Five Traits of Winning Poker Players

All About Poker

I play a lot of poker, and a I know a lot of successful poker players. And though they have wildly divergent styles of play, I've compiled this list of traits they all share, and that I think contribute significantly to their winning ways.

1. Discipline

Savielly Tartakower, a Polish chess Grandmaster said, "It is not enough to be a good player, you must also play well." And in poker, where the edges can be quite small, you must play well all the time.

If you make a single mistake, it can ruin your whole tournament, or your whole cash game session.

Discipline does not mean tight play, however. Local tournament pro, Kou Vang, is an extremely disciplined player, yet I have seen him raise every hand for multiple orbits because it was the right thing to do. A disciplined tight player throws away KJo under the gun even if he hasn't seen a decent hand in an hour; a disciplined LAG player raises with 56o in middle position because the tournament is approaching the bubble and everyone at the table is trying to squeak into the money.

2. Math

20 years ago you could beat a lot of games without knowing a ton of poker math. That is no longer true. Players are too good and margins too small to be able to fudge through on reading players alone. All the winning players I talk to know the math cold and consider it in every decision they make. Again, it has nothing to do with playing style.

Resteals and betting light have math attached to them as well, and good aggressive players know it. Add in some solid player reads and their game gets devastating.

3. Don't Care About the Money

It seems an odd trait for people to have who involve themselves solely in competing to acquire it, but all the great players I watch don't seem to care about money at all.

It can be difficult for normal players to push a mortgage payment or three into the middle of the pot on a bluff, but the good players stick it in when it's the right play no matter what the real world value of the chips are. Most people like to play at stakes they can afford. These are the sane folks who enjoy the game. Others say they like to play in games where the stakes hurt them a little. Those are gamblers. A few only enjoy games they can't afford. Those are addicts. The true sharks don't care about the stakes; if they have the bankroll and an edge, they'll play.

4. Smart

There are legends about people with innate card sense, savants like Rain Man who beat the game without having any other skills whatsoever. These remain just legends. Every winning poker player I've met is whip smart and would succeed in any undertaking they put their mind to. I've often told students who want to be professional players, "You had better do it for the love of the game. Because if you're smart enough to play poker for a living, you're smart enough to make an easier living doing something else."

5. Confident

Winning players are not plagued by self-doubt. This can often come across as arrogant, but no one sits down at the table if they don't think they can whoop every other player there.

The trick with this trait is to gain your confidence from study and experience and not from self-delusion. Frankly, I see more of the latter at the table, but that's what keeps the game good. Like WSOP Omaha champion, Steve Badger said, "Besides lovemaking and singing in the shower, there aren't many human activities where there is a greater difference between a person's self-delusional ability and actual ability than in poker."