Online poker games are heavily populated with tight-aggressive (TAG) players. When you start out playing poker, you learn early on that a tight aggressive strategy (TAG style) is generally considered “optimal”. You learn to be selective about hands (you play tight) and that you want to play them aggressively. But along with profitable TAGs, there are also break-even or losing regulars: The "TAGfish." On the surface, it may be hard to distinguish between the two. Since a TAG fish buys-in full, tops up every hand, has decent stats and plays what they think is good poker.
But they can't seem to win. The problem for a lot of players is they learn how to play a tight-aggressive style through study not practice. They know how to play “like” a TAG, but often don’t understand why they make the plays they do. As a result, TAG players often play a very formulaic style, without adjusting their play to their opponents and make many small mistakes. These players are known as TAGfish.
Definition of a Poker Fish:
A fish in poker is a player that is usually inexperienced and is likely to lose many pots and games. Because a fish will consistently make bad plays and mistakes that cost them in the long run and make them exploitable to other players.
Signs You’re a TAG Poker Fish
Poker is all about thinking and adjusting - you need to effectively apply solid information to every given circumstance and make good decisions. If you’re not doing this, you’re a TAG fish in poker. Playing the same game every time you sit at a table, no matter the situation, making you exploitable by others. This also means a fishy poker player will perpetually lose or breakeven and blame it all on bad luck. If you feel like you may be a TAG poker fish, here’s what you may be doing wrong and what you can adjust to break the cycle.
1. You Only Think About Your Opponent's Range
Everyone knows you have to try to put your opponent on a range of hands instead of a single hand. It's one of the most fundamental poker skills. However, one step further is also thinking about your perceived poker range, so it becomes their range against your range versus their hand against your hand. A TAGfish would not usually think about their own range. But this is important because your opponent will play according to what they think you have. So your perceived range is also about what you’re representing.
- How (and Why) Thinking in Ranges Improves Your Poker Game
- How to Put Your Opponent On a Range in Poker
2. You Haven’t Learned Proper C-Betting
You may internalize that continuation-betting just once is bad, so you just fire every second barrel, without any balancing, or the opposite, c-betting once and then just giving up. You may even learn that three-betting light is profitable, but not that you shouldn’t do it regardless of your opponent's three-bet calling frequency. Or you may even do it with the wrong poker hands. Serial continuation-betting (c-betting) and continuation-betting once and then giving up are signs of a TAG fish.
3. You Misapply Skills You've Learned
A TAG fish tries to learn to play better poker - watching videos, reading articles, studying the game - but misapplies the information learned. Isn’t this most of us? Let’s explain with examples. You may learn you can float the flop and take pots on the turn against players that c-bet too much. However, you end up floating with pure air instead of gutshots or hands with backdoor possibilities. In other words, you only learn half the skills - you know what to do but not when, how and against who you should be doing it.
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4. You Play Similarly from Different Positions
A TAG fish may treat the cut-off and the button as the exact same position. If an opponent raises from early position, you can’t always call with 6♥9♥ from the cut-off just because you'll be playing in position. You've still got one more player to act behind you and if they’re good, they can make your life hell. That player can three-bet with impunity whenever you call with your weak, speculative hand. They can call and steal your post-flop position and they can punish you after the flop. Where good TAGs abuse the button, a TAG fish allows themself to be abused by the button. Alternatively, you may also be playing too loose from the blinds - perhaps over-defending your big blind. Or playing too wide from early positions (wide referring to your range).
5. You Overestimate Your Implied Odds
If you think you’re going to win an opponent’s entire stack every time you hit the nuts, that’s a TAGfish mentality. You end up calling with speculative hands post-flop, or check-folding when you miss. Even worse, when you hit a huge hand, like nailing a set when you have a pocket pair, you make your opponent fold. Thus, not getting max value out of the situation. In other words, you’re probably bleeding money trying to hit hands, and when you do, you never make that money back.
