What Separates Good Poker Players from the Best - Part 2


After looking at the first four traits that separate good poker players from the best (dedication, composure, improving away from the table, and playing on your level), let's now turn our attention to the last four traits.

Learn When to Fold

Playing every hand is not always a smart move, and in fact it is downright ill-advised. You can’t always bluff your way out of a situation or afford to fold on the turn or river.

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And that’s what will happen if you play all (or most) hands simply to see if the flop will change your luck. It doesn’t work that way, and you should know the strength of your cards preflop to see if they’re worth playing.

A pair of aces, kings, queens, or jacks give you good grounds to continue playing. But strong hands like these will only come so often. In reality, you will likely need to fold between 60 and 80 percent of the time preflop.

Professionals will bluff only in carefully chosen spots (before or after the flop). Instead, they play a carefully evaluated range of hands that expands and contracts according to position at the table, and opponent tendencies.

Sometimes, you will be tempted to play preflop out of exasperation when experiencing a long run of poor starting hands, which is understandable.  It is, however, a leak and a habit pros train themselves to break.

Learning to Adapt

If you’re just starting out, you will come across many instances where your opponents get the better out of you. Your confidence and self-esteem will suffer, you might question your potential, and you may even think you’re out of your depth.

Even if you are, it doesn’t mean you will drown. If we go with the same analogy, sometimes it takes going in over your head to learn how to swim. You must be ready to accept some defeats before you have your five minutes of fame. Or was it 15?

Learning to adapt to unexpected scenarios correctly is challenging and requires strong mental discipline. But once you do, you’ll be sharing a commonality with many top poker players. 

It’s Not Just About the Pot Odds

Great players dedicate countless hours trying to improve their craft. For them, the phrase ‘good enough’ doesn’t exist. Learning everything there is to know about poker is impossible, but a lot can be learned. And basic calculations about your win probability and pot odds is a must-know.

The pot odds – the ratio of the size of the pot to the amount you should call – are easy to grasp. But pot odds are only as good as your card odds and equity (your probability of winning a portion or the whole pot).

Implied pot odds are another crucial element, though estimating them is more complicated. This is why it’s not surprising that only the best poker players stretch their brains to see if calling is the right move.

Implied odds cannot be estimated with the same precision as pot odds but will allow you to broadly see if your pot odds will improve post-flop, even when the pot odds are currently not in your favor.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

Playing too cautiously by avoiding making raises or re-raises is not always advisable. You don’t want to make yourself appear as a weak player who always limps and cold-calls but never raises or three-bets (re-raises before the flop).

You will be required to make decisions with less-than-premium hands. For example, if you’re in one of the blinds and someone raises preflop. Since the blind is a forced bet, and you’re facing a raise, you will feel compelled to defend your investment but risk losing even more if you call the raise. Simply folding all but the strongest hands - especially to late-position raises - is not going to be profitable. If you play too tight (too small a number of hands), opponents will quickly get your measure and know that your blinds can be stolen and you’ll only likely push back with raises holding very strong hands.

Of course, whether or not you defend your blind depends on your hole cards and your opponents. Defending your blind just because you don’t want to lose your forced preflop bet may seem bold, but you still need to know how to do it right and when to yield.

Final Thoughts

Learning the rules of poker is easy; upping your mental game and strategy is the real challenge. The fundamental difference between amateurs and pro poker players lies in their discipline.

Dedication will get you to the big boy's table, but to compete or even win against pros, you’ll need to quickly adapt to changes and learn when to let go of your hand.

Finally, staying composed and learning to take calculated risks are the key elements that can help turn anyone from an average player to an expert.

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