The Ups and Downs of Tank Life
In the days of the poker boom, when there was a plethora of online poker sites, fish were plentiful. Some players took the opportunity to become very skilled at the games, particularly hold’em, and they then made much of their profits from the unskilled players in real-money games. Even some tournaments could be viewed as soft or full of fish. For that matter, some entire poker sites were deemed as the softest poker sites and full of recreational players.
Since then, many of those soft or fish-filled poker sites have closed their virtual doors. And others lost a lot of their fish because of the clampdown of governments and regulators on the poker operators. When sites left markets like the United States, the level of fish was drastically reduced as they simply couldn’t log on to play anymore.
Poker companies have since had to grow their poker traffic in the years since Black Friday, developing new business models to attract new customers and retain others. Much of the focus has been on recreational players and switching from sites that practically corralled fish for the sharks to sites that now welcome fish and put limits on the sharks.
Today, skilled online poker players have smaller tanks in which to swim. There are also obstacles in the way that weren’t there in the past, such as restrictions on the use of HUDs and other poker analysis software and practices like bum hunting. Anonymous poker tables, automated seating, and other tactics are now being used by sites like Bodog and PokerStars to make new players feel more welcome and keep the pros from preying upon them. The poker environment has become much tougher for semi-pro and pro players over the past several years.
However, the fish are still there. It just takes more proficiency to seek them out and reel them in.
How to Find the Fish
There are bad players at every online poker site. Typically, they are not playing the big buy-in tournaments, though, or sitting at the high limit cash games. They’re also not likely to play mixed games or even stray too far from hold’em. Here are some good places to look:
- Small buy-in tournaments, usually $10 or lower
- Limit hold’em tables at the $4/$8 stakes or lower
- No limit hold’em tables, typically at $1/$2 stakes
- Low buy-in SNGs
- Small online poker rooms connected to large sportsbooks and online casinos (players waiting for sports results on sites like Bet365 might kill a little time at the poker tables)
- Cash game tables near the start of a major tournament (players busting from the tournament might try to win money back in a cash game)
How to Reel in the Fish
The worst thing a skilled player can do is be boastful or overconfident when taking a virtual seat at a cash game table or in a tournament. The second-worst thing is to try to play dumb, which rarely works for the best unless the player is also a trained actor. It’s important to play it cool, quiet, and slow, possibly using these tips:
- Don’t buy-in at a cash table for the maximum; choose an amount a bit under the average.
- Don’t ask too many questions in the chat box.
- Only play the amateur role if it comes naturally. “Can’t believe I played that hand. I’m such a luckbox.”
- Mix up betting and raising amounts so as to keep other players guessing regarding strategy.
- Push edges preflop and post-flop to prevent calling stations from tagging along too far.
- Don’t hit and run; stick around for a few rounds after busting or breaking other players.
- Never berate other players; don’t tap the tank, as the goal is to get the players to return.
Time and Patience May Be Required
It’s not always easy to spot the soft players or even which websites are the softest poker sites. Swim around to the various tables, play a few hands, and see if the fish can be spotted. They are playing on every site, even the largest sites like PokerStars and 888poker, but it can take a few tries to spot their tables and the best times of the day or night to go fishing.
Keep notes. While that it not easy at sites like Bodog that allow players to be anonymous, it is much easier on other sites. Take notes on players and tables, and include all information like the time of day or night, number of seats at the table, player positions, etc. Since there are fewer soft poker sites than there were during the poker boom, it may require more work to find the best ones.
Share information with close poker friends who have the same goals. It can even be beneficial to become a regular poster on an online poker forum to find other like minded players with whom to share notes.
Do I Need to Play to Find Fish?
Some players think that you can’t tell if a site is fishy without playing on it first. This has been shown time and time again to be untrue. There are a number of poker rooms online full to the brim with poor players, and all of them share a few common characteristics. This implies that we can predict whether or not a site will be fishy simply by looking at these characteristics.
Most of these ‘fish marks’ have to do with the services a poker site offers; others have to do with software features that appeal to fish. The bottom line is that some sites market to the fish mindset, and these sites attract poor players. Ironically, good players tend to overlook these sites for precisely this reason.
The Hallmark Clues of a Soft Poker Site
When analyzing a poker site, check out whether or not it fits the following criteria:
Has a sportsbook on board – Bad poker players are often not really poker players in the concrete sense of the word – they’re gamblers. Casual sports betters tend to also play poker, and usually not well. Thus a room with a sportsbook attached will have more than its share of sports donks sitting in at the tables.
Has a casino on board – Again, poor poker players are not necessarily poker players first and foremost. At sites with casinos you’ll find considerable spillover from the table games at the poker tables.
Offers superfluous features – By this I don’t mean stuff like hand history replayers, because those are actually useful to your game. Rather, I mean things like 888 Poker’s video cam tables. Cool feature, sure – but one with absolutely no use to the serious winning player. Voluntarily playing with a webcam is giving information away for free, so you can bet that players on these tables don’t care too much about strategy. Seek out features like these – the fish usually don’t stray far from them.
Has a disparaging attitude towards winning players – This one is a double-edged sword. Presumably, you’re a winning player, so you don’t want to play where you’re not welcome; but you also want to maximize your EV by playing at the fishiest poker sites. You’ll have to do your own cost-benefit analysis on this one. Take Bodog Poker for example: they’ve implemented a 4-table maximum across the site. Terrible for multi-tabling pros, great for fish. Hence Bodog remains largely untouched by grinders to this day.
Runs -EV promotions that are popular – Fish love playing wherever there’s potential for a huge score on a longshot. They will often pay ridiculous prices (like double the rake) for the privilege of doing so. Obviously those who participate in such promotions are not sharps, and would be good for you to play against.
If you find a site that matches two of these criteria, chances are there will be a decent pool of fish swimming around. Three criteria is even better – then you’re almost guaranteed easy picking. Four or more means a goldmine, and is rare to find.