Have you ever visited an aquarium or a zoo, and noticed the signs that ask you
not to knock on the glass? This is to avoid disturbing the animals within.
Poker sites should have a similar warning posted prominently on each table.
“Don’t tap the glass. It disturbs the fish.”
On second thought, perhaps we shouldn’t encourage this prohibition. It might
alert the “fish” about their status. They would then read strategy books,
articles, and websites. This would be followed by (gulp) improvement in
By the way, if you are a fish, please stop reading this article and head
directly to table 18 of the Poker Stars $55,000 guaranteed tournament. I
could use a few chips. Thank you.
For the rest of you, consider the way you see poor players treated at the
tables. Sure, some of the bad beats that fish lay on us hurt. The long run
outlook says that we will prevail in the long run with our more disciplined
approach. When we make two pair with AK, we will take money from the fish
that made two pair with K3.
The first step is to identify the fish.
Fish (n). 1) Any of numerous cold-blooded aquatic vertebrates of the class
Pisces, characteristically having fins, gills, and a streamlined body. 2)
Any of numerous cold-blooded, spineless poker players of the class
Donkeys, characteristically calling 3-bets preflop with J2, 64, or any
two suited cards.
One sign that your opponent is NOT a fish: they have any derivation of the
words fish or “pisc” in their screen name. They are at least average
The second step in dealing with fish is to make them your friend. Chat with
them. Be nice to them. Make notes about their play (done by right-clicking
their name at most sites). Put them on your “buddy list”, if the site
supports it. You want to play against these players, and more importantly,
you want them to want to play against you.
Saying “nh” in chat means “nice suckout, you lame jerk” to a good player. Not
to fish, though. Fish think “nh” means literally, “nice hand.” Their grasp
of the sarcasm behind the chat is non-existent, so saying “nh” is good
Poor strategy includes saying “nice call there, you donk” and “where’d you
learn to play poker, Sesame Street?” Don’t let the fish steam you. They need
the occasional bad wins to reward their bad play and maintain their interest
in the game.
Not berating the fish is done for a very simple reason. They are playing poker
for one (or both) of two reasons: 1) to gamble, or 2) for enjoyment. If you
do anything to reduce their enjoyment, they are likely to leave, and you’re
stuck fighting the sharks.
The other, somewhat hidden, aspect of not tapping the glass is not discussing
advanced poker strategy at the table. This might alert the fish that there
might be such a thing as strategy to the game. “Advanced” to a fish might
even be a simple concept such as pot odds or starting hands. Don’t take the
I’ve seen this cost better players many times. Once, in a casino limit holdem
game, I held AA, another player (good) to my right held JJ, and the fish to
my left held J2.
Preflop, the player to my right raised, I re-raised, the fish called,
someone else capped, and five players saw a ragged flop with one spade. A
lot of betting on the flop got it down to three. The turn brought a second
spade, but no cards higher than ten and no straight possible. After the
betting was capped, I started to worry about a possible set. The river
brought the third spade, and I only check-called for 2 bets. Of course the
fish won a huge pot with a flush. The good player to my right had a fit,
berating the fish for even considering playing in that situation. Rather
than giving our chips back, the fish went into a funk, not playing a hand
outside the blinds for an hour. We had no possibility of getting our chips
back, because the fish was alerted to his play and embarrassed to play
anything but premium cards from then on.
The reality is that fish will remain fish if they are having fun. If they’re
degenerate gamblers, they’ll stay anyway, but the “enjoying the game” AKA
“tourist” fish needs to have fun to continue to donate chips. Don’t do
anything to irritate them.
By the way, I busted out of the tournament. Near the money, with a fairly
short stack, a shorter player went all-in, and I had an easy call with QQ.
He flipped 99, and the first card on the flop was, of course, a 9. This left
me with less than 3 big blinds. I stole repeatedly, got back to one third of
the average, and got all in preflop with AK vs. AQ. The river was a Q, and I
was out. If only the glass hadn’t been tapped…