There are all kinds of poker players, but if you’re just starting out playing poker online, chances are, you’re going to be considered a “fish” – otherwise known as a new player whose money is easy to take, and whose strategy (or lack thereof) is easy to spot. Skilled players know how to spot a fish from a mile away, because these new players often make the exact same mistakes as they’re learning the game, and those mistakes are very easy for skilled players, or “sharks” to take advantage of.
So how do you go from being a fish to a shark? The answer is multifaceted, and the process of losing your status of a “fish” will take time, study, and a lot of practice. I’ve compiled a list of thing to watch for, and change about the way you play that, put into practice, will have you swimming out of the pond and into the shark tank in the most efficient way possible.
Lose the Ego and Keep Your Cool
This cannot be stated enough. Too many new players feel that they have something to prove at the tables, and the result is usually losing all your chips to more patient and skilled players. Kenny Rogers said it best when he made the wise suggestion of “knowing when to hold ’em and knowing when to fold ’em.” Check your ego at the door and commit to playing in a conservative style at first while you learn about hand strength, playing in position, and learning to better read the other players at the table. Becoming a great poker player is a journey, and you’re just at the beginning, so come out of the gates with caution. The Gentleman’s Handbook on Poker, which is one of the poker books you must read, by William J. Florence, has an excellent quote on keeping your cool and checking your ego:
”The strong point in poker is never to lose your temper, either with those you are playing with or, more particularly, with the cards. There is no sympathy in poker. Always keep cool. If you lose your head you will lose all your chips.”
Limit the Number of Hands You Play
Many poker pros will tell you that this is one of the most important habits to develop as a poker player. New players often see an Ace in their hand and immediately want to play it, regardless of what the other card they’re holding is. Learn to resist the temptation. If you’re playing online and you’ve decided to utilize a poker HUD, this can be a very helpful tool to keep an eye on your game play. Most experienced players say that if a player plays more than 40% of his hands, he’s overplaying, and that style is considered a very fish way to play. But how do you know which hands to play?
Seeing an Ace or a couple face cards in your hand can be an extremely tempting hand to play, but there are risks involved, and you should be aware of them. I took a look at some articles that were specifically written for experienced players on how to beat an inexperienced player, and I’ll share some quotes here so you can see for yourself what these sharks will be looking for when they go fish-hunting.
From Pokerology: “(new players) will often show down easily dominated hands like Ace-rag, K-8, Q-5, or any suited cards. They will limp into lots of pots and call a raise “just to see the flop”. Calling a re-raise out of position with a hand like K-J or A-rag is commonplace.”
From WinAllPoker: “fish…are willing to take a chance with any two hole cards regardless of their value or poker hand ranking. With careful observation of the play on your table you should be able to recognize these players within the first 10 hands.”
From The Mirror.uk: “Professional poker players are watching everyone and everything…How you react to turn raises. What hands you show up with at showdown from a given position. How often you bet out with a big hand. Are you the type that likes to check-raise? What strength hands do you stack off with? Do you fast-play draws? Pros use all of this information against opponents, to maximize their expectation of your moves in a future hand.”
It’s important to take note of the tips in that last quote, which leads me to my next point:
Pay Attention to Every Hand
If you’ve folded pre-flop, consider the round you’re not playing as an opportunity to study and analyze the way the remaining players are playing. The lessons you learn in this “downtime” are invaluable. Becoming an excellent observer will help pave the way for you becoming an excellent player. If you have a HUD installed, you can usually access it after you’ve finished playing to study the hands that you and the other players have played.
Hit the Books
Poker is a skill game, make no mistake. It takes years to become as good as the pros, but you can definitely gain extra credit by taking the time to read up on strategy and tactics. I’ve written an article about which books are the best for beginner poker players, and honestly, reading them made me a much better player, with a better understanding of the psychology of the game than I ever could have learned from just playing. In addition, I’ve compiled a good starter list of poker videos for beginners, which are extremely helpful for those that like the extra visual aids when learning the game.