After 10 years in poker now, both playing the game professionally and writing several books about it, I have seen A LOT. I have seen so many people come and go. So many monumental changes in the industry and so on.
But I still occasionally see some of the same names and faces at the poker tables. Some of the same players who I have been battling against in some cases for a decade now. Some of them have even moved up to the highest levels of the game.
What is it that makes these people different? So many other people end up failing to even win at poker at all. Yet there always seems to be a handful of players that you see consistently crushing the cash games and making final tables.
Well there is exactly ONE reason why in my opinion.
Turning Knowledge Into Results: Execution
The #1 reason why most people fail to win at poker in my opinion is not due to a lack of knowledge. In fact, sometimes these days players even at the lowest limits know far too much theory!
The real reason why they cannot produce actual results at the poker tables is because they fail to consistently apply this knowledge in all situations.
They fail to make the correct play when it really matters. And this boils down to one thing:
1. The carrying out or putting into effect of a plan, order, or course of action.
You see poker is an easy game to comment on and give your opinion. Anybody can do it. Everybody seems to be a genius away from the felt.
But there is one crucial difference between all of the armchair experts out there and the very few who actually produce real world results in this game that change bank accounts and lives.
That is, they consistently apply their poker knowledge in the heat of the moment. And they don’t just do it “sorta sometimes if they feel like it” or as long as they are running good.
No, elite players execute and apply their knowledge at the poker tables all of the time, even when things are going horribly, horribly wrong for them.
In fact, as I have discussed before, the real test of a poker player is how they react when they run really, really bad for a long time. This is the exact spot where you can still gain a massive edge even in today's tougher games.
Anybody can play good when all the cards are falling the right way for them. It doesn't take any real skill to play like a pro when you are coolering everyone and avoiding the bad beats.
But most people react very poorly when they hit a bad run of cards, when they can't make hands and the bad beats start to happen again and again and again. They start getting frustrated, make bad calls and sometimes even go on full blown tilt where they are literally just giving their money away.
The very best players though see this moment as a prime opportunity to get ahead of everybody else. They see this as the time when they get to separate themselves from the masses of breakeven and losing poker players by simply reacting better to adversity than they do.
How Do You Execute Your Poker Knowledge All the Time?
So how do the top players actually maintain this mental toughness, control their emotions and make the right play no matter what? Well first and foremost it begins with good preparation.
You have to know what the right play is in order to make it!
So elite players know the value of studying the game properly. And what this really means is studying the right material and then applying it at the poker tables.
They also prepare better for sessions both mentally and physically. So for instance they will never play when:
Also, many of the poker pros who I know take care of themselves better than most people. This means that they choose to eat right and exercise regularly as well.
Not exactly mind blowing stuff though right?
Everybody knows that if you eat right and exercise then you will feel better, sleep better and think better. This will have a direct positive impact on your ability to play your best poker at all times.
But so few actually do it.
The Will to Succeed: Discipline
And this leads me to my 2nd and even more important reason why the best poker players are able to execute and apply their knowledge in the moment better than others. Discipline.
In a recent Youtube video Doug Polk listed discipline as the #1 trait of the very best poker players. And I agree completely.
If you don't know who this guy is by the way, he is often regarded as one of the top heads up no limit players in the world. He is also one of those players who I was referring to before that I have seen for over a decade now at the tables and played against many times.
So let me just be totally blunt here.
If you suffer from a lack of discipline (that is, doing something that you know is the right thing even when you don't want to do it), then poker is probably not the game for you.
This game doesn’t care about your feelings. It doesn’t care if you have had too many bad beats lately. It doesn’t care if you are feeling frustrated, stressed out or even cursed.
It only rewards those who have the will to push through it and keep making the right play regardless of how they feel.
It also only rewards those who know when to quit if they are on tilt, make the effort to practice good table selection and put in the time studying the game away from the tables.
And all of this boils down to one thing, discipline.
Experience is the Great Equalizer
There is one other thing though that can take you a long way in this game and that is experience. I say it all the time on this blog and elsewhere, there is one common thing that almost all great players share:
They always seems to be at the tables playing poker!
The best poker players that I know have all played millions and millions of hands of poker or logged incredible amounts of hours live.
All of this experience forces you to see the same situations over and over again. For instance, in a small stakes game when you double barrel the turn with your overpair and a tight/passive player raises you, this is almost always going to be the nuts.
Usually even the most stubborn person in the world is eventually going to get the message to start folding here more often.
I know because this is exactly what happened to me. I learned this game almost 100% through trial and error. I had to lose all my money over and over again in spots like this before I finally learned to start folding more often.
Now it is important to point out that playing a maniacal amount of poker hands like I have won’t guarantee that you will become a great poker player. It is a necessary condition of success though in my opinion.
I don’t know any top players who don’t have massive amounts of experience playing this game.
The #1 reason why most people fail to win at poker actually has nothing to do with their knowledge of the game. In fact many people know too much these days especially at the lower stakes.
A very simple strategy like the one that I recommend is actually far more effective in most cases.
What most people lack instead is the ability to consistently apply and execute this knowledge in the heat of the moment when it actually matters.
The very best poker players out there, the ones who crush the games, often take care of their mind and bodies better so that they always approach each session ready to play to the very best of their abilities.
They also tend to have incredible work ethic putting in enormous numbers of hands and hours logged at the poker tables.
But the biggest reason why they are able to achieve top results is because they are more disciplined than others. And when you really break it down, discipline is just a bigger will to win than the next guy.
You are either going to make the right plays consistently or you are not. It's totally up to you each and every time you sit down to play poker. Your results in this game will be the direct byproduct of the choice you make here.
Let me know in the comments below what you think holds most people back in poker.