What Is a Fish in Poker?

By in Poker on
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Poker Fish

If you find a mistake-prone player at your poker game, congratulations: You’ve found the fish.

In some circles these players are also referred to as a “donkey”, but for the purposes of this article we’ll call them fish. You should be aware that that donkey and fish are largely interchangeable though.

Any player that isn’t particularly good at poker may be considered a fish, but use this term with caution. Fishiness is relative; everyone makes mistakes in poker, even the great players. As they say, if you’re the ninth-best poker player in the world, but you’re sitting at the same table as the top eight, you’re the fish.

Having said that, the very worst poker players do tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. They also take longer to learn from their mistakes. Fish like these are a vital part of the poker food chain.

If you’re extra lucky, you might even play against a whale who has all the money in the world and doesn’t mind losing some of it playing poker. Treat these people like royalty. Never criticize the way they play or make them feel unwelcome at your table. Don’t tap the tank, in other words.

In one of the many unforgettable scenes from the classic poker movie Rounders, main character Mike McDermott played by Matt Damon gave the poker world of the 90s a very useful piece of advice.

He said: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”

Solid advice indeed even by today’s standards, after 20+ years of unprecedented poker progress. So whether you play online or prefer the sights and sounds of felt and “pleather” table, the first thing you’ve got to do is spot the sucker or the fish as it is called nowadays.

Catching the ‘Fish’

Don’t worry, to do that you don’t need displays and trackers, you can also do this the old fashioned way, the way players like Doyle Brunson used to do back in the days before Chris Moneymaker and the poker boom.

All you need to do is pay attention.

But what are you actually paying attention to? Are there obvious tells to spot the fish?

Of course there are, I’ll review some of the most common shortly.

First, I want to share a quick story about a fish I encountered at a table once.

The week before my 24th birthday I decided to make a solo trip to Las Vegas for some golf and to test out the poker acumen I’d been developing over the past few years.

When I arrived at Caesars, I dropped my bags in my room and armed with my top-tier poker skill and $500 cash, I headed straight for the poker room. Less than an hour later I was wandering the casino floor with a sinking feeling in my stomach and my soul. Also, as you’ve probably surmised my pocket $500 lighter.

How could this happen? All of my poker prowess added up to me being the fish. I didn’t play a single hand of poker for the remainder of my trip. I managed to recoup a portion of what I lost at the blackjack tables and I played more golf than anybody should under the August sun.

Let’s review some common mistakes and hopefully you can avoid the sense of doom and gloom I experienced many years ago. Conversely, you will be able to spot the fish at your table more easily.


Limping is by far the most obvious tell in any poker game, whether it is live or online, that a fish is at your table.

Competent poker players who understand elementary strategy know that you must always enter the pot by raising and not calling the big blind especially in big-bet games like No Limit Texas Hold’Em and Pot Limit Omaha.

There are few situations in which limping is a viable option, but starting the action with just a call pre-flop is out of the question.

If you open under the gun with a call in a Hold’Em game, you’re definitely a player who is either ignorant of the basic strategy or maybe who’s not that interested in hearing or reading all that poker mambo-jambo, either way you’re a fish.

I have definitely been guilty of this myself. Shame shame.

This is a great way to light money on fire. When you open-raise, you give your opponents the opportunity to fold and let you win the pot uncontested, easily the best way to win a pot.

Limping in simply ensures that you’ll have to see a flop if you want to win, and post-flop play is a lot more complicated than pre-flop.

Beware, the reverse is also applicable, if you start the action limping preflop, then you’ll be definitely tagged as weak and everyone will try to play pots against you and we know you definitely don’t want to be the sucker in your game. That’s why you’re reading this article in the first place.

Random Bet Sizes

Bet sizing is one of the trickier aspects of poker. In theory, any bet size (within the rules) can be used at any time, but fish don’t put a lot of thought into this.

For Example:

The standard raise size preflop to start the action is 2-4 big blinds in a Hold’Em game. If you see a player inflating the pot and raising preflop 8 times the big blind without any limpers behind him whatsoever, then he may very well be a fish. Similarly, in tourneys, watch for when an opponent shoves 20 big blinds deep. You just spotted a fish there.

You can also spot a fish by noticing their bet sizing postflop. In many cases, the half pot, two thirds pot or full pot is standard after the flop. When you raise, it typically is something close to three times the initial bet.

If you find yourself in a spot when your opponent min-bets on the river even though the pot is big, then you just spotted the sucker right there.

Fish often make unusually small bets, including min-bets, giving you the pot odds to continue with your draws. They may also telegraph the strength of their holdings by making unusually large bets with made hands. If you find one of these players, be prepared to fold when they bet big.

Avoid this common mistake and you’ll see your winnings increase.

Playing Too Many Hands

Ok, so maybe nobody’s limping, everybody at your table seems to be aware that playing passively preflop is genuinely bad.

What now, you may wonder? Well you can also look at how many hands your opponents are playing.

You may or may not know getting involved in way too many pots can get you in a lot of trouble and isn’t profitable at all.

Again, you really don’t need a HUD to notice the frequency a player enters the pot. While it certainly helps to have all those numbers in front of a user, you can also notice by just closely observing the play at your table.

Remember this though: when playing poker online, players have the unique ability to multi-table, and the play is generally tight.

When playing live, however, the play is much looser and slower, not to mention the fact you can sit at only one table. That’s why you may encounter opponents playing many, many hands but surprisingly winning.

They may not be the fish, just a good player with a lot of experience under their belt. Learn to spot the difference.

Look at Other Players

When it comes to table games, it pays to look at your opponents. Poker professional Mike Matusow has said that his amazing peripheral vision has helped him immensely.

However, if you’re in the big leagues, you probably won’t be able to read too much on your opponents’ faces. In these situations as in online, you’ll have to look at their playing strategies instead: look not at their faces but at what they’re doing.

Do they always need a piece of the flop? Are they consistently light three-betting when they’ve got a decent hand? Do they bluff a lot?

You can learn a lot from how a player bets. Occasionally, players will play tight so if they do play a hand you can assume that it’s good.

Playing loose can sometimes make it hard to guess any strategy. Largely because of the lack of a strategy. I present you a fish.


Armed with the understanding of what a fish is and how to spot one, you may be ready to bust out the wallet and hit the tables.

While you should have an advantage over your typical fish, be careful that you aren’t still the 9th best player at the table.

You should absolutely keep these things in mind at the poker table. You are then far less likely to be labeled a fish and you’ll be better equipped to spot the fish swimming in your pool.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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