Habits of Successful Poker Players

HABITS OF SUCCESS —
SKILLS THAT MAKE A GREAT POKER PLAYER

Skill and luck are the two primary components of poker, but depending on who you talk to, the more dominant trait is a highly debated topic. Some people say poker requires more luck than skill, while others swear the game is all skill. Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, the record books don't lie; certain players win more than others. All the world's best poker players are either the luckiest people on earth, or they are doing something extra that the average person isn't. Either by instinct or through thousands of hours of practice, there are several habits and skills that successful poker players implement that set them apart.

HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL POKER PLAYERS

REALISTIC VIEWPOINT

In 1999, social scientists David Dunning and Justin Kruger published the findings of an experiment where they put participants through a series of tests checking their general knowledge, then asked them to rate their performance. Titled Unskilled and Unaware of It, the study found that generally, incompetent people overestimate their abilities, while competent people often underestimate their skill. This cognitive bias known as the Dunning–Kruger Effect, also comes into play for poker players. Many bad players don't know they are bad, often overestimating their abilities at the tables and making excuses for losses to save their ego. Successful poker players usually don’t fall prey to the Dunning–Kruger Effect, or they are at least self-aware enough to understand when they are overestimating their skill level. Poker doesn't suffer fools, and to be successful, you need to be honest with yourself and know where your weaknesses lie. Good poker players are continually looking for ways to improve their game. Knowing exactly where you've made a mistake, and being strong enough to accept it, put your ego aside and try to improve is a tough thing to do, but it's one of the key habits that separates a good player from a bad one.

NOT BEING OVERLY CRITICAL

Being realistic about your abilities is necessary, but you can't go too far in the other direction and start being overly critical. Everyone makes mistakes, folds when they should have pushed all-in or bets when they should have folded, it's normal. Even the best players in the world lose at poker; nobody can win all the time, it's the nature of the game. Knowing how to move past the losses, the bad beats and not being overly critical are essential habits that keep successful players from falling apart at the tables.

SELF MOTIVATION

You have to work to be a good poker player, and that is hard, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. A few freaks of nature are naturally good at the game, but it takes a lot of work and dedication to be successful at poker for the rest of us. Successful poker players review their hands after leaving the table, thinking about what they can improve for next time, and figure out a plan to address any shortcomings. It takes a lot of self-motivation to sit down and study the game, especially when there is no guarantee of getting paid, but it's another essential habit that helps make a player more successful at poker.

REMAINING CALM

Poker isn't for everyone, the rules are easy enough to learn, but it takes a strong will and mind to get through the heartbreaking downswings and bad beats. The most successful poker players are usually excellent at controlling their emotions and rarely allow anything to rattle them. Letting a lousy outcome in a hand sour your attitude makes it much less likely you'll make sound strategic decisions. Failing to control your emotions is also a massive tell, giving your opponents an insight into your playstyle. The best players won't even crack a smile, regardless of how much money they win, remaining stone-faced throughout the game, anger, frustration, fear, and joy ultimately need to be conquered. Remaining calm under pressure is by no means an easy task, and many players spend countless hours just on this habit alone. There are always exceptions to the rule though. Phil Hellmuth is notorious for not being able to control himself at the tables, and he is also one of the most successful poker players in the world.

STAYING FOCUSSED

It's easy to lose focus during a poker game, especially if you win a big pot. Successful players will always stay on target and won't get distracted. If you're not paying attention to what's happening at the table, you are forgoing a chance to look for tells and other opportunities to get an edge over your opponents. The best poker players are always alert, and always observing the action at the table regardless of whether or not they are in the hand.

FOLDING AND PATIENCE

The biggest mistake beginners make is to play every hand; the mentality that you have to be 'In It To Win It' might work with other casino games, but not poker. A good poker player will usually pick their spots and wait for the right cards before they risk chips. Folding lots can be frustrating, and being patient can be challenging, especially if you're slowly losing your stack to the blinds, but that self-control is what separates an average player from an excellent one. Unless it's a timed game, there is no need to take unnecessary risks.

