Chapter 17: The Fish

Ah, the fish.  God bless them.  The fish are going to make you rich.

Most of your opponents won’t be fish, especially at medium stakes and above.  But I’ve decided to write about the fish first and foremost because of how important it is to understand them.  The fish tend to make such bad plays that it’s almost like they’re burning money.

Fish come in many different styles; more so than the TAGs and LAGs you’re going to learn about in the next chapters.  But at the heart the fish remain the same; they put way too much money in the pot with losing hands.

The stats of the fish

VPIP: The most recognizable characteristic of fish is how loose they are.  A high VPIP is an automatic tip-off that you are up against someone who is making a very crucial 6-max mistake.  They are playing way too many hands preflop to be a winning player.  Typically, someone with a VPIP higher than 30 is when I start to consider someone as a bad player, though there are some OK players in the 30 to 40 VPIP range.  Above 40 VPIP and your opponent will be hemorrhaging money with all the crap he is playing preflop.  Above 50 VPIP and you’ve found a new best friend.

PFR: Once you’ve identified someone with a high VPIP, you can correlate that to their PFR and it will give you a good indication of how aggressive he is.  Most fish tend to be more passive in their PFR percentage than the majority of players, despite how many times they’re playing a hand. I’d expect to see most fish in the 5 to 15 PFR range.  Sometimes fish will have a PFR raise over 20 to go with a VPIP over 40 and these guys are going to be a little crazy to play against.

AF:  It can be interesting to see a fish’s AF and how it relates to the way he plays.  If a fish’s total AF is high, such as over 4, chances are he is betting A LOT of hands and I will get tricky by checking many good hands to him.  If a fish’s total AF is low and under 1.5, he is very passive and won’t be bluffing very much.  Again, exercise caution with this statistic, as it can take a few hundred hands of data to be worthwhile.

Correlation of VPIP and AF:  It’s important to take note of how someone’s VPIP is related to his AF.  AF is calculated by how often a player bets or raises related to how often he calls postflop.  If someone has a high VPIP, it’s going to be harder for him to have a higher AF since he is playing so many bad hands and he isn’t going to have something that should be worth betting as often.  If you’re against someone with a 50 VPIP and an AF of 2, he is still pretty aggressive.  On the other hand, if you’re against someone with a VPIP of 15 and an AF of 2 he is actually a little passive.  Keep this in mind when playing against high VPIP fish and analyzing their AF numbers.  For example, a 60 VPIP with an AF of 5 is going to be one of the most aggressive players you’ll see.

WTSD:  This is a very important number to use when against a fish.  If this number is high (over 30, up to about 60) and your opponent has a high VPIP you have literally found a goldmine.  A high WTSD fish is the best kind.   Value bet these guys to death and reap in the rewards.  Sometimes you’ll be up against someone who plays half their hands but his WTSD is 20.  These fish are still poor players because they are seeing every flop, but will only continue with a good hand and aren’t calling you down with bottom pair.  It should be noted these are still great fish to play against because you can steal almost every pot on the flop from them.  If they are seeing over half the flops but are only continuing with top pair or better, they’re going to be folding A LOT!

FSB, FBB:  How often your fish folds out of the blinds can help identify those who are the worst.  Fish who call too much out of the blinds tend to have no positional awareness and are just playing the strength of their hands.  If you see FSB and FBB numbers under 60%, chances are you’ll be taking a lot of money from that player.  You simply exploit this by the fact you’ll often be against with a better hand while you’re in position.

Fold to Cont Bet %:  This is an important stat to observe once you get a few hundred hands on a player.  This correlates with WTSD a little, but the higher this number is the more often you should continuation bet that fish.  If this percentage is very high (around 80%), and you’re against someone who’s playing 40% of his hands, that means he’s folding a TON of flops and is only continuing with a good hand.  If a fish has a fold to cont bet % of lower than 60%, I start to not continuation bet them as much because they are calling the flop with ANY piece: a pair, a gutshot, ace high, etc.  It’s important to take this stat and correlate that to their hand range as the lower this stat is, the wider number of hands they can have.

Other characteristics of a fish

Fish tend to do oddball plays that are hard to understand and comprehend.  Sometimes it’s hard to read a fish’s hand, but that’s ok because usually it’s a bad one.  Some specific things I always see from fish are:

Small raises and reraises preflop.  A fish likes to minraise preflop and sometimes even minreraise (which is always a terrible play).  By minraising, they let others come in cheaply to the pot and outflop them.  A min 3-bet is a terrible play and I am overjoyed when I am playing a fish that does this a lot.  It allows you to call with whatever hand you opened with and hit a big flop and take all of the fish’s money.

Small bets and raises postflop.  A fish will continue to not protect his hand and let you draw out by making small bets and raises in postflop situations.  Often they will play their biggest hands by betting them small despite there being flush and straight draws present.  Call these bets, outdraw them and profit.

Limping.  Fish love to see a flop and they’ll limp into the pot from any position repeatedly.

How to play and exploit a fish

To really abuse fish, we’re going to not let them keep limping preflop for cheap.  You should be constantly raising their limps when you’re in position whenever you have a good hand.  If a fish is limping a lot you can raise his limps on the button with any hand you’d actually open the button with.

You might be asking, “If they never fold, why raise their limps with 98s?”  Simply having position against them is so powerful you can usually have the weaker hand and raise it against them.  Also, since they are calling such a wide range preflop they are simply going to be missing a wide range of flops.  Even against very loose fish you will take down enough pots on the flop with continuation bets to raise their limps loosely.  And sometimes you’ll have a big hand and take all their money.

I would be less apt to abuse their limps when you’re in the blinds.  It’s going to be tougher to exploit them out of position so I would stick to raising your better hands when you’re out of position.

When playing fish postflop it’s all about getting value out of them.  You have a hand, you bet it.  You never slowplay a fish.  If they are calling, you keep betting your good hands, even as weak as top pair no kicker.  It’s a very circumstantial thing but it’s very easy to value bet hands like middle pair or QQ on a K high board on the river and get calls from fish with worse hands.

When you are betting a good hand and get raised, it can be tricky to know what to do.  There are a wide variety of fish and some of them are passive, never raising without a great hand, while some are aggressive.  Some are randomly aggressive and will make bizarre plays with bad hands.  You’ll have to learn from understanding their stats and gaining experience to know what to do in all of these spots.

It’s also very important to avoid bluffing a fish.  Besides a continuation bet, you should rarely be betting without a hand against a player that is not known to fold.  There are certain circumstances where it’s ok, but until you gain that experience, do not bluff a fish.  You will be shocked at the kind of stuff they will call you down with, which will just remind you to value bet them with even more hands.


Are you looking for more training on playing fish? The best way to become an expert is from online poker training sites such as Deuces Cracked. They’ve helped improve my game tremendously. Check them out by clicking here.

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09. August 2012 by Bill Vosti
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