If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” This is one of the great quotes from the classic poker movie “Rounders”. It also happens to be pretty crucial for your poker profitability. In poker lingo, suckers are commonly called “fish.” Those are players that lack the desire to learn, or the discipline to stick to, proper fundamentals. They approach poker as just another form of gambling, rather than the skill game that it is. This creates a profit opportunity, which you need to take before someone else does.
Your first task would be to spot the suckers. Since they usually don’t carry a sign that says FISH, you have to carefully observe the action around the table for some signs. These include buying into almost every hand, betting into almost every pot, chasing low-odds hands (like a gut-shot straight draws), staying for a showdown with a mediocre hand (like a low pair), and other similar plays that would strike you as fundamentally wrong. Note that you need to establish a consistent pattern of bad play; don’t conclude someone is a fish just based on one hand, as good players will often mix their game to throw off their opponents.
Once you have spotted the fish, you need to make a concentrated effort to take their chips. There are three important principles to follow:
1.) Always play with a good hand.
There is no point trying to be creative against a bad player; in fact it will very often backfire. They will often call to the river with as little as ace-high. Trying to bluff them away from a pot can be an especially frustrating and costly experience. Always play with a good hand, and be more aggressive than usual. You will often get called with inferior hands and this is your chance to take as many chips as possible before the others at the table get the chance.
2. Isolate the bad player.
Whenever possible, you should try to isolate the fish to play heads-up against them. Eliminating other players early (ideally pre-flop) reduces the possibilities you need to consider and allows you to focus your efforts. Isolation is best achieved with a good size raise.
3. Check-raise with very strong hands.
Bad players often have a false sense of ability that will lead them to try and buy a lot of pots. This over-aggressiveness makes them especially vulnerable to check-raises and general slow play of very strong cards. When you have the nuts, don’t lead off with a bet. Wait for the fish to bet and trap them with a raise. This will usually commit them to the hand and lead to a sizable chip transfer from their side of the table to yours.
In the long run, most of your poker winnings will come from bad players making bad plays. Consistently applying the above three principles will go a long way to making you a profitable player. The important thing is to remain patient and persistent. Sometimes bad players will bad beat you. They’ll hit their gut-shot straight draw on the river to thump your two pairs. Don’t go on a tilt, or try to immediately get back what you lost. Wait for your spot and make your move. Then you’ll never have to worry that you are the sucker at the table.