ALWAYS PLAYING AND LEARNING

Professional poker players spend thousands of hours playing the game, perfecting their craft, and learning what strategies work. Despite what some people think, poker is like a sport; if you don't train and consistently improve your skills, there is no way you're going to succeed long term.

FEARLESSNESS

The most successful poker players are fearless or can at least give off the impression that they aren't afraid. Sometimes, it's necessary to make a big bluff or fold a high-ranked hand because you're sure someone else has better cards. To succeed at poker, you can't be afraid to make the big calls and lose money, even when an opponent re-raises the bet. Backing down at the first sign of trouble will make it very hard to win at the poker tables.

SKILLS OF SUCCESSFUL POKER PLAYERS

To succeed at poker requires more than just a few good habits; you also need to have the skills and knowledge to back it up. Some of these skills take years to learn, but every single one of them is necessary to have the best chance of success.

KNOW THE NUMBERS

Calculating the win/loss percentage of every hand is a skill all poker professionals have. A top-notch pro will be able to tell you the exact percentage of every hand, which helps them make mathematically superior decisions.

READING OTHER PLAYERS

Reading other players is one of the most challenging skills to learn, and is almost impossible to master; people are unpredictable, especially when under pressure. Successful poker players learn all the expected reactions when people are under pressure and watch for the tell-tale signs. The more information you have on an opponent’s mindset, the easier it is to make the best decision for each situation.

KNOW HOW TO PLAY EVERY STYLE

Poker has a lot of playstyles; most players will learn one and stick with it. Successful poker players know every style and switch between them when needed, such as playing loose and aggressive early, then swapping to tight and passive as the game drags on. The best players can adapt to the table conditions and adjust their play accordingly.

BANKROLL MANAGEMENT

Proper bankroll management is a very underrated aspect of poker. Figuring out how much you can afford to lose will ensure you don't spend what you need for essentials and allow you to focus on the game. Bankroll management is essential to longevity in poker. There are plenty of players who win big, then spend all their winnings in a week and end up broke. There are plenty of professionals who lost everything when they first tried to start a poker career, but all the most successful ones quickly learn how to manage their roll effectively.

THINKING STRATEGICALLY

Many of the world's top poker players have a background in chess or other similar strategy games, giving them a huge advantage over their opponents. The ability to think of an action's pros and cons and develop a solution for a favorable outcome is an essential skill that can take years to develop but is ultimately worth taking the time.

SPOTTING WEAK PLAYERS

Like lions on the African plains, good poker players are predators who can spot weakness a mile away. Knowing when to adjust play and increase the pressure to exploit an opponent's weakness is often the difference between winning and losing. It can be very gratifying to play against an opponent of equal skill and win, but it can also be very costly. The ideal situation is to play against weaker players, which means being able to spot them. Weaker players are easy to beat because you can generally bluff them out of the pot with a big and well-placed bet.

FAMOUS SUCCESSFUL POKER PLAYERS AND WHAT THEY CAN TEACH YOU

1. DOYLE BRUNSON (THE TEXAS DOLLY)

Total Poker Winnings —$6,176,737

Largest Prize Money Win —$1,198,260

Doyle Brunson played professional poker for more than 50 years before retiring and is considered one of the game's living legends. Throughout his illustrious career, he won the World Series of Poker Main Event twice, in 1976 and 1977, and has ten World Series of Poker bracelets to his name.

What You Can Learn From Doyle Brunson—Sometimes you just need to go for it, and nobody does that better than Doyle Brunson. Typically, a hand with a 10-2 is terrible in Texas Hold’em, with almost zero potential, but to this day, it has the nickname ‘Doyle Brunson Hand’ because of his dual victories with it at the World Series of Poker in 1976 and 1977. Ignoring all good sense, Brunson took the cards to the river and came out a winner. The cards can often mean nothing in poker; it's how you play them that matters.

