The More ‘Fish’ at an Online Poker Room, the Bigger Your Profits Will Be
Poker rooms with the most fish (weaker / less experienced opponents) are always changing.
When a site gets well known for being profitable, it attracts a small army of ‘grinders’. These experienced players have software tools - and will multi-table – hoovering up the profits from their inexperienced opponents.
If you are a recreational player, there are two things you can do to make the games more profitable and more enjoyable for you in 2021.
- Find the fishiest poker sites, you don’t want to be sat at tables full of ‘regulars’ – even if you can beat them, your profits will be smaller.
- Employ table selection, knowing when to join a game and (more importantly) when to leave. You’ll can boost your wins further by targeting specific players.
Since I first started playing online poker, there have been a lot of changes in the sites. Here are the ones which I believe are the softest / fishiest right now in 2021. You’ll find more about the reasoning for the softeness of play on each site and which specific games it is best for below:
Note that US / Worldwide players will see more options in the section below that gives detail on the individual rooms:
What You’ll find in my 2021 Fish-o-Meter Guide to the Softest Poker Rooms
There is a lot of information below here is what is covered:
- Recreational players and pro grinders, how they differ and why it matters
- Which poker formats are the easiest / hardest
- How the buy-in levels compare
- What criteria can we use to judge whether a poker room has tough or easy games?
- Room by room rundown, with highlights / which games are the fishiest. This starts with the US rooms, then covers the global ones
- Finding the most profitable tables: Game selection introduction
- Soft poker sites FAQ: detailed questions on bonuses, new game formats, using HUD and calculator tools
- Big wrap up: Here I narrow down the options to the fishiest US and global poker sites.
Fishy Poker Rooms: Avoiding the Grinders is Your First Step
You’ll see me talk about grinders a lot here at SNG Planet. I’ll explain why they are bad for your profits.
My definition is this: A professional or semi-professional poker player that multi-tables. They are skilled in the basics, usually employ ‘HUD’ tools to track opponents (and identify fish) and don’t make big mistakes that cost them money.
Grinders used to gravitate towards the bigger buy-in games. In 2021, they can be found at every buy-in level, including the penny games. The reason is that online poker now covers a lot of lower GDP countries. While ‘Grinding’ $5 buy-in games made no sense for years, someone living in a small town in Eastern Europe (for example), can make 3x the countries average wage simply making 50c an hour over 10 tables.
Many grinders are predictable. Their style of play, moves made and ranges from different positions are mostly ‘by the book’. They don’t need to play exploitative poker – simply staying tight and solid, and waiting for bad opponents to make expensive mistakes will win the money in the end.
But I Can BEAT the Grinders!
Over the years I have heard variations of ‘but I can beat the grinders!’ as a reason not for minding the games filled with them.
You probably can beat them.
The key factor is that you will never beat them for much money. Even if you take money from them, they are taking it from the fish. A tax on the easy pickings might not be that big a deal if there were just one or two… when you get multiple grinders, and one fish, then you are simply playing in the wrong game.
As you move up levels, you’ll have to deal with this reality. At the smaller and lower end of the mid-stakes, you can always find more profitable games.
For more on how winning players affect your hourly rate (including scenarios where you can beat them) check out this article. (LINK)
Fishy Sites: First Step is to Avoid the Grinders (a quick tale)
Here is a small example of spotting grinders. I used to play PLO over at 888 a lot. After switching to Party for most of my (recreational) play, I popped back recently.
There are only 1 or 2 smaller stakes PLO games going (more at the micros). I sat down and noticing 6 of my 8 opponents had notes attached. The names were familiar, the same old faces that played almost every night a year back, often on all tables one or two buy-ins up and down.
This piqued some interest, so I have been peeking back every week or two. They are always there, waiting for the newbies to appear and spew off their stacks – usually by over-playing aces.
While not a ‘wow’ kind of a story, it does highlight an important point.
Anyone new to poker wandering to a small stakes PLO game might think it was full of recreational types – gambling a few buy-ins in the ‘great game’.
These are all winning players, experienced, loose for small pots and almost always have the best of it when the big money goes in. A new player has zero chance against them, zero.
Finding Soft Online Poker Games: Spotting the Grinders is a MUST – Here is How to Do It
Your main weapon in the fight against bankroll-depleting grinders is… notes.
No time for a ‘hidden poker secret only known by a select few top pros’ here. Let’s keep things simple.
- If you see the same players at multiple tables, make a note
- If you see someone playing tight from early position, with aggression when entering a pot and only getting their money in with the goods (or at least the biggest draws), make a note.
