Ever wonder what sets a good poker player apart from a pro? Is there one secret to playing the game? A strategy? Is there a certain talent that only some lucky players have? Are you born a great poker player or can anyone develop into one? I’ve wondered about that myself and decided to investigate some of the top professional poker players and see what sets them apart.
And what did I find? In general, the best poker players have 5 characteristics in common.
In order to be a good poker player, you need people skills, some math knowledge and good intuitive ability. You have to be pretty smart to be good at poker, but I don’t mean doctor smart or lawyer smart – you have to be street smart. Whether or not a player has a strong educational background doesn’t really matter; the best players are all very, very smart people who consistently make better decisions at the table.
Another type of inherent intelligence that the best players have is often called ‘feel’.Feel is what separates great players from average ones. It’s instinct or a gut feeling, and it comes from the subconscious. This intuitive sense is something many players don’t have, making them very static players who are easy to read.
Above all, to excel in poker, you have to love being very competitive. It’s got to hurt when you lose. The competitiveness is what drives and motivates you to become a better player. However, in poker you have much less control over the outcome than in many sports, so you must be willing and able to lose without it affecting your game because no matter how good you are it is going to happen.
Being aggressive is important in poker but it’s not the most aggressive players who are the best, it’s the ones who can be aggressive at the right time. The question of how aggressive you actually need to be isn’t easy to define. Weak and timid doesn’t work in poker, but at the same time, you have to be able to lay down a big hand. It’s very hard to find people that can do both of those things successfully. It’s picking your spots and being aggressive at the right time that’s key.
The need for discipline (both with your cards and your money) commences well before you sit down at the table to play. The best players know how important it is to be physically and mentally prepared for a tournament. Once you’ve decided that you’re in good shape to play, utilize sound judgment and money management skills to stop yourself from risking more than you can afford. Personal discipline is the key.
When you’re at the table, use your discipline to wait for good opportunities and get away from bad situations. In a tournament, there’s no doubt as to when it’s time to stand up and leave! But when you’re way down in a cash game, or even well ahead, it sometimes takes a huge amount of discipline to get up from the table. There will be times you’ll have to force yourself to put your ego aside and walk away a loser – for the time being, of course.
5) Read, Watch and Learn
There are fundamental skills and knowledge involved in poker and the best players have studied the game and continue to read, watch and learn. Great players learn everything about the game and read everything they can, picking up something from every book they read. Just like anything else, if you want to be good at poker, you have to work at it.
Once you’ve got the basics down, be willing to think out of the box. Good players are always willing to try new things and experiment. They read about strategies, watch and study players they respect, and they always walk away from a game – win or lose - and evaluate their own play and consider how they might have done things differently