6. You Have Post-Flop Leaks
A tight-aggressive fish typically plays fine pre-flop. You know you can’t limp Q9o and expect to show a profit, and that AK needs to be raised for value. Knowing when to raise or fold pre-flop is relatively easy, but knowing when to ditch top pair, bad kicker isn't. Knowing when to double and triple barrel is hard. You’ll end up stuck in TAG poker fish play if you keep playing your own cards instead of your opponent and the situation. YOu can’t treat all regulars the same and you need to adjust to different players.
7. You Look at Each Decision Separately
Ever found yourself in a spot thinking what the hell you should do? That’s all of us. However, you need to understand that it’s not what you just did that put you there. But the line you took to get there. This means that you didn’t have a plan in mind for the hand, you likely just acted and figured it out on every street. This is playing reactive poker instead of proactive poker. And something a tight-aggressive fish poker player does more often than not. Having a default line and not straying is a classic symptom of TAGfish poker play.
- Why You Need to Make Every Poker Play for a Reason
- How to Win at Poker: It's About Decisions, Not Results
8. You Get Tilted Too Much / Often
Tilt gets the best of us, but experience teaches us how to get off it quicker. A poker fish is more likely to rush decisions, slip into auto-pilot, or play hands far too long. These kinds of mistakes are more likely to land you in tilting situations.
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How to Exploit a TAGFish in Poker
If these TAGfish mistakes sound like you, don't worry - they’re curable if you follow the advice given and the strategy articles suggested. It’s important to rise above the rest because games are flooded with regulars and fish. So if you want to keep winning, you need to adapt and learn to beat both.
The tight aggressive strategy (TAG) is a style that was designed to beat fish. You have to be able to accurately recognize the weaknesses in regular TAG fish and exploit them for profit as well. However, TAG fish are much more difficult to recognize than regular fish. You can’t just decide based on their VPIP (Voluntarily Put in Pre-Flop) and PFR (Pre-Flop Raise %) numbers.
You have to Pay Attention During the Poker Game. Watch the other players, and take notes. Because if you and your opponents are regulars at the same stakes, chances are you’ll be playing each other often. And information is a priceless asset in poker.
1. Punish Serial C-bettors
The hard part of exploiting your average TAG fish is first establishing his or her leaks. You always have to be vigilant of the other players at your table. You’re competing for their money and they’re competing for yours, so give yourself the upper hand and pay attention. Especially to their bets and continuation bets - Track the boards they fire one bet on. Then call the flop and take the pot away on the turn when they check.
Ace-high boards are a great example - they’re excellent for the c-bettor but they’re also boards many players just fire one barrel at. Take notes about how often a player gives up after c-betting an ace-high board. If he’s checking far too often on the turn, you can easily pick up the pot. This goes for all board textures. Look at when a player c-bets and when he double barrels. What hands does he need to double barrel with? This info also makes it easier to decide whether to call that second barrel with a weak-ish made hand.
If You’re the TAGfish C-Bettor:
Realize that you can’t always just c-bet once and give up. Sometimes you have to give up without c-betting when you realize you’re getting floated too often. Sometimes you’ll have to fire more than one barrel. So look at your opponent’s pop-up stats (for those that don't use Heads-Up Display tools) - and particularly their fold-to-second-barrel stat. If they’re constantly peeling one card and then giving up to a second barrel, fire again.
2. Punish Fish for Predictable Default Lines
Another common TAGfish trend is having a default line and not straying. These players are extremely common - chances are they’re playing a ton of tables and are not focusing at all. They’re playing their system because it works and they don’t think good opponents would notice and adjust. But not you, and especially not after a thousand hands or so. If they’re playing the same way, you should be able to accurately put them on a range and play accordingly. For example:
- Someone who c-bets every ace-high board but never double barrels the turn without an ace.
- A player that always calls the flop on a dry board but raises the turn with a set
- Someone who always raises the flop with the nut-flush draw and always checks the turn if he misses
If they’re only calling a flop then raising the turn with a set, adjust by only continuing with the nuts or near nuts. The way to exploit this the most is to learn how they play and adjust. Don’t be afraid to go through your databases in Hold’em Manager and look at hands they've played even against other opponents. Soon you’ll be making easy calls and folds because you’ve done your homework.