- Conversely, if you see someone open limping, cold calling out of position frequently, chasing draws without the odds… well, make a note.
I recommend a colour-coding system if your site allows it. Green for fish, red for pros, and some other colour for calling stations / maniacs and nits.
If you only make a couple of player notes per hour, you’ll quickly find you have some very valuable information.
Second, where your site allows this, grab a HUD. Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker will quickly identify those sharks – and when you see their stats the fish will jump out by a mile.
Third, table stats in the lobby of your site will often reveal tight games. These feature smaller pots, fewer players seeing a flop and rarely have waiting lists. I have covered this more in the table selection section below.
There are some more nuanced ways of finding who are the soft players and who are the sharks. Fish very rarely join waiting lists when there are other seats open, fish will rarely be the ones actively isolating the limpers. There are paid tracking services / databases for sale too.
Fishy Poker Rooms in 2021: What Makes One Poker Room Soft and Another Tough?
There will always be an element of personal opinion when it comes to assessing the fishiness of a poker room.
Let’s take ‘efficient market theory’ off of the table first.
This would suggest that a fishy poker room would attract ‘sharks’ to enjoy the profitable games to the point they became unprofitable. Eventually, players in both categories would shift gambling sites until there were equal numbers of sharks and fish at each one.
Over time, I believe there is an element of this. Maybe in 2 years’ time, the fishy sites listed below will be tougher, with the newer / less experienced players enjoying games elsewhere. Unibet is a good example here. It was part of the (now closed) MicroGaming Network for years. That network had a lot of rakeback sites, which rewarded multi-tabling / nitty play. When Unibet broke away to become stand-alone, the grinders left, and the gamblers stayed around!
Grinders Love Rakeback – And These Other Factors
In general, the bigger sites are attractive to pros. They actively select tables and need a long list to choose from. PokerStars is the giant of online poker and is the home to every pro that can play there and their dog.
Here are my criteria for the tougher sites:
- Lots of choice of tables
- Allow tools (primarily HUDs).
- Allow multi-tabling (ideally 8+ games)
- Have rakeback / incentives for high volume of play
- Maybe one more here….
Conversely, the fishiest sites. It is a myth to think that recreational players want gimmicks or gambling style games – though those are popular. In general, soft poker sites attract new players with generous offers then give them a genuine shot at making big money. This can be in the form of decent prize pool tournaments with small buy-ins, random prize promotions, a shot at qualifying for the WSOP, and so on.
Most important is whether players who signed up to bet or play casino games can easily find their way to the poker room.
Think about it. Someone bets on the Football – lands a nice parlay – and suddenly has a cash windfalls. If that sportsbook has a poker room… well the games can get very lively indeed.
Fish-o-Meter 2021: The Fishiest Sites, Room by Room
For 10 years, this site had a widget called the ‘Fish-o-Meter’. This mega-guide has now replaced it. The key reason is that the rooms tend to be either soft or not these days. While in 2010 you could point to one place for SNGs and others for Cash at mid-stakes and above, there are relatively fewer viable options in 2021. That means a room is either soft, or not.
Here are my picks for the softest poker sites in 2021 – along with the factors keeping the games soft, and the latest bonus deals.
The US-friendly sites are first, the global ones below:
#1 – Top Pick for Easy Poker Games for US Players: Bovada.lv
No other US online poker brand has the track record of Bovada, or games remotely as soft. Bovada are the biggest of the offshore sites, which puts them in the top 10 for traffic worldwide.
They pioneered the ‘Recreational Player Model’, which keeps the games soft. There are 3 main elements to this, the first of them takes a little getting used to!
- Anonymous Tables: Instead of playing with a screen name, you are just a seat number or tournament entry number. This means that as soon as you stand up, your history disappears.
- Limit on Multi-Tabling: You can only play 4 cash games or Sit N Goes at once at Bovada. This limit is lifted for Multi-Table Tournaments.
- Blanket Ban on Tools: Heads-up-Displays, advice engines and so on are completely banned. Even where people overcome this ban somehow, the anonymous tables significantly limit their power (no names to track).
Bovada shares tables with the Canadian Bodog brand. Both sites allow players from Latin America, which can liven things up (this geo was late to the poker world, and in my experience has some very crazy players!).
Bonuses include a huge $1000 welcome offer. You’ll be able to deposit from the US using credit cards. If your cards do get declined, then Bitcoin or pre-paid cards can be used.
I’d strongly recommend comparing the loose and fishy Bovada tables with your current site(s) before you play anywhere else.
