How to Think Like a Poker Pro: 3 Rules For Success

How to Think Like a Poker Pro
Poker is the ultimate game of mental warfare. Because it doesn't matter how good you are, you will get humbled by this game sooner or later.

In fact, I don't care if your name is Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey, you will get humbled again and again and again by this game.

And this is the main reason why so many people are ultimately not successful at poker. It is unbelievably difficult at times to handle the adversity that this game will throw at you.

I personally have gone through several stretches in my 10+ year pro career where I literally thought I was the worst poker player in the world and I would never win again.

I thought to myself maybe the haters were right after all! Maybe I really was just a luckbox fish on a heater. The thoughts that can enter your head during times like this are crazy.

Because even though I have millions and millions of hands of evidence to the contrary (that I indeed am a large winning poker player), this game can absolutely strip away any sense of logical thinking from you.

The only way to survive in this game is to learn how to think like a poker pro.

1. You Have to Learn to Let Go

I think the first key to learning how to think like a poker pro is to understand before you even begin that sometimes you are gonna be so far up sh*t's creek without a paddle, you won't even know what hit you.

There are simply going to be times in your poker career where you will lose for days, weeks or even months on end even while you are playing excellent poker.

I am not aware of any other game on earth that has this kind of warped outcome. It goes completely against everything we are taught in life.

We are taught from an early age to work hard, get good grades, be kind to others, keep your nose clean and so on and good things will come your way in life. And for the most part this is true.

This kind of causal relationship is not always the case in poker though.

Sometimes you can completely destroy the competition, be out-thinking and out-playing them on so many levels, but all it takes is one lucky river card and you are done.

And this is why the first step in learning how to think like a poker pro is to just let go. I know it sounds a little counter-intuitive but this is all you can do sometimes.

There is no point in trying to understand it. How can you make sense of something that is inherently non-sensical?

Yes, that fish just hit another miracle on the river against you and your aces got cracked for the 8th time in a row. Welcome to the wonderful game of poker.

You can get either let this eat you alive and go tilt away half your bankroll like most people do, or you can learn to approach it like the pros do, and just breath, smile and let go.

2. What Goes Around Always Comes Around in Poker

Now I don't really consider myself to be a Buddhist but I do live in a 95% Buddhist country. And I believe that many of the concepts and ideas from this spiritual practice and philosophy apply directly to poker.

And I am specifically referring to the idea of Karma. Or as we often say in English "what goes around comes around."

Despite how crazy this game can seem in the moment sometimes, you will get "paid back" eventually for those 8 losses in a row with your AA.

It might not happen today, next week or even by next month. But it will happen eventually because at the end of the day poker is just cold hard math, odds and statistics.

And what I have learned more than anything is that if you consistently play well, then good results will come your way in the end.

This is why it is so important to find one consistent winning strategy and never waver from it no matter what your results have been lately.

This is the mistake that most people make. They determine their strategy based on whether they have been winning or losing lately.

If they have been winning big they will typically play a bit tighter and even quit early to "protect" their winnings.

However, if they have been losing though, then they will often play looser and more aggressive, make more bluffs, and play as long as possible to try and get even.

Sound familiar?

However, constantly changing your strategy like this depending on your results is like deciding whether you are going to be happy or not based on the weather outside.

Because you are giving up power over the one thing you do control in this game, your attitude and how you play the game.

You have to understand that short term results in poker are always going to be completely outside of your control. Focus on the one thing you do control, consistently playing each hand to the best of your ability.

3. You Can Choose to Play Good Poker All the Time

And this is indeed what I mean when I talk about how to think like a poker pro. The mindset of a poker champ is one of choosing to play great poker all the time, not just when they are winning.

You see, when we are winning in poker, hitting all our draws, coolering everyone and so on, poker is an easy game. Anybody can look like a genius when they have AA and the other guy has KK.

The real key to success in this game is all about how well you are able to play when you are the one getting the short end of the stick again and again.

Most people suddenly start playing a LAG style (loose and aggressive) and make all kinds of crazy bluffs and bad calls in a vain attempt to win it back.

And don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a LAG style of play. In fact I often recommend it and it's actually really profitable when done right.

But if you are a TAG player and suddenly turn LAG just because you are losing, this is going to be a disaster. And that is the mistake most people make.

Real poker pros and top players instead see losing as an opportunity to separate themselves from everybody else. And that is by sticking with the same disciplined strategy no matter what their recent results have been.

