The art of isolating the fish

Sharks and fish are much talked about topics in poker circles. The aim of the game is to upgrade to a professional player (shark) so that you can gobble the chips of the bad players (fish). The problem is that, just like in the underwater world there is an infinitely great number of fish living to make all of the sharks full up, so how can we be confident that we are not the feed?

The solution is to isolate weak players prior to the flop. When weak players are heads-up in a pot, you have the power to regulate the size of the pot and choose the number of streets for betting. You will make game decisions stress-free, and you will easily win big pots. Isolation raises made at the right moment will bring you a shower of chips in the long run.

An Isolation Raise
An isolation raise can be made in two situations. The most typical case is when a weaker player limps prior to the flop. In a standard 6-max cash game, if you see a player flat calling the blind instead of raising, it probably means that this player is a fish. Limping can be more reasonable in tournaments and full ring poker, but it’s not acceptable for experienced players in 6-max cash. Of course, it’s not out of place to try to support your decision with more reliable reads before you decide that someone is a fish, but if a player limps all the time, you should do your best to steal their chips.

Let’s assume that you are on the button or occupy the position to the right of the button with a mediocre hand and someone limped in before your turn. In this case you should make a relatively bigger pre-flop raise to 5 big blinds. Such a raise will either scare away your opponents left to act and win a small pot without any resistance, or you will play a heads-up pot in position against a fish who supposedly holds a poor range. Don’t worry, your hand strength isn’t that important since you will deal with their poor range and the board texture. If the fish calls, try to c-bet most flops, preferably uncoordinated ones that include an Ace or King. It’s not risky as other players won’t have an Ace or King in their hand, otherwise you would have seen a raise on their part before the flop. Note that the only flops unfavorable for c-betting with a poor hand are Q-J-7 and 6-7-8 since the limp-calling range of weaker player is likely to consist of hands that all hit such boards rather good. It’s recommended to check back in this situation and bluff the turn if you’re checked to again. If you win these minor pots multiple times, you win rate will see a significant increase very soon.

Reraise it up
Other variant of isolation-raising is to fire out a small 3-bet in position after a weak player’s raise made prior to the flop. This is pretty risky since the pot size will be larger, but the remuneration is better. Let’s say a fish raises to 3BB from the cutoff position and you have King-Jack on the button. A typical tactics is calling and playing a small pot in position against a weaker player. Although this seems to be a correct thing to do, you are encouraging aggressive opponents in the blinds to re-raise or enter the pot, which will reduce your odds of winning to a minimum. As an alternative, you could 3-bet to 6-7BBs in order to get the pot heads-up.

Your hand is almost decent enough to 3-bet for value, and having the advantageous position, and with your outstanding hand reading skills, this tactics can still be effective. Generally, the fish are not in the habit of folding any hand to a small 3-bet so you can safely try this strategy after the flop. Naturally, if the fish 4-bets, you can fold. If in this case you hold something really massive like A-A, you should change your 3-bet size to 9-10BBs. With a hand of such strength your aim is to enlarge the pot versus a calling station. However, keep in mind that this bet sizing can be beneficial for aggressive players who haven’t acted yet. The good news is that the number of times you will be run into such players is not high. You should keep utilizing this strategy until you are given grounds not to by other players.

Profit from those who want to profit from you
Note that you won’t be the only player trying to capitalize on the fish. Now that you already know the methods of isolating the fish, you can learn how to penalize players who try to do the same thing. When a weak player is limping and a good regular isolates from the button, try 3-bet bluffing a very wide range from the blinds. You feel confident that the fish won’t call much, and that raiser will probably fold, so you have high odds of getting an easy 7BB pot. Your 3-bet size must be about 17BBs in this situation. Since this is larger than a typical 3-bet size, so you don’t risk being flat called as much. Thus, the raiser will probably decide that it would be risky to call with hands like a pair of sevens and King-Jack as he will be committing a great deal of his stack before folding to c- bets on many flops. Thus, your chances of winning will be pretty high. But what if the raiser decides to 4-bet? Well, it can be taken as an additional benefit for you since the burden of your positional disadvantage will be reduced.

Generally, you are recommended to simply fold your light 3-bets to a re-raise, but in some situations it’s necessary to start waging a leveling war. This can be quite exciting! You know full well that the raiser was trying to isolate light, the raiser is aware that you are 3-betting light and will thus sometimes take the challenge and dare to 4-bet.

If you guessed that your opponent can make such assumptions, you should 5-bet all-in over the top with garbage from time to time. However, you should be shoving a wider range for value. Learn how to isolate fish and taking advantage of aggressive players who seem to adhere to the same strategy as you do. This is one of the most crucial skills of cash game poker. Out of the blue the underwater world you were previously in, with a shoal sharks hunting only a few small fish, will turn into a table for you, the Great White.