Check out www.bovada.lv and take a look for yourself!
#2 – Easy Poker Tournaments for US Players at America’s Cardroom
All the main poker formats are available at America’s Cardroom (known as ACR Poker). These are tournaments, cash games, Sit N Goes and fast fold poker games. All of them are lively. What ACR have done is to double-down on the tournament area. They have regular MTTs with $1 million guarantees, regular online events (called Online Super Series) and even huge games like the recent ‘Venom’ which has a massive $6 million guarantee.
Tournaments are attractive to recreational players as they provide a shot at the big money, without the big outlay. You only need a lucky run or two to find yourself at a final table – regardless of experience.
While this does attract expert tournament players, most the fields are soft. Unlike Bovada, ACR welcomes players from a lot of different countries. Some of the cash games do get their regulars, so you’ll need to keep notes.
When the big tournament events are running, there are plenty of players that find their way to the cash games.
For a limited time, you can get $50 in tokens on top of the matched ($1000) welcome bonus at ACR Poker. Their promotions page is worth seeing, with a regular list of new offers to keep your bankroll topped up.
Check out www.americascardroom.eu for the latest offers and big prize tournament schedules now!
#3 – BetOnline Poker: A Smaller Room with Cross Over (Sports Betting) Traffic
No other US poker room gets as many casual / occasional players as BetOnline. This is a huge sports brand, based in Panama. They have been running for more than 10 years, accepting bets online and via telephone.
Traffic is smaller than at the two US sites above, though the games are way more recreational. Cash games (up to around $1 / $2 blinds) is where you will find the action. There is a bad beat jackpot, and prizes for the highest hand.
I’m recommending BetOnline as the place to play on a big sporting day. This could be Monday night Football for example. People come to bet, have a fun session at the poker tables, then go and watch the game. There is not enough action to attract too many grinders, though do take notes – as there are some on every single site.
BetOnline has a huge bonus. This is a 200% match up to $1000. Their promotions page is always updated. Note that if you enjoy a bet on sports, there are plenty of promotions on that side too.
Check out www.betonline.ag for the latest offers now!
Fishy / Soft Poker Sites: Global Site Brands
There is a big choice of poker sites worldwide. One site is 5x (or more, depending on which format you measure) bigger than the rest. PokerStars vacuum up the pro players… leaving the other sites a mix of very recreational and half & half. Yes, Stars have the best software, in my opinion they have the least profitable games too. Save them for the big poker events, or to enjoy the occasional session of their excellent Zoom.
Here are my picks for the softest worldwide poker rooms, along with some highlights:
#1 – Easy Tournaments and a Huge Choice of Games at partypoker
If you have not been around online poker for a while, then the rise and fall of partypoker might come as a surprize. They started as the biggest site of all, prior to the first wave of sites leaving the USA. After losing ground for years, Party have returned – for many people this is the place to be in 2021.
Cash games run from micros right up to high stakes at this site, along with PLO, tournaments and sit n goes. There is a mobile app for playing on the move too.
It is the tournament area where Party really stands out. At the top end are the ‘Millions’ events and the regular ‘PowerFest’ festivals. There is a jam-packed weekly schedule on top of this, including a lot of different live event qualifiers.
Best of all, PartyPoker are widely known. In 2021, this is still the main site people without poker experience will think of if you ask them about online poker. This, combined with excellent cash-back and bonus offers, keeps players signing up.
You’ll get $30 / $40 in tokens to check out the games at PartyPoker. Simply use bonus code SNGPLANET to claim them. After that the missions, cash back and regular promos will keep your bankroll growing.
Claim your tokens now at www.partypoker.com
#2 – Crazy Cartoon Avatars and Fun Games at Unibet Poker
Unibet are a great example of a betting (and casino) brand, which has developed a poker product that is fun and definitely aimed at the recreational ‘gambler’ type of player. This poker room and app looks different to the others. You get a 3D effect table, with crazy avatars and cartoon-like animations.
You’ll play primarily 6-max cash games at Unibet. These are small stakes, and very loose / crazy at times. There is a tournament schedule, which is getting bigger as the site gets more popular. Sit n Goes and qualifier games for the Unibet Open (live series) also run.
As far as the standard of play goes, this is by far the fishiest. The reason I have put it second in this list is that the format of the games is not to everyone’s liking. You’ll play a single table, and it can be a little slow at times. The regular cross-over traffic from the huge sportsbook and casino keeps these games soft.