Because the truth is that you absolutely can choose to play the same solid strategy all the time if you want to. The buck always stops with you in this game. You are the one in control.

You should actually see running bad as a blessing. It is an opportunity to show what you are really made of as a poker player.

I love running bad because I know 95%+ of my competition at the micros will not handle it as well as I do. They will become overly emotional and make mistakes.

But hey, nobody is perfect. I certainly am not. And running bad for an extended period of time will get to anyone.

So if you feel that you are just too tilted to play a strong disciplined game, then you have another option as well, quit for the day.

We are often told growing up that "quitters never win." Again, this is true in most cases in life, but once again, not in poker. Being able to quit at the right time is a hugely important skill that all top poker pros possess.

And this is because they know that real long term consistent success in this game is just about applying the same winning strategy again and again and again over the long term.

Consistency is the Key to Everything in Poker (And in Life)

It's the exact same thing if you want to have success in areas such as business, fitness or relationships. You get good results in all of these with consistent effort over time.

It's about showing up consistently whether you feel like it or not.

This blog that you are reading right now is a perfect example of this. Why will thousands of people end up reading this blog post when so many other blogs out there receive very little traffic at all?

It is because I have consistently published an article every single week for 5+ years now on this website and have built up a large, loyal audience.

Same thing with my poker YouTube channel which recently surpassed 10k subscribers (thank you by the way). It's just all about consistent effort applied over time.

And it is absolutely the same with poker. If you apply the same simple poker strategies that I talk about all the time consistently over a period of months and years at the micros, you will win.

If you are just in this game for the quick buck or to gamble it up, then you may as well just give up now. Poker is not a get rich quick scheme.

In order to have success in poker you need to be in this thing for the long haul (months, years, even decades). This is how poker pros think.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to think like a poker pro is one of the hardest things you can ever learn to do because it often means suspending all logic and just blindly trusting in the process for long periods of time.

And this is extremely difficult in the "give me results now" world that we live in. The idea of waiting for months or years to see real results in poker is just not something that most people can handle.

But unfortunately this is the way that the game actually works in reality.

Most poker pros who I know have been at this thing for years and years, and like me, they have put in way, way more hours at the poker tables than the average amateur player.

They are truly in this thing for the long run. They know that in order to see the results that they want, they need to keep consistently applying the same winning strategy day in and day out.

But once again, let's get real here. You wouldn't start a new business and expect to start seeing big profits by next week right?

No of course not, it will often take years before you start to see any sort of real progress. It literally took 14 years to start turning a significant profit.

So why should you expect any different in poker? Why do so many people pick up a poker book or study a few charts and expect to be crushing the games and going pro by next month?

What if Jeff Bezos decided after a month or two that this thing would never work out because they weren't seeing any results yet? Just imagine that!

Look, the short term will always be complete madness in poker. Don't let it destroy you like it does to so many others. Challenge yourself to rise above and be stronger than the game.

Learn to think like a poker pro.

By the way, if you want to know about my day to day life as a poker pro traveling the world, make sure to follow me on Instagram.

Let me know your thoughts on how poker pros think in the comments below. Do you think it is important to remain calm and consistent?

How to Think Like a Poker Pro


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. And here are 3 rules, you must follow, if you want to fail in poker:

    1) Always remember, that you are gods gift to poker. So if you lose, it must be because, the site is rigged. It has nothing to do with the way, you play, or the rake.

    2) The fish always get all the luck, and therefore its impossible for good players like you to win in poker at the lowest stakes. Its better for you to move up, where they respect your raises.

    3) If you lost some big pots to a bad player, you have to win your money back again from this exact player and show him, who is boss. Remember its always personal.

    1. I like this response as much as I liked the article. Good job to both of you.

    2. As per the third rule,its pretty stressfull for a live pro to run like shit when the games are great,and run like a god when the games are stagnant,short stacks or regfest..

  3. Really a Great read not just 4 poker but also for life, Thanks Hope You have a great Day Blackrain79 much love Peace . . .

    1. Thanks Dfox hope you are doing great!

  4. Nice info Nathan, you should continue releasing more posts about mindset. Best of lucks to you! Take care!

    1. Thank you Jorge as always for reading! Take care as well.

  5. Great advice. The common use of the word 'crushing' in this context is unfortunate as it does seem to imply something rapid and forceful. What we really mean is 'returning a profit over a sample of 100,000 hands', as that is the most that can be expected even with perfect strategy. But I guess that doesn't sound as good!

