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How to spot the Sucker at the Poker Table

In the film Rounders, Matt Damon’s character (Mike McDermott) is quoted with the following: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”

In poker terminology, a “sucker” is also known as a “fish” and is often referred to as an unskilled player, who often plays extremely loose preflop, and is passive postflop. Since poker is a competition between players, it is imperative that you play against players weaker than yourself in order to make money.  If you can’t spot the sucker/fish at the poker table than you are likely playing at a disadvantage and should leave the table.

Below are some tips on how to spot the sucker/fish at the poker table, and how it is applicable to online or live poker.

Buy-in short stack / Buy-in for odd amount

For example, if you are playing a 1/2 No Limit Texas Hold’em game and you notice your opponent buy-in for only $100,  that player likely plays terrible postflop and does not want to maximize their winnings, instead, they are likely trying to minimize their losses.  Similarly, this can also be said when a player buys-in for an odd amount at the cash table such as $68 in a 1/2 NL table because that is all he has left in his wallet.

poker-fish

Does not auto top-up their stack

This is a more obvious tell for online poker.  Many poker rooms have an option that allows you to auto top-up when your stack reaches below a certain starting amount, and it is unlikely that a recreational player uses this feature.

Does not have full stack

This tell is applicable to both online and live poker, and it relates to the above buy-in tells.  Majority of recreational players usually do not have full stacks, and don’t re-buy unless they bust, or have dwindled their stack down.

Arrange poker chips in a weird or untidy fashion

This is a live poker tell, if you notice a player does not stack their poker chips in a tidy manner which is easily countable, that player is likely a newbie to the game.

Plays a lot of hands

This is the most obvious tell.  If you notice a player is playing a lot of hands, that player is likely an action player and you want to play against them! The more hands they play, the more difficult spots they will be in, and you should definitely take advantage of their playing style by playing in position.

Limps a lot / Not aggressive preflop

Recreational players tend to limp with marginal hands such as Ax, Kx, suited rags, or random junk, and want to see a cheap flop.

Play out of position

Since position is an important element of poker, look out for players who consistently limp under the gun or in early position. In addition, players who do not steal in the cutoff or button are likely playing their own hand strength and not their position.

Calling Station

Recreational players tend to go to showdown a lot, and their weapon of choice is to check-call.

Shows their bluffs

This is more common in live poker and in the lower stakes, some players have a tendency to show their bluffs, when they simply do not have to.  This is very fishy behaviour.  This should not be confused with players who are purposely showing their bluffs for value later.

Now that you can spot the sucker / fish at the poker table, it is time to capitalize on their mistakes!

Ivan Yau is an avid poker player, writer, and consultant.

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  • Alex

    Nice post!

  • ohmesohrny

    I like ot go off screennames as well. anyone with a poker players screenname online is usually bad. For example – Ivey123 will be bad for sure. lol

    • Ivan Y

      Good point.

  • Alex

    I notice some players start insulting in the chat after running bad or a bad beat and that’s certainly a tell of a novice player

    • Ivan Y

      That is a good point Alex. Usually recreational players are only playing 1 or 2 tables, and have time to type in the chat. The ‘Grinders’ are usually multi-tabling and have no time to reply/type in chat boxes.

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  • Vipin C Mohan

    Very informative..Thank you!

  • who are you?

    why do u suck?