If You’re the Predictable TAG:
Realize that you can’t just play every hand the exact same way every time. It makes you predictable, and hence exploitable by other players. It’s OK to have a default line but you have to be able to mix it up. If you do something 100% of the time it’s going to make your opponent’s job easier. Mix up your play and keep your opponents on their toes.
3. Don’t Pay Poker Fish Off
Fish often overestimate their implied odds. So they call too often with weak gutshots or weak flush draws and expect to get paid off when they hit. The problem for them is they don’t often hit. And when they do hit they’re never getting paid off enough to make the calls worthwhile. In short, they’re bleeding money, so exploiting them is easy - just don’t pay them off. You’re already going to be beating them just by betting your hands and having them draw without odds. You should also double barrel these players because they’ll often peel once on the flop and fold the turn when they miss.
Are You Overestimating Implied Odds?
If you’re playing a LAG (loose aggressive) poker fish, the implied odds may be there. But if you’re playing a regular, they probably aren’t. Instead of passively calling and folding when you miss, use these hands as semi-bluffs. Use your draw as a backup plan and raise. Ideally you’re hoping your opponent folds but the draw is plan B. If they call, you can still hit.
4. Three-Bet With a Wider Range
Many fish poker players play too loose from early positions and blinds - seeing 5♥6♥ UTG and raising it. Players always need to be thinking about poker table dynamics. So punish players that play too loose in early position by three-betting them with a wider range. Or you can call and take the pot away from them on the flop when they miss, which is going to be more often than not.
Players that defend their blinds too much are easy targets too because they make too many weak hands post-flop. Weak hands are tough to play in position and even harder to play out of position. So make their life difficult by firing multiple barrels and getting them off weak one-pair hands. If they adjust by calling more, you adjust by tightening up and value betting more.
If you’re the Loose Player:
Understand the table dynamic before opening loose from early position. If your table is aggressive with many three-bettors, you’re better off folding. If the table is tight with players that don’t three-bet or call often, then your open can be profitable. When you’re in the blinds, remember that by calling raises you’re literally paying for the privilege to play out of position. Which is extremely difficult – especially with weaker hands, so tighten up in early positions and only play looser from late positions, when it’s most profitable.
5. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Tilters
Poker tilt is a vicious monster that affects all amateurs and experienced players. So keep an eye out for players who lose a few hands and start playing differently, and adjust accordingly. They may go from a nit to a maniac fast - opening more, bluffing left and right - basically trying to gamble. Tilt also manifests itself in other ways - Some players change every decision that’s close from a fold to a call. Some tighten up. So you have to recognize how tilt affects each player and adjust accordingly.
If you’re the one tilting:
Recognize tilt and its symptoms and how it affects you. Tilt is whenever you stop playing your A game. So if you’re not playing your A game, take a break, the game will always be there. Save the times you play for when you’re playing your best.
6. Learn, Adjust, and Adapt
Tight aggressive fish treat every other player as one of three things, regardless of how they play:
But doing so leads to mistakes against everyone. Because no two players are exactly alike - everybody has subtle intricacies to their play. To exploit these players, do the opposite of what they do. Analyze their game, and find their weaknesses, then you have to learn, adjust, and adapt accordingly to get the edge.
Are you adjusting enough?
The fish in poker sit back and hope to cooler the regulars, but big winners actively play poker. Find weaknesses in everybody’s games and they actively work to exploit them. Online poker isn’t a game where you can play just the hands you are in. You have to be constantly trying to pick up any bit of information out there.
Isolating Fish in Poker: Helps You Print Money
If you're playing poker, one of the reasons you’re doing so is to win money, and the best way to do so is by playing against worse players - the poker fish. Unfortunately, there are usually less of these at the tables, so you need to isolate them as much as possible. Get them away from other sharks and maximize the amount of time the two of you play pots heads-up. Since you’re (assumingly) the better player, the more you’ll win off them in the long-run.
