Who is really the fish?

I see people go into rant mode about fishy play all the time.  Sometimes they are at the table, wearing their “table coach” hat and bemoaning the bad play of the other players.  Sometimes they are posting commentary on the forums belittling the unconventional, but not really terrible, play of another guy in the hands.  I think the tendency to classify everyone into either “solid” or “fishy” is one of the biggest mistakes that the average player makes.

First, I should mention my patented theory of table coaches.  I have become nearly certain of the truth of this hypothesis by long observation:  The table coach is almost always the second or third worst player at the table.  Keep this in mind when confronted by one. If his advice was any good, he wouldn’t be dispensing it so freely.  Don’t pay any attention to his rantings.

I believe that my greatest strength at the poker table is an ability to get inside the mind of the other players at the table and to understand how they think about the game.  Some players think that overcards are almost always worth a call on the flop, but will drop them on the turn, some players won’t fold a flush draw no matter what the pot size on the turn, some players just can’t let go a hand with any pair without a ton of scary action, some players are scared to death of every flush board and so on.  By and large, these players aren’t dumb, they just have various faulty mental constructs that govern their decisions.  On some level, they call your bets because they think they might have a better hand or they are convinced they will improve to a better hand often enough to make it worthwhile.  Get into their mindset and figure out how to exploit it.  Do they always wait and check-raise the turn with a big hand?  If so, that tells you the most effective way to bluff them.  Have they never folded on the flop since  Bush, Sr was the President?  Then why are you trying to check-raise bluff them on the flop?

I played a hand at 30/60 two nights ago with a player who might have been a bit drunk or he just overestimated the value of his premium starting hands.  He had shown a willingness to three-bet with an unimproved AK on the flop and to put in multiple big bets with big pairs on very, very scary boards.  He was very well-disciplined pre-flop, but he was a mess post-flop.  He thought that the huge edge his premium hands held pre-flop remained, no matter how bad the flop missed his hand.  Otherwise, he was a pretty decent, book-smart kind of player.  I got into a big hand with him where I limped from EP with A3s and he raised it up.  I flopped bottom pair, which seemed quite likely to be good against his raising range, but I didn’t want to raise the flop becuse he had demonstrated that he would go a long way with overcards and I would have no idea where I stood.  On the turn, I picked up the nut flush draw, a weak gutshot straight draw to the wheel with my Ace and I still had outs to Aces-up and trips.  I figured this was a good time to pop him with a check-raise, because he might let go of AK at that point.  Unfortunately he three bet, which meant that he had an overpair for certain.  The river was the King of diamonds, giving me the nuts with runner-runner flush.  I should have led at the pot, but I decided to get cute and check-raise the nuts.  He three bet me anyhow with a set of Kings and I capped with the nut flush.  He unleashed a torrent of abuse at me for what seemed to him to be amazingly fishy play.  He would never have limped pre-flop wuth A3s from EP, he would never have called the flop with bottom pair, he would never have check-raised the turn with such a speculative hand and he was convinced I was a complete idiot.  Needless to say, from my perspective, I think I played the hand fine.

Pay more attention to the “fish” at your table.  If they are indeed making mistakes, just calling them fish is not helpful.  Why are they fish?   What kind of mistakes are they making and how can you exploit them?  If you focus on more detailed and accurate assesments of the weaknesses of the other players, I promise you that your earn rate will improve.

By Nsidestrate

I'm a hard-core limit ring game poker player who is becoming a degenerate sports bettor. I'm sure it will all make more sense if you read on.