don’t tell a story in which you’re a noble victim of the cruel poker gods and idiot donkey opponents. Nobody’s buying it, it’s not helpful, and bemoaning your bad luck begets more of it.

Check out my other article on how to deal with poker variance for more info on the topic.

8. You Are Playing The Wrong Stakes

It’s important to recognize that a poker fish is a relative term. Players vary greatly in their abilities, from beginners who barely know the rules of the game to world class professionals who have all but mastered it.

So whether or not you’re a fish at your poker table will depend on the table you’re playing just as much as your own skill level.

For example, you may have studied a bit of advanced poker strategy and you can crush your local $1/$2 cash game. But if you were to play high stakes against professional poker players, you’d be considered a fish.

Unlike other competitive arenas, poker does not reward going toe-to-toe against superior competition. 

You can be the sixth best poker player in the world, but if you constantly play against the top five players in the world, you’re going to be a losing player.

Of course, playing against tougher opponents is a great way to improve your poker skills, but the level of competition you choose will dramatically impact your results. 

If you set the bar too high, you won’t make progress. You’re just going to get frustrated and lose money. 

Progress happens when you’re playing in games that are just slightly above your current skill level, but you still have a reasonable chance of winning.

This level is likely to put you in the zone, where you can play your A game. 

If you play the stakes that are too low for your skill level, you’ll get bored and you won’t make any progress. 

If you play the stakes that are beyond your skill level, you’ll get overwhelmed and frustrated, and you will more than likely lose your money. 

So how do you find the appropriate stakes for your skill level?

This depends on a lot of factors, namely your bankroll, your risk tolerance, the goals you’re trying to achieve and so on. It will also depend on how comfortable you are with losing money. 

If you’re more risk averse, you should stick to lower limits and occasionally take a stab at higher limits to test out your abilities. 

Then again, if you’re too risk averse, you wouldn’t be playing poker in the first place.

If your goal is to become the best poker player you can be, then you’ll need to be comfortable with playing higher stakes to keep pushing the envelope. 

This will mean more losses on the way, because the higher the stakes, the tougher the competition.

If you’re currently a losing player, though, start at the very lowest limits, study the fundamental winning poker strategy until you’re winning over a significant sample size.

After that, you can gradually climb up the stakes. Just remember that poker is a marathon, not a sprint. 

You shouldn’t feel pressured to play the limits that you’re not comfortable with.

Always practice proper bankroll management and play only with the money you’re comfortable losing.

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table - Summary

To sum up, here are 8 signs of recreational poker players. 

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but most recreational players will exhibit at least a couple of these.

You should try to eliminate these from your game altogether.

1. Playing too many hands

The more hands you play, the more often you’ll miss the flop, and the more money you lose as a consequence. 

You should only play strong starting hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop in some meaningful way, and throw away the rest.

2. Open-limping

If you are the first player to enter the pot, do so with an open-raise. 

This gives you the initiative in the hand, allows you to extract more value out of your strong hands, and gives you a chance to win the pot outright preflop.

Open-limping accomplishes none of these things, and makes you an easy target for other players.

It also announces to the entire table that you are a losing poker player.

3. Min betting

There are two main reasons to put money into the pot: You can either bet for value or as a bluff. Min betting is ineffective either way. 

If you want to make a blocker bet, it will be more effective if you make it around 20% to 40% of the pot.

4. String betting

String betting is not only a sign that you are a recreational player, but it’s also illegal. When making any action, be it betting, raising, or calling, you should do it in one single motion.

5. Buying in for a minimum amount

This is a great way to invite other players to take away your money even before you start playing. 

Skilled poker players always want to have as many chips in front of them to maximize their potential winnings. Recreational poker players, on the other hand, want to protect their downside with buying in for less.

If you’re not comfortable with losing your entire buyin at any moment, you should either drop down in stakes, or play poker online where you can buyin for smaller amounts.

6. Tilting easily

Poker can be incredibly frustrating at times, whether you are a total beginner or a seasoned pro. 

But the way you deal with that frustration is just as important as knowing the ins and outs of the winning poker strategy.

Knowing how to handle the inevitable losing periods in poker is what truly separates the pros from the rest.

7. Complaining About Bad Luck

Nobody is impressed with your bad beat stories. Poker can seem unfair at times, but complaining about it only makes things worse. If you insist on telling a bad beat story, at least have a sense of humour about it.

8. Playing the wrong stakes

If you have a feeling you’re constantly losing in poker, you may be playing the stakes beyond your skill level. Try dropping down in stakes and gradually work your way up once you build up your bankroll and your confidence. 

Just remember that success in poker takes time, and there will be plenty of ups and downs along the way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

8 Signs You Are the Fish at the Poker Table