Sit to the Poker Fish's Left
If there’s a seat open to the fish's left, you should take advantage of it. Sitting with position on a fish will make isolating them simpler. Every time they limp, you raise with the hope of folding out the rest of your opponents. Because fish love to call, this will often leave the two of you heads-up. When you're in position against a fish you don’t need premium hands to isolation-raise. Instead, your entire range of playable hands should be brought in for a raise.
If you don’t find a seat to the fish's left, you can still isolate from out of position. If the fish is cold-calling a lot, you can still raise and hope they’re the only one calling. Also, you can take advantage of other players trying to isolate them.
Let's say the fish limps from under the gun and the button raises. The button (if they’ve got a hand) is going to be raising very light in position against the fish. If you're in the big blind you can take advantage of this by three-betting a wider range of hands, like A-Js, K-Qs, and TT. If the poker gods are smiling on you, the fish will call your three-bet with their whole range of crappy hands. Then the button will get out of the way, leaving you heads-up.
Isolation Raise: Even with Weak Hands
Under normal circumstances you play tight poker because good players won’t pay you off with worse hands. So the quality of your hand needs to be that much better to extract value from hands of similar quality. When you play a poker fish, they’re likely to play wider, including worse hands. They rarely know where they stand after the flop and will often pay you off more readily than a better player. Since you’re the better player, you’ll impose your will on these loose-passive fish. You'll be putting money in when you’re ahead and folding when you're behind. The fish, however, could easily just be putting money in.
Your strategy will derive you the most value after the flop. Fish may take weak hands too far, or pay off lightly with any piece of the board. When the pot grows on the turn and river, you can decide whether your hand warrants big bets or if it's time to slow down. It’s likely a fish will follow you to the river, which is less of an issue if not multi-handed. Just make sure you get them heads up by raising, cold-calling or three-betting. Then profit off their mistakes after you isolate.
Picking the Right Poker Hands vs the Right Players
In No-Limit Hold'em, there's no such thing as a static hand chart. There is, of course, a basic Starting Hands Cheat Sheet for beginners, which can help you decide which hands to play in which positions. But the nature of the game allows for lots of styles of play to be profitable. And there are some hands that do better against certain types of opponents. Knowing which hands are profitable vs which opponents makes a difference.
Obviously, no matter who your opponent is, the top portion of your range remains the same. You're always going to raise AA-TT, AK-AJs. It's the bottom portion of your range that should change depending on your opponent.
How to Profit Off Bad Players
Against a fish, your profit comes from when they call down with inferior hands - which happens often. Fish play without regard for position, call too often pre-flop and take hands too far post-flop.
Your profit will come from making top pair or better and value-betting relentlessly. So against a fish, adjust by adding more hands with top-pair value (top pair, better kicker). Like KT, KJ, QT, AT-A6, which all become raises which fish are likely to call.
Fish make mistakes regulars won't - like raising with A♦2♥ and calling three streets on an ace-high board. So, when your opponent plays a wider range of dominated hands than you, you should widen your range of dominating hands.
How to Profit Against Good Players
Your profit from a regular won’t come from them calling you down with a dominated hand. They won’t call all three streets with that same A♦2♥ on an ace-high board. You may get one street of value from your weak ace, but if there's second street action, you're probably beat.
Your profit against a regular comes from making him fold the best hand. Your top-pair hands go down in value and your bluff implied-odds hands go up.
Suited connectors are the best hands to play versus regulars. When they hit they make big hands - which you're willing to stack off with. The best part is that suited connectors often flop or turn a draw and allow you to fire multiple barrels.
Example 1: Playing Suited Connectors vs a Reg
It’s a $1/$2 game with effective stacks of $200. You have 6♣7♣ in the cut-off and raise to $7. A regular in the big blind calls. The flop comes 8♣3♠2♦. They check and you bet $12. A regular will peel almost any pocket pair here because they know you're c-betting a lot. So they call, the turn comes 10♣, they check, and you fire $25.
Is it profitable for the reg to call now? They don’t know whether you have an overpair, or even any Tx hands. Meanwhile, you've improved to a gutshot straight-flush draw and even if you're called you can hit one of 12 outs and win. That’s why suited connectors are such great multi-barrel hands.
