Monday, July 13, 2015

Spotting Suckers: 10 Ways to Identify the Bad Players at Your Poker Table

There's usually a sucker at a poker table. This can be one or more other players-- or it could be you. If it's the former, you're in luck-- it means fish for dinner. If it's the latter-- well, it's probably time to move on, lest you become the main course caught in someone else's gill net.  Life's too short to be the worst player at a poker table. I assume you're smart enough to get up and move on...

...which means you will find your way to a better table, which in turn means it has fish to exploit... ah, but this assumes you know how to spot fishy behavior in the first place. Identifying bad players is the first step to exploiting them. In this post, I'm going to tell you some of the standard means by which I spot the suckers whenever I sit down to play.

In my last post, I talked about general, macroscopic methods for fish identification using lobby statistics. Today I want to delve a little more deeply into specific identifiable traits that bad low-stakes players frequently exhibit. These are some of the most common leaks, mistakes, and habits that I see many of the fish (which shouldn't include you!) do at the poker tables. In no particular order, here's a list of ten very common fish-like behavior to be on the lookout for when you sit down at any new poker table:
  • Playing Out of Position (OOP). After just a few orbits of a poker table, you usually can tell which players don't understand position. They're the guppies playing JTs and AX from UTG. Your job is to isolate them and take their money. 'Nuff said.
  • Defending Their Blinds Too Much. "You're attacking my blinds!" you will hear them say, or: "I've already got $X invested in this pot. I'm not going anywhere!"  News flash for the fish: they're not your blinds, nor have you invested anything. Posting blinds and antes is simply a sunk cost of doing business at the poker table. Pound these players when they're in the blinds-- they don't want to fold, even when they know they have a bad hand, and by definition you're going to have position on them.
  • Playing Suited Cards. Ten-deuce is a terrible hand, right? "Not if they're suited!" exclaim the bad players. Yeah, right, keep telling yourself that and come sit next to me. Besides suited cards, these players also like any two Broadways, non-suited gappers, Ace-anything.. you name it, these players have a reason for playing it. Listen when they turn over some bizarre hand and tell the table that they always play it because it's their "favorite hand." Suh-weet. It's also my favorite hand-- when you're the one playing it, that is.
  • Open Limping and Cold Calling Preflop. Let's repeat for the 999th time: there are two ways to win at poker: show down the best hand, or get everyone else to fold. When you're chronically passive preflop, you're actively choosing to forgo the latter method of winning. Instead, you're solely employing the "I hope I hit my hand!" approach to poker. Said another way: you suck. Look for big gaps between VPIP and PFR if you're playing online with a tracking program to spot the loose-passives. Otherwise, just watch for the folks that rarely if ever raise. Hint: they're the ones giving away their chips.
  • Under-Betting Postflop. When I see a no-limit player betting like he's in a limit game, I know I'm at a profitable table. These guys are often older gentlemen, weaned on $2/$4 limit hold'em and/or stud, played at the local casino before the early-bird tourney. Their sole purpose in life is to dribble their money away to you, one min-bet at a time. Their tiny postflop bets accomplish nothing. They don't build their owner a pot when they do have a good hand. They don't price you out from calling when you're on a draw. And they apply essentially no pressure to get you to fold. I love these players sitting at my table.
  • Getting Married to TPTK. These are the guys who overvalue big one-pair hands and won't fold to any amount of aggression on even the wettest of boards. Aces only come around once every 220 hands, they think, and By God they're going to go to the river, come hell or high water. I love stacking these players, because in addition to getting paid off the first time, they often re-buy and then go on tilt after getting their Aces or Kings "cracked." Can you say ATM? I can.
  • Buying-In With Weird/Small Stack Size. I was sitting at a $50NL table the other day and a player sat down with a starting stack of $18.48, which screamed that this was his entire online bankroll. Within 30 minutes of spew, he busted out, typing into the chat box that "Bovada is rigged! I quit this [bleeped] game!"  Yep, it's rigged-- rigged in favor of the skilled players, that is, and yes, I'm very sad to see you go. Please reconsider.
  • Posting Late Blinds OOP When They Sit Down. These are the players who are itching to play. They literally cannot wait the two minutes it's going to take for the blinds to come around to their seat. They want to play, and they want to play now!  In other words, they can't wait to get involved with far too many hands-- and give all their money to you. Loose fish alert!
  • Explaining Why They Lost.  When a player turns over a losing hand and then spends the next five minutes telling anyone who will listen why his play was the correct one, you know you've got a live one at your table. Yes, they're a semi-educated fish, and they're trying, but they're still a fish. Listen closely, and over the next hour or so this player is literally going to tell you their entire poker strategy, skill level, and point out their leaks, free of charge. No, let me correct that: it's better than free of charge; they're going to pay you for the pleasure. 
  • Showing Their Losing Hands. When a player repeatedly shows the table what cards he's lost with, he's ultimately trying to get validation that he's playing correctly. Uh, he's not playing correctly. Instead, the only thing he's validating is that he's the sucker at the table. Attack him relentlessly.
In the world of engineering, we often say you can't solve a technical problem until you've identified and isolated it. Poker is no different-- spotting the fish at a poker table is the first step to isolating and exploiting their weaknesses. Hopefully you're not doing any of the fishy things listed above (and if you are, just stop!) Just as hopefully, you're actively looking for--and attacking--the suckers at your poker tables. You can drop a line into any old pond and hope you get lucky, or you can use fish-finding sonar and go after them directly. The choice is yours.

All-in for now...

Like this post? Hate it? Have a suggestion, addition, or comment to make? Think I'm wrong about something? Please comment below and/or send me an email. I read everything sent my way, and I honestly look forward to hearing all feedback, good or bad. This blog gets better with comments from informed and involved readers like yourself. Don't be shy! Tell me what you think!


  1. Not a bad leak check list actually. I get A's and A-'s for all except number 4... Border line B-/C+. :/

    I think that appraisal would accord with PT4's leak analysis.

    Another great post. Thanks Bug.

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