    1. Thanks Ed, ya the word crushing gets tossed around a lot in poker. I am probably the worst culprit of this as I wrote a book with that word in the title haha. But you are right, nothing is quick or easy in poker.

  6. Nice one Nathan. A typo - after saying nobody is perfect you've written I certainly am now. Instead of certainly am not. Which makes it devilishly funny actually.

    1. Thanks Jayant. Haha, I will change that now, thanks!

  7. Recently i lost 2.5 buy ins ($1/2) within two hands consecutively with SAME villian
    my QQ vs random two pair
    my middle set ran into NFD in 3b pot

    all because i tried bluff catching knowing myself thinking ahead, 'my opponent is gonna be bluffing this time since we won the last pot, he's thinking im weak minded now, doesn't he?'' i was having the last $125 calling decision on that all in shove onto me.

    Ego is a big thing also, if i knew i could let my ego away, i will save that last $125. but the pot was around $389

    1. I’ve literally just replied to Nathan’s post and I say, throw away that ego of yours and in my opinion, that’s 50% towards being a better player. It happens, it will carry on happening and that’s why it’s super important to make sure you are Bankrolled to play the levels you are playing. That’s probably why a lot of players moan about BadBeats, because actually they’ve just lost 25% of their Bankroll with that lucky river they outdrew you. Proper Bankroll players have no need to moan because they simply reload because yes you guessed it, they were properly Bankrolled.

  8. I can see that the Buddhist mindset is getting to you Nathan. That's a good thing. When you are done thinking about poker you can become a monk! I can guarantee that you won't have any problem adapting since you have already picked up the way a monk thinks; detaching from the sweet promises of this world. 😎

    1. Haha not sure if that life is cut out for me but I do deeply respect this religion/way of life :)

  9. the thing to take in account is how you value your time.grinding is very conusming and i cant grind nl 2 nl 5 anymore.At the end of the day only 5 % of the players will turn a profit (significant) each their own

    1. Why is that? That only 5% turn a profit.
      I’ll tell you, it’s because they know when to bet, when to fold and when to raise. All of us including me, have been guilty calling a bet out of frustration. You won’t find that 5% doing that. That’s the big difference and the sooner you stop that leak, the quicker you start to turn a profit. It took me a while but eventually, I learned when to bet and when to give up and I’ve been a winning player for over 10 years easy maybe longer. An no, I don’t play mid or high stakes, I play with no ego and have no problem playing 1/2c or 2/5c or $2/$4. It’s never about the money for me, it’s about beating what’s in front of me.

  10. This blog is so timely for me. I've been on a losing streak for weeks even in online UNO. I've lost about 40 6-player tournaments with only a few sporadic 2nd place wins even though I thought I was mostly making the right plays. Today's blog gives me inspiration to carry on. Now back to the tables. Thanks, Mike J.

    1. Thanks Mike, glad I could help you.

  11. Once you learn to accept bad runs the quicker you will become in your poker career. I stopped a long time ago ranting and raving about how they hit the miracle one outer. If it’s not 100% it’s not certain, that’s the only thing that stopped me. These days, I just sigh and fire up another game.
    But you need a good Bankroll to be able to do just that. Playing a level higher than you are Bankrolled for will also interfere with your decisions. That’s the term, playing scared.
    I have no intention in ever being a Poker Pro, it’s just a name to someone who works at something more than anything else they do to pay the bills. Why would I want the Tax people in my case if I was a professional poker player. Let’s face it, you are making a living and so you should still pay your taxes, wherever if I remained a poker hobbyists, I have nothing to fear from the taxman in the U.K.
    I would also never brag about using the term, I’m a Poker Pro. Why would you want others to know, it’s. -EV and you may find it harder to find a game that want you to play with them. So keep quiet and resist the urge of bragging to anyone that you are a Poker Pro.
    I use to see usernames, JoePokerPro, IpokerPro Pro this Pro that. The funny thing was they were playing 1/2c cash games or $1 MTT’s.
    In a way Nathan should not advertise the fact that you play micros and announce you are a Pro. I’m sure it’s cost you money before.
    I could win a $million in a Stars series main event and you’d still see me playing $10 MTTs the next day. Through away that ego and you’ll be half way there.

    All in my humble opinion of course.