You can get EUR 20 in tokens along with your first (100%) deposit at Unibet. Check out the unique interface for yourself now at www.unibet.com
#3 – Soft Mid-Stakes Cash Games at 888 Poker
There is something odd about the dynamic at 888 Poker in 2021. They have a lot of players from Russia / Eastern Europe. If you check out the micro-stakes ($10 and under buy-ins), these dominate just about every table. Many of them multi-table, grinding out 50c per hour on each for a decent (for their country) living.
You then go to the lower stakes and find a lot more ‘westerners’ in the games. Go to $1 / $2 and above, and the eastern crowd is very thin on the ground (though those that are from that geo are often very good players).
Same with the tournaments. Low stakes rebuys see Russian nits desperately trying to get through without needing to rebuy. Mid stakes are crazy, with the higher stakes attracting the real pros.
888 also run tournament events (the Super XL Series and others) which are very soft. With their sponsorship of the World Series of Poker, you’ll find a lot of qualifiers at 888 too.
You can check out these tables without any personal risk. 888 give players from most countries $88 free to check out the games, with no deposit needed. See www.888poker.com for more!
Soft Poker Sites: Site Selection is Only Half the Battle – Choosing a Table
Not all poker games (even at the fishier sites) are equally soft. Every poker site has better players, as well as the complete maniacs determined to gamble away their money.
If you want to maximize your profits, the you’ll need to employ table selection. This is a fancy way of saying that you need to find the games where the fish will donate you the most money.
Some players do this when they first log on for a poker session. This is only useful to an extent. What you need to do is ask yourself whether your current game(s) are still good every 30 minutes or so. Your table selection efforts need to be ongoing, and to include checking back at the lobby in case there are even softer games available to you.
Poker sites often list tables with key stats in their lobbies to help you choose the right games, this is step 1:
- Average Pot Size
- Percentage of Players Seeing Each Flop
You’ll usually be looking for the biggest numbers – which indicate wild games. A growing waiting list can also be flagged, showing that this game has already caught the eye of other good players.
You then need to check the table to see which seats are open. Your own playing style factors in here. Usually, you want to be on the left of the worst player. However, if a maniac is raising every hand, and many others are calling that raise, then the seat on the right might be even more valuable. This puts you in a great position to trap money with a timely reraise.
Continually Assess the Softness of the Games
It only takes one or two fish to leave the table, to be replaced with nitty pros, to change a good game to a terrible one. You need to keep assessing each table, asking yourself exactly where the money is coming from.
Alongside this, you can go back to the lobby, checking the stats and giving the other loose and wild tables the once over. Moving games will help maximize your profits.
Finally, remember those notes you built up on the pros and known fish. These are super-useful when assessing which table to play at. You can open a table, check your notes – and find the right seat (or simply close it and move on).
Softest Poker Rooms in 2021: FAQ
This section includes some of the more common questions about finding fishy / soft poker sites in 2021.
What is the Easiest / Softest Poker Format?
No big debate here, poker tournaments are the softest games by a long way. These are ideal for new / recreational players – providing the potential for a big win for a small buy-in. While the skills for the initial stages (when blinds are small in relation to stacks), the lower experience levels of opponents mean you’ll regularly be ‘donated’ stacks. This gives new players a genuine shot at going deep.
Cash games, especially where they are deep stacked, are the toughest games. Here you’ll have multiple streets of betting, giving expert players plenty of time to build up a picture of an opponent’s hand.
Sit n Goes are an anomaly. They do attract recreational players, though these days the majority of players known the drill. The early stages can be wild and loose. As you hit the bubble, you need to know your ranges / ICM calculations. If not, it will be death by 1000 paper cuts in terms of your bankroll.
The new lottery / jackpot sit n goes are fishy enough – especially at the lower buy-in levels. Plenty of people shoving every hand (or at least any ace / king or pair). Keep in mind that the variable prize pools mean these games need commitment. Most of them have 2x returns, which are unbeatable even with a skill edge. The higher multiples will balance this over time.
Do the Softest Poker Rooms Change Over Time?
Yes. Bonuses change (if rakeback gets introduced, pro grinders are attracted), the rules on tools change, the ability to play multiple tables change – and so on. There are even bigger changes, for example a site could switch network or (like Unibet) moved from MPN to become a stand-alone site.
I’ll be updating this page at least twice a year with any major changes – so remember to bookmark it today!
If I Can Beat the Games, Is Finding a Fishy Poker Site Still Important?
Ignoring site and table selection will affect your profit margins, even if you can beat the grinders at your site. I outlined the math behind this in this article (LINK).
In short, the other players are taking money from the true fish, then there is less for you to easily win. Even if you take money from fellow grinders, they simply won’t make the same size or number of mistakes as novices will.
