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How Not to Play Like a Fish

“Fish” are inexperienced poker players. Experienced players are often on the scout for fish, especially in online games, and they will make your life difficult and take all your money if they sniff you out. The best players were fish once so they will be on the lookout for certain types of behavior. The aim of this installment is to teach you what to do and what not to do in poker games so that you can make a good go of faking it as a pro. 

Don’t play too many hands If you look at enough poker strategy guides and videos, this comes upas the single most important tip. Inexperienced players tend to feel the need to get involved in toomany games: in online games you can see how many hands players have played.

If it’s anything over 40%you’re looking at someone who plays too many hands. As an example, in this year’s European PokerTour, Daniel Negreanu, a long-time pro, was playing 34% of his hands, which the commentators deemed prettyhigh. Interestingly, he was eliminated pretty early on too. Stick to playing your good hands and playaround a third of them to fly under the fish radar.

Don’t let your ego get in the way Many new players get bogged down with having to know what theirmore experienced opponent’s holding in a head-to-head, so they end up betting more than they shouldwith an average hand and often losing. This is called “getting married” tothe cards.

You have to know when to let it go and fold. Sure, sometimes you’re going to get bluffedand you’ll fold the best hand but don’t let it bother you enough that you end up losing stacks ofcash. As David Mamet says:

"Poker reveals to the frank observer something else of import: it will teach him about his own nature. Many bad players do not improve because they cannot bear self-knowledge."
Take a look atyourself and eliminate that ego.Control your temperamentThis obviously matters for those who aren’t playing online, but it’sgood to stay good-tempered. And if poker legend Phil Ivey gives it as an important aspect of playingthen you’d better take it on board. In The Gentleman’s Handbook on Poker by William J. Florence,there is this sentence which sums it all up:
”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.”
Don’t get too angry at things like bad luck: sometimesthat river card will turn a winning hand into a losing one in an instant. It’s just part of the game.Beware of “Wet boards”“Wet” boards are games where the flop leaves a lot of possible draws:straights, flushes, two pairs. It means there are a potentially a lot of players who have good handsso be wary of getting too involved unless you’re representing a very strong hand. The higher the cards,the wetter the board and the more danger there is. The opposite is logically called a “dry board”.Take an example: the flop is JC, TD, 8D; so anyone who has two diamonds has a strong hand as does anyonewho has a Jack, Q10, QJ, Q9, 79, 98 and any hand with any hand with a nine or a queen in it. This isthe kind of board where you really want to have the highest flush to be going all the way.

Know What a Strong Hand Is As a beginner if you’ve got a single ace in the hand or maybe AK, AQand AJ unsuited, you’ll probably be itching to get involved in the action. But should you play thosehands every time? Well, the answer is: maybe. If you can tell by the way other players are betting thata high card might be enough (you’ve always got a chance of hitting a high pair on the flop) then gofor it.

But sometimes it’s even worth folding this hand pre-flop if you think opponents have a goodpair, as you’ll miss an ace on the flop a lot of time. Suited is a slightly different game but catchinga flush is still pretty unlikely. With practice you can end up bluffing hands like AQ and represent pocketaces but it’ll take a lot of experience to outfox high rollers.Look at other players When it comes to real-life games, it pays to look at your opponents. Poker professionalMike Matusow has said that his amazing peripheral vision has helped him immensely.

However, if you’rein the big leagues, you probably won’t be able to read too much on your opponents’ faces. In thesesituations as on online, you’ll have to look at their playing strategies instead: look not at theirfaces but at what they’re doing. Do they always need a piece of the flop? Are they consistently lightthree-betting when they’ve got a decent hand? Do they bluff a lot? You can tell a lot from how a playerbets. Sometimes, players will play “tight” (not play many hands) so if they do play a hand you canassume that it’s good. “Loose” means playing a lot of hands, which can sometimes make it hard toguess any strategy.

Don’t Bet Big Turn And River Bets How you play should be determined by the kind of table you’replaying on. If it’s a low- stakes game and a player makes a big bet on the turn or river cards, don’t“pay them  off” by calling, unless you have a great hand. Most players aren’t going to be bluffingat this point and they’re more than likely to be playing a value bet, trying to get more money becausethey’re certain they’ve got the best hand. Don’t fall for it and don’t call just because youneed to see. Especially if a player goes all-in, don’t take a bad hand that step too far.

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