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7 Ways to Spot a Fish at the Poker Table


Poker players come in all shapes, sizes and, most importantly, skill levels. Depending on the venue where you’re playing, you can easily find yourself competing against a wide array of players.

The game of poker is challenging, so it’s always nice to gain an advantage on the field. One of the easiest ways to do that is spotting beginners and taking their chips.

Unless you’re playing a high stakes game, there’s a good chance you’ll play someone who is lacking in experience. Picking out the weakest link and exploiting their lack of knowledge can dramatically increase your chances of winning.

When figuring out who the weakest player is at the table, there are a few things to watch out for. Here are seven ways to spot a fish at the poker table.

1 ‒ Unfamiliarity With Rules

The first few hands of a game of poker are crucial. Typically they provide you with an opportunity to scout the competition and settle into a groove simultaneously.

It’s crucial to get into a good rhythm early, but the first part of the equation above is arguably more important. Once you get a feel for your opponents, you can proceed with your game plan accordingly.

When analyzing opponents, one of the first things to notice is how comfortable each player looks. If someone at the table seems out of place or unsure of themselves, there’s a good chance they’re new to the game.

The easiest way to spot a beginner is by noticing an apparent lack of knowledge when it comes to the game itself. A dead giveaway is when said player is either the small or big blind.

New players will often get tripped up with the blinds. Either they won’t know what the blinds mean or the appropriate amount to bet.

Another common error amongst new players is not knowing which hands are better than others. Early on in the game, new players commonly assume they have a winning hand when they don’t, or vice versa.

2 ‒ They Lack Any Consistency

You might be saying to yourself that consistent poker is losing poker. If you’re consistent, then another player will be able to pick up on your style of play and tear you apart.

Well, if that’s the case, then how can you say that beginners lack consistency?

It’s not wrong to want to avoid being completely consistent during each hand. But quality players should have somewhat of an even playing style that they stick to.

Fish, on the other hand, do not.

Often, new players will play one hand a certain way and play a very similar hand completely different. The method to their madness is questionable if there even is a method in the first place.

This inconsistency usually manifests itself in the amount they bet. Beginners will often be more aggressive after a win and more passive after a big loss.

It’s crucial that you don’t get sucked into their maniacal tendencies. You might think you have a beginner figured out, but there is always a chance that they are being dealt good cards.

3 ‒ Playing Out of Turn

When certain players are new to poker, they might consider downloading an app on their phone or playing poker online. This is a common practice that many players find to be beneficial to their progress.

But there is a significant difference between playing online and in person.

Playing online is user-friendly and straightforward. When it’s your turn, the game will kindly notify you.

When playing in person, it’s very easy to lose track of whose turn it is. Even the most experienced players will occasionally drop the ball and not realize the action is to them.

It happens to everyone, but it seems to happen to beginners quite often. For those who are unfamiliar with in-person poker, figuring out the order of play can be challenging.

If you notice someone is consistently playing out of turn, they’re likely a fish. Once you see this, pay close attention to them going forward.

Losing track of whose turn it is can fluster new players, distracting them from the task at hand. Once they’re out of sorts, their quality of play will be adversely affected, so expect several miscues.

4 ‒ They Show Opponents Losing Hands

As I mentioned earlier, there are several different venues and types of poker games you can play. Understandably, the rules and table etiquette can vary from table to table.

When playing, certain games don’t require losers to show their hands. This is a matter of self-preservation as some players don’t want opponents to figure out how they approached a certain hand.

The accumulation of information is key to playing solid poker. The less information you provide to your opponents, the better off you are.

If you’re not required to show losing hands to opponents, I’d strongly advise against it. Most savvy players already know this, but beginners are usually blissfully unaware.

The reason for this is simple. Most new players are probably fans of the idea of gambling; they might not be good, but they still want to play.

This interest can come from a few sources, arguably the most significant being pop culture.

In television shows and movies, players often have a showdown after a hand, and both players flip their cards. It adds to the tension of several iconic scenes, but the move itself is not always necessary.

Beginners are preconditioned to commit specific errors, this being one of the more blatant and common ones.

5 ‒ Limping Is Common

Players who make a habit of limping rarely walk away from the table as winners.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “limping” refers to players who consistently check and call instead of raise. When you limp into hands, you drastically decrease your chances of winning.

I’m not arguing that you should never call a bet; that would be foolish. But when you do this on a regular basis, you stand the risk of losing money at a faster pace.

The best poker players in the world are extremely selective regarding the number of hands they play. That’s because it’s always better to bet a few hands aggressively than several hands passively.

New players are often unfamiliar with this idea. It’s enticing to get into a hand for the least amount of money. So, when beginners can see the flop without having to raise the stakes, they’re going to jump at the opportunity.

Good players will often raise pre-flop to eliminate some of the competition and increase their odds. This tactic is rarely used by players who aren’t familiar with the game.

6 ‒ They’ll Tell You When They Bluff

Beginners are often terrible at bluffing. Any half-decent poker player should easily be able to comb through their deception and snag an easy win.

On the off chance a fish bluffs their way to victory, they rarely have the self-restraint to keep it to themselves.

Who can blame them? Winning a pot on a bluff is one of the most satisfying experiences at the poker table.

But as I said in an earlier point, information is vital. The less information players know about you, the better.

New players might not be arrogant enough to admit they bluffed. But even if they don’t, usually their facial features or mannerisms will reveal their lies.

That’s because fish are incapable of handling their emotions, which brings us to the final point.

7 ‒ Their Emotions Are All Over the Place

A consistent and effective style of poker is one that involves emotional stability regardless of outcomes.

Other players should never be able to tell what’s going through your head. Once they do, better players can figure you out and systemically dismantle you.

Maintaining a consistent emotional approach while gambling is incredibly difficult, especially for beginners. It’s hard to stifle the euphoria that comes after a big win and mask the despair following a devastating loss.

Once players lose control of their emotions, they can become a complete liability at the table. Their ability to make sound decisions will decrease, and they will most likely start betting recklessly.

Catching a beginner on the wrong side of one of these emotional outbursts can be quite lucrative for quality players.


Recognizing the worst player at a poker table is an art form that can lead to financial prosperity for certain gamblers. Luckily for you, spotting them is almost too easy.

Fish are often unfamiliar with basic rules and will often let everyone at the table know. Their play can also be completely erratic and their betting amounts may be inconsistent.

Be on the lookout for players who frequently lose track of the game and play out of turn. Additionally, players who are prone to limping can easily be picked apart over time.

While it’s somewhat simple to spot a beginner, the easiest way is by waiting for an emotional breakdown. Once their emotions are compromised, you can essentially write them off for the remainder of the game.

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 since early 2016. …

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