2. DAN BILZERIAN

Dan Bilzerian is an American businessperson, social media influencer and amateur poker player. Despite never winning a major tournament or bracelet, he claims to have made millions from poker cash games. Many are dubious of this and instead credit his trust fund, many business ventures, and highly lucrative social media presence for his wealth.

What You Can Learn From Dan Bilzerian—Maintain your demeanor even when everyone else is confident you are lying. Bilzerian oozes self-confidence and has the appearance of a successful poker player. Regardless of whether it's true or not, Bilzerian believes it is, and that is a skill worth learning, confidence in your cards, even if you are bluffing.

3. PHIL HELMUTH (THE POKER BRAT)

Total Poker Winnings —Over $23 million

Largest Prize Money Win —$2,645,333

Like him or hate him, Phil Helmuth is one of the most successful poker players of the modern era and has spent the last 20 years dominating the tables. He has 15 World Series of Poker bracelets to his name and was at one time the youngest player to win the Main Event, taking out two-time defending champion Johnny Chan in the process. Helmuth's playstyle is unconventional, and his skill or lack thereof has been debated ever since his first appearances on television.

What You Can Learn From Phil Helmuth—Phil Helmuth is an unconventional player and doesn’t adhere to most poker fundamentals. Most professional players will keep a calm demeanor at the table, but Helmuth is well known for outbursts. The best thing you can learn from Phil Helmuth is that poker isn't a conventional game, and there are many different strategies and styles that can be successful.

SIX QUICK TIPS TO BECOME MORE SUCCESSFUL AT POKER

1. SET REALISTIC GOALS

The reality is, the vast majority of people are never going to become a poker world champion, or even make a large profit playing the game. The easiest way to become disillusioned and fall into a bad mindset is to set an unrealistic goal that you can never achieve. Only a few ever make it to the top of the mountain, and the sooner you realize the odds of becoming a millionaire playing poker are very low, the easier it will be to focus on a realistic goal for your playing level.

2. EMBRACE ADVERSITY

Nobody can win all the time, especially at the poker tables. There will be sessions where you never win a hand, and if you are really unlucky, there might be a few in a row. This isn't necessarily bad; learning how to lose and still keep playing will help improve your mental toughness and alleviate any fear you have about losing. You will always learn more from a loss than a win, even if you only figure out a plan to play a hand better next time. Within adversity lies the opportunity to grow as a player.

3. KNOW YOUR LIMIT

High-stakes games are full of people who have been playing for years and are out for blood, and your chips. Know your limit, and don't get into a game far beyond your skill level. If you only want to play for fun, stick to low-stakes games. There is nothing more tragic than watching a player getting in over their head and getting massacred by poker sharks, don't be that person.

4. RAISE OR FOLD

Sometimes it's easier just to raise or fold rather than trying out a complicated plan or strategy. Tighten up your play style and avoid hands that aren't worth risking your stack. If someone else bets, raise, if you are unsure about the hand, fold.

5. PLAY POSITION

Playing in position will allow you to make the most informed decisions and, with some good fortune, achieve a favorable outcome. Play strong hands in early position, such as high pockets. The mid- to late-stages allow for more flexibility, and straights and flushes can be chased with less risk. The best poker players will generally play most of their cards from late positions because it allows them to see more of the game before having to act. Understanding and playing in position can provide a much-needed edge over opponents.

6. STEAL THE BLINDS

The blinds are often only small, but the small amounts can add up and make a decent-sized stack after a while. Generally speaking, a bet four times the current pot size is enough to scare away all but the most determined. The best place to try and steal the blinds is from an early or late position because it allows you to set the tone, or judge if it is the right time to employ this strategy. The most important thing to know is sometimes the ruse will fail, and somebody will call or re-raise, which is why you should have a predetermined amount you are prepared to risk.