Players able to put their ego in check, and actively avoid other regulars make more money over time – no argument.
Should I Avoid Sites with Rakeback When Looking for Soft Poker Games?
Rakeback is a system where players get a percentage of the fees they pay to the poker room back in the form of cash payments. Going back 10 years, this was a huge business. Affiliates organized players, outbidding each other by a fraction of a percent saw hordes of players instantly switch sites.
In those days, the more rakeback on offer, the more pros were multi-tabling. You could go to smaller networks and find long lists of tables with the same names at each, all playing super-tight and waiting for a fish (or mistake from a reg).
These days, the sites organize rakeback in the form of cash back bonuses. It can affect the games, though nowhere near as much as it used to.
For international players, PartyPoker do a cashback bonus. Each Monday, players get cash into their accounts – making this the ideal day to hit the games. The reason is that all the fishy poker players that went broke the night before now have some money to play with. See you at the partypoker tables next Monday!
Is there an Official Definition of a ‘Soft’ or ‘Fishy’ Poker Room?
No. This is objective, I should have a disclaimer saying, ‘this is not financial advice’.
At the end of the day, it is up to the individual player to decide where the games suit them best and bring in the most money. What I have done here (other than give my own opinion) is to provide ways of thinking about the topic – so you can make up your own mind more easily.
How Much Harder to Poker Games Get as You Move Up Stakes?
In general, the games get gradually harder as you move through the buy-in levels. There are some anomalies in 2021, which did not exist before. I call this the ‘Micro Stakes Massacre’.
These days, you get a lot of Eastern Euro / Russian players grinding the smallest stakes. Anywhere from $2 buy-ins to $10 are the worst affected. These are known as the micro stakes, with $25 to $100 buy-ins the low-stakes and so on.
The players are acting rationally. They figured out that 8 games of NL5 can generate $8 per hour in profits, multiply that by 10 hours a day, and you have a decent wage (especially outside the major cities, where average salaries are <$1000 per month).
What it means is that these tiny-stakes games, which used to be full of gamblers and drunks, are now pretty nitty in places. Compare them with the ‘low’ stakes, where you’ll find a lot of recreational types.
A word of warning, there are plenty of pros, from all over the world, at NL50 and above.
Get to $2 / $4 and you’d better be on top of your game – things get super-tough at NL500 and up from there.
Will Playing Weak Opponents Mean I Will Not Improve at Poker?
No. You’ll improve at poker by finding strategies to beat many different types of opponent. Sure, novice opponents can make your swings bigger, though by finding ways to beat them, your thought processes will be tested.
By playing the weakest opponents you can find, you can build up a big bankroll. This will let you take shots at the higher buy-in games – improving as you go.
Looking at it from the opposite direction, playing in tight, dull games where you can take a few bucks an hour off of the regulars is a sure-fire way to stagnate as a player.
Why Did SNG Planet Retire the Original Fish-O-Meter Widget?
For more than 10 years I have had a widget here at Sit N Go Planet which took your geo, game preference and starting bankroll, and gave you the fishiest site for that combination.
Over the last couple of years, I noticed that the selections were getting more similar. The best site for US cash games was the same whether you were playing for $100 total bankroll or $1500+, European tournaments were soft at 2 popular sites – and empty everywhere else.
A widget that gives everyone the same outputs is pointless. So I have retired it this year.
Instead, this page will keep on top of the ebb and flow of soft poker rooms. My plan is for bigger updates each quarter, with faster ones should anything significant happen.
The Fish-O-Meter was a big success (in terms of visits / uses), everything has a shelf-life, and for that particular tool, it has now expired.
Wrapping Up: Fishy Poker Rooms in 2021: Choose the Softest Site for Bigger Profits
I’ll leave you with my top picks for both US and worldwide readers.
Key to profiting in poker is to understand that it is a game of relative strength. To win the most money, you need to focus on playing against the weakest opponents.
Here is the drill one more time:
- Choose a fishy poker site (check a few!)
- Find the wildest / loosest tables using lobby stats
- Take notes on all of your opponents
- Reassess your table selection, minimum every 30 minutes
That is all there is to it, building a poker bankroll requires skill – and it also requires discipline. The key factor is to put your ego in check. Poker is not about proving yourself (at least at the lower limits!), it is about making money.
Once you have made that money, you can choose whether to take shots at the bigger games, or add it to your ‘life roll’ instead.
Here is that table once again, if you read (or even scanned) the explanations above, the reasons these sites were chosen will now make a lot more sense.