Don’t Tap the Glass
Aug 01, 2006  
2006 Randy Saylor  

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 their game!

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 players, period.

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 strategy.

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 chance.

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…

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