If you have one card of your suit on the flop, you're going to pick up a flush draw on the turn 1 in 4.7 times. And when you have as much equity as nine outs, it's always a great time to fire a second barrel. Add in the fact you're going to be barreling overcards, your opponent is going to be forced to make tough decisions all the time.
Example 2: Bluffing With Equity in Poker
When you turn equity, it's always a great time to fire a second barrel because your opponents are going to fold a lot. When they don't, you can still either hit your hand and win a stack or miss, fire again and win by making them fold. Bluffing with equity is always better because it gives you an escape hatch. You're banking on them folding, but when they call you're not dead as you can still hit.
Where fish are happy to stack off with dominated hands, regulars won't. Those times you do get a regular to call three streets with a dominated hand, it's probably a cooler. But you can't count on making money from regulars with coolers. In the end, they'll cooler you just as much as you cooler them. The difference in your win rate is going to come from you making them fold the best hand more often than vice versa - by firing multiple barrels. Suited connectors are great for that.
Example 3: Opening Versus the Blinds Players
You won't always tailor your play perfectly, but you can tweak your play depending on where the button is. If you're in the cut-off, with a tight player on the button and two fish in the blinds, you should open more top-pair hands. However, if you're in the cut-off with two regs in the blinds, you should open more suited connectors and less weak top-pair hands.
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Never “Tap the Glass” in Poker
Regardless of the outcome of any individual hand, the majority of the money you will make in the game will come from "fish" - bad poker players. Keep it that way and DO NOT explain to bad players why they are bad players. Also, don’t chastise them or discourage them from coming back in any way. Don’t share knowledge, skills, good poker books or tips with weaker players because you give away your advantage. All this is called "tapping the glass."
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What is “Tapping the Glass” in Poker?
If you make someone uncomfortable, it's not fun for them, and they're not going to come back and play. There are lots of fish out there who don't care about the money, and are happy to give it away in the name of a good time.
"You shouldn't even care whether you win a pot. You should only care about making the correct decisions. Making quality decisions is the only thing you get paid for in poker."Mike Caro, The Mad Genius of Poker (taken from Super/System 2)
Every time you make the correct choice, you're making money in the long term regardless of what happens in that pot. This also works in reverse. Every time your opponents make a mistake, you make money.
When a fish makes a mistake, it’s a far bigger mistake to inform them of this. If a fish calls off his whole stack on a two-outer and spikes the river, be happy for the call and say "nice hand." If you blow up, call them a donkey, or type nasty things, they will take steps to not get into this situation again - or worse, leave the game for good.
You want to make fish believe that their every win is skill and every loss is just rotten luck. Also be careful to never mention anything that comes close to poker strategy or skills, like reverse implied odds, outs or EV. Talking strategy in itself is -EV for you. Fish shouldn’t feel inferior by hearing terms they don’t know and feel the urge to learn more.
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How to Deal with a Glass Tapper
If you encounter someone making these mistakes on a table, you can politely mention that they shouldn't tap the glass and change the subject to something non-poker related. If that player won't stop assaulting the fish, try to befriend the fish and make them feel good again by taking their side. Example: "Wow, that guy's being a jerk. He's just a sore loser because you have all his money."
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Poker Fish FAQs
How do you play poker against a fish?Your overall strategy against a fish should be exploitative. That means, trying to isolate them as much as possible to play them heads up, and always raising your strong hands. Raise the turns as fish often c-bet once on many boards, and don’t pay them off when they have obviously hit the board. Check out a full list of exploitative tips on this page.
What is a poker whale?This term is usually given to a rich player with a big bankroll who is surely a recreational player and makes many mistakes. Think of a fish but bigger. This term is now commonly used to refer to bad players in general, however, regardless of stakes.
What is a shark in poker?This is the total opposite of a fish - a shark is a highly experienced and skilled player, and is a winning player long-term.
What is a poker donk?A donk or donkey is a derogatory term used to describe a very bad player. But it is also a type of poker action - referring to the bet a player makes when out of position when another player was the last aggressor in the previous round.