This is part three of my Exploitative Poker Series. Over the last two weeks you learned how to take advantage of the tendencies of tight players and aggressive players. Today I will teach you how to exploit the typical mistakes you can expect from your most profitable opponents: the fish.
Although this player type is by far the easiest to play against, you should still try your hardest to win as much money from them as possible. There are so many factors that influence your win-rate, and getting max value from fish is definitely one of the biggest.
Think about it this way: when you’re playing against other good players, your strategy won’t differ much from theirs. Unless there’s a big gap in skill, you’re basically just trading money back and forth.
When you’re playing against fish, you often have a huge gap in skill. This means that you can win exponentially more from them than they will win from you. This is the reason why table selection is so important: unless you’re a lot better than the other regs in your games, most of your profit will come from fish.
I hope you see why it’s so important to make the maximum against these guys. If you don’t take their chips, one of the other regs will. It’s natural to go into auto-pilot because playing against bad players is so easy. But if you really want to push your win-rate, you should play as hard as you can against any player type.
The term fish might actually be a bit too general. A fish is basically any player that is a really big underdog in a game. So by this definition, I would most certainly fall into this category if I were to enter a NL1000 game online.
Let’s define the term a little bit more then. What I’m talking about here are the loose-passive calling stations you will encounter constantly at the lowest stakes.
In online poker you can identify them easily from their VPIP and PFR stats. A VPIP of over 30 combined with a PFR of under 10 is a clear sign you’re dealing with a fish (if you want to find out more about different stats and their meaning, check out this guide). In live poker, you can identify them quite easily as well: they will play almost very pot, and almost never bet.
That’s the big problem with the way fish play poker: they play too many weak hands and they play them too passively.
When you bet or raise a hand, you always have two ways to win the pot: the other players may fold or you may hit your hand. When you just call, you are forced to win at showdown which eliminates your fold equity.
The way to beat these players is simple: wait until you make a good hand and then bet it relentlessly. But while it sounds easy, there are still a number of ways you can increase your profit against the fish.
How to Exploit Fish
One of the signature plays of the fish is this: when they choose to play a hand (which is damn near always), they only call the big blind instead of raising it. Like we saw this creates the problem that they don’t give their opponents the chance to fold. Instead they’re inviting other players to limp behind them and see a flop for cheap.
While it sounds logical to just throw in a big blind yourself to see if you can hit your hand, it is rarely the most profitable option. It’s usually much better to raise it up. When you raise, you might take down the pot uncontested. Or you might get called by one or two opponents and go to the flop with the betting lead. More often than not, you can then win the pot post-flop by bluffing or hitting your hand.
Raising will also get rid of a number of speculative hands and narrow your opponents’ ranges. This will make them much easier to read throughout the hand.
The basic rule about raising limpers is: do it with the entire range you would open in that position if everybody folded to you. In other words, pretend the limpers don’t even exist (at least in terms of hand selection, you should obviously increase your bet size when there are limpers in the pot). So if you would normally open K8s from the button if it’s folded to you, you can also open this hand when you’re facing one or two limpers.
If you’re facing more than two limpers you should tighten up and open a stronger range. You will likely get called by at least one opponent and have to continue post-flop with your bad hand. Remember that you’re mostly bluffing here so you need decent fold equity to make this play profitable. Wait until you have a good hand (88+, KJ+) to raise it and just fold your K8s.
Watch out for aggressive players behind you when attacking limpers. They will know you’re raising a weak range and 3-bet you light a lot. Likewise when you see someone raising limpers you should be wary of their weak range and consider bluffing them.
Value Bet Your Big Hands
Besides playing too passively, the biggest mistake fish make is calling too many bets with weak hands. They’re curious to see if their hand is good, they’re bored from folding two hands in a row, or they simply don’t care. For whatever reason, they will call you down to the river once they hit any piece of the board.
The adjustment is simple: whenever you find yourself heads-up in a pot with a loose-passive fish and you have top pair or better, you absolutely have to bet for value on every street. Sure you might lose to a better hand every once in a while and it will sting. But in the long run you will get an insane amount of value from your big hands against these players.
Even when the board gets scary on the turn or river it’s usually a good idea to bet for value with a hand like top pair. Say a flush completes on the river and you have top pair with an ace kicker. A lot of players will check here because they’re afraid of running into a flush. That’s the wrong way to think about poker. You should always decide whether or not to value-bet based on the likelihood of getting called by worse. When you’re playing against a calling station, you will usually get called by worse pairs enough to justify a value bet. What’s more, these players are usually incapable of bluffing the river. So you can bet safely knowing that once you get raised, your hand is no good.
I’ll say it again: there shouldn’t be any slow-playing in your game when you have a big hand against a fish. Always remember all of the hands your opponent might call with and then decide whether it makes sense to value bet. When you have a hand stronger than middle pair and you’re up against a calling station, the answer is usually yes.
Go For the Maximum
A lot of players are conditioned to use standard bet sizes in different situations. For instance, they might C-bet the flop for 60% of the pot whether they are bluffing or value betting. Using balanced bet sizes like this is extremely important when playing against good players. It denies them information about your hand strength and makes you much harder to read.
The thing about fish is that they often don’t pay attention to bet sizing. The are basically just looking at their own hand. If it’s a good hand in their mind, they will call. If it’s a bad hand, they will fold. They don’t care about what you have so you can make your bets a lot more transparent against them.
That means that when you have a big hand, you should bet it big. Don’t be scared to bet close to pot or sometimes even more when you flop a set against a fish. This is especially true on ace-high boards. Most fish will happily call three pot sized bets once they flop top pair with an ace. If you size your bets right from the flop, you can often get their entire stacks this way.
Another way to get their full stacks is by over-betting. There are many situations where you have a very strong hand and it’s likely that your opponent has a strong hand as well. Good examples are when you have the nut-flush or -straight and it’s likely that your opponent has a smaller one. If you have more than twice the pot behind in the effective stacks, don’t be afraid to shove. Most fish won’t be able to fold a hand as strong as a flush or straight on the river unless the board is really scary. And if they only have a one-pair hand, they might fold to a smaller bet too. In the long run, these over-bets are a very nice way to increase your win-rate.
That’s the bottom line with value betting against fish: never underestimate just how loose they are. They might call a pot sized bet on the river with ace-high because they “know you’re bluffing”. Just ignore any form of logic and bet your big hands as hard as you can. You will find that you’ll get called much more often than you would think.
Fish are the reason why it’s profitable to play poker. There’s no doubt about it, without fish the rake would make it almost impossible to win at poker.
That’s why it’s crucial to find fish to play against, and to try your hardest to win their money before someone else does.
It’s really not a magic formula, just wait until you make a hand and then bet it as hard as you can. That’s usually the best strategy against fish. Don’t get angry when they suck out on you, that’s where your profits are coming from. Just stay patient and eventually you will get their stacks.