The skill level of poker players is often compared (in a generalised way) to sea life. At the top of the food chain, you have the sharks. These are the best players; the long-term winners of the game. After that, you have fish: these are the game’s losers and are the part of the ecosystem that’s often preyed upon by sharks. And finally, if you wanted to take things even one step further, then you have “whales”, too, which are just larger-scale versions of “fish”.
Poker sharks are feared by all players. Ready to strike at any moment, they know how to capitalise on an opportunity and exploit other players (especially the weaker ones) at the table in to maximise their profits (while minimising their losses).
They are highly skilled players who have sufficiently developed their poker skills and strategies to increase their likelihood of winning in any given session.
If you’re wondering how you can put yourself on top of the food chain and become one of the most feared players at your table, here is a list of the 10 top Poker Shark Traits:
- Sharks play a balanced style of poker: Sharks will bet with both a combination of value hands and bluffs (i.e. semi-bluffs) when they bet. As a result, these players become very difficult to play against because you never know if they have the goods or not. They are also capable of checking a range of hands that’s made up of a varying degree of different-strength holdings. This strategy ensures that whatever betting line they take, they have strong hands present in each part of their range. (It’s not just the “bet with good hands and check or call with everything else” mentality that many fish play by.)
- Sharks adapt well: Just as sea life always adapts to the changes in water currents and tides, poker sharks can adapt to the changes in their surroundings, too. If the table is playing tight, for example, sharks will adjust accordingly to take advantage. If the table’s dynamics are loose, sharks will tighten up and wait for the perfect time to strike. If a player goes on tilt, sharks will know how to properly adjust to exploit that player more and maximise their own edge. Bottom line, sharks will always be re-evaluating their opponents, table dynamics, and overall game, and then changing their play to counteract these factors effectively.
- Sharks are aggressive: Aggressive players have two ways of winning: (1) They can have the best hand at showdown, or (2) they can make their opponents fold. Passive players, on the other hand, can only win pots when they have the best hand at showdown. Therefore, by playing aggressive, sharks add in the concept of “fold equity” to their game. This fact not only allows them to win more pots that don’t go to showdown but also allows them to put their opponents in tough spots and always keep them guessing! (I.e. Is he bluffing, or does he have it?”)
- Sharks study away from the table: Poker is a continually evolving game. With new theory and optimal strategies always being discussed and discovered, sharks are not only focused on poker when they’re at the table, but they also do the same when they’re away from the table. Whether it’s watching training videos, reading poker books, discussing hands or concepts with like-minded players, tinkering with poker solvers, reviewing hand histories, surfing the poker forums, or refining a database of notes on their opponents, sharks are always looking to improve their game. This way they can maximise their winnings at the table by using the best possible strategies.
- Sharks regularly evaluate table and seat selection: When you think of the rake that is collected every hand or half-hour, there has to be one (or many) long-term losing players seated at the table that can help pay the rake (and subsequently help boost their hourly profits, too). Therefore, sharks are always looking for weak players and will continuously evaluate if there might be a better (more profitable) table for them to play at in the poker. Additionally, whenever a player leaves their current table, and a seat opens up, sharks always consider taking that seat to see if it’s more advantageous (i.e. if it puts them in direct position on a big fish or whale).
- Sharks know their starting hand ranges by position off-by-heart: To compensate for a player’s lack-of-position postflop in a hand, players seated further to the right of the button must play a much tighter hand range than if they’re closer to the button. Sharks will know off-by-heart which hands to open up from the various positions at a poker table (they’ve studied various starting hand range charts). They also know how to appropriately deviate from them when a particular situation calls for it.
- Sharks take notes on other players’ tendencies: There’s an old poker adage: “play the player”. Many of your opponents are going to have significant flaws and exploitable tendencies that you can capitalise on. As a result, it’s important to keep notes on them so that the next time you play them, you’ll know what you’ll need to maximise your edge and profits against them.
- Sharks are reviewing trouble hands frequently: In order to improve, sharks note down or tag specific hands they play mid-session that essentially created a “trouble spot” for them. By marking it for review, they can analyse the hand after the session and determine what the best course of action would have been. By doing this process frequently enough and with a wide enough variety of hands, sharks train themselves to be more adept at knowing the best thing to do, regardless of the situation.
- Sharks have become desensitised to money: Sharks think of the money they have in a game as “big blinds”. Whether it’s $10 at $0.05/$0.10 or $5,000 at $25/$50, in either case, to them, it’s still just 100 big blinds. By playing enough hands to become numb to swings and variance, sharks allow themselves to play ideally in any given spot, without the pressure looming on them as, “I could win or lose X amount of money here,” and having that subsequently (negatively) affect their decision-making. Having a sufficient bankroll for the stakes that one plays also allows players to become desensitised to the ups and downs, as – regardless of what happens – they’ll still be well-enough rolled to play.
- Sharks have control over their emotions: Many players are losing players simply because of their inability to effectively manage their feelings at the table when they’ve suffered a substantial loss or a bad beat. Sharks, on the other hand, are able to keep a handle of themselves through the worst of it and can continue to play optimally and stay on the lookout for taking +EV spots.
Do you have what it takes to be a shark? If you want to try putting these tips into practice, fire up a table at 888poker.com and see if you have what it takes to rise above the fish!
Good luck at the felts!