Can Anyone Learn to Win at Poker? Yes and No.

Can Anyone Learn to Win at Poker?


A common question that people ask me is can anyone learn to win at poker. Or can anyone learn to become a poker pro.

I think that ultimately most people can learn to win at poker eventually, but becoming a poker pro is a lot more difficult, and something that only a very small amount of people can do.

And what's more is that in my opinion there are certain personality traits that make some people more likely to become a long term winning poker player than others.

As someone who has played this game professionally for many years and learned to win early on in my poker career, I am going to explain it all for you in this article.


Can Anyone Learn to Win at Poker?


So can anyone learn to win at poker eventually? Well, I would say that most people probably can.

As I have discussed many times on this blog, the poker games at the lowest limits online like NL2 (1c/2c blinds) and NL5 (2c/5c blinds) are still very easy to beat.

The same goes for most live cash games like $1/$2 and low buy-in tournaments or sit and gos whether online or in the casino.

I think one of the biggest reasons why many people do not win at poker though is simply a lack of discipline.

You see, here's the thing with poker. Amateurs play for fun. They make bad calls when they are beat. They get emotional and tilt away all their winnings when they get unlucky and so on.

And this is why they keep slowly losing at poker for years and years. Many of them even convince themselves that it is all rigged against them!

But the much smaller group of consistently winning amateurs and pros learned how to win by finally realizing that discipline is the key to success in poker.

Here are my top 5 keys to success for new poker players by the way:


Much like going to the gym regularly or sticking to a diet, if you can't learn how to discipline yourself enough to make a tough fold or minimize your tilt, you simply can't win at poker, period.

And in my experience having played millions and millions of hands online and having coached 100+ people at the lower stakes, this is their #1 problem.

Look, I know this isn't the "sexy" answer that anyone wants to here. After all, discipline is a bit of a nasty word these days. Because that means hard work right? Making uncomfortable decisions?

Yikes. Nobody wants that in our "give me results right now" 21st Century reality.

However, I am sorry to be the bearer of grim news. Those who can learn to discipline themselves and make the right fold for example are the ones who win at poker.

Most people will make the bad call because they just "have to see it." And that is why they continue to lose.

Because as I said off the top, honestly, games like NL2 online are extremely easy to beat. All you really need is a simple TAG strategy and a little bit of tilt control.

You don't need an Elon Musk intellect to beat these games. In fact, most normal people could learn to smash the NL2 games online in a week or two.

The real question is if you can learn to discipline yourself at the poker table even when your luck goes south for long periods of time. Most people cannot do this.

And therefore, they unwittingly also choose to continue losing at poker.


Can Anyone Become a Poker Pro?


Now let's talk about becoming a poker pro or even a semi-pro next. Can anyone do this?

In my opinion, it's a lot less people that are capable of becoming a poker pro. And I think that most people would do better to simply keep their day job, and forget about this.

The reason why playing poker for a living is so much more difficult is because not only do you need to be disciplined, but you also need to develop a strong work ethic and be continually improving your game.

The other thing that nobody tells you when you decide to "go pro" is that the whole game will change for you.

Big time.

In fact, it's not even a game at all anymore. As I discussed in my recent 10 years as a poker pro post, when you turn pro you only have one option, win.

Because after all, you can't pay the rent or the electricity bill with poker losses.

And this really turns poker into more of a job than a fun side hobby. The "grind" as they call it, really starts to become real. Because that is exactly what it is.

But of course it is not all bad. For example, playing poker professionally gives me the ability to travel often and work from anywhere on earth:

Can Anyone Learn to Win at Poker?

When you go pro poker becomes more or less just like a regular job. You have to approach it like a professional every single day. And this can take a lot of the fun out of the game for some.

This also creates a lot of stress because lengthy losing streaks (downswings) are not very fun when paying your bills depends on this game.

But this is also why I suggest that you have a massive bankroll as a poker pro and a clear history of consistent success (at least one year) before you ever attempt to play poker professionally.

People often ask me about my situation when I turned pro way back in 2004. Well, I had a 5k poker bankroll and I was playing NL100. I also had 5k in the bank for life savings.

I had also played part time practically every single day for the year previous to this with zero losing months.

Looking back though, I think even this is probably too little these days. I would rather have double this bankroll and life roll to go pro today, especially if you come from an expensive western country like me, Canada.

The other thing to consider is that the games are a lot tougher now than when I first started playing this game professionally. There is much less "easy" money out there anymore.

I was a young kid with a dream at the time though. And I don't want to dash anyone else's dreams either. But most people should just play this game as a hobby, maybe semi-pro at most.

This is something that I actually wrote about recently. Poker as a part time job.


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How Do You Know If You're a Good Poker Player?


So how do you even know if you are good at poker though?

Well, this is why first and foremost I always suggest using a tracking program like PokerTracker to keep track of your results if you play online.

And if you play live, there are plenty of free apps that you can also use to keep track of your poker results. I mention a few of them in my recent essential poker software article.

The reason why you always want to have some way to objectively track your results is because we as poker players often have a bad memory.

In fact, many poker player when you ask them about their results will simply say that they are "somewhere around break-even"

And this simply isn't good enough especially if you take this game seriously at all. You need to know exactly how much you are winning (or losing).

Can Anyone Learn to Win at Poker?

Because the cold hard data never lies and if you don't know your real results then you may as well just go play bingo or something, because the whole point of poker is to show a net profit over the long term.

This is why I have always focused purely on winning the maximum amount at the poker tables. As I discuss in The Micro Stakes Playbook, I am always trying to make the "great play."

This is the poker decision which is optimal against a specific opponent in a specific situation. In other words, the decision that makes the most money over the long run.

Because at the end of the day, this is the only thing that matters in this game. Dollars and cents. Did you win or lose when everything is said and done?

As I have said many times on this poker blog I am not the best player in the world, not even close. I am also pretty bad at poker math, truth be told.

But what I am good at is separating bad poker players from their money with lightning efficiency. And I have managed to make a career out of this, when many others have failed.

The best poker player in the world in my opinion is the one who has made the most money. Period and end of story.

Because, let's face it, this is the whole point of the game! This is the poker "scoreboard."

This is why I often list Phil Ivey as the best poker player to ever live because he has the highest publicly documented winnings of anybody who has ever played this game.

Make sure that you are accurately tracking your results and focus on creating solid consistent winnings over the long run. This is how you know that you are a good poker player.


What Personality Traits Are Necessary to Win at Poker?


Lastly, let's talk about the personality traits that are necessary to become a winning poker player. As much as I hate to say it, I think some people are better suited to win at poker than others.

Firstly, I already mentioned that winning poker requires a ton of discipline from making the tough fold to quitting when you know it isn't your day and you are starting to tilt.

So, this means that the type of people who are more likely to succeed in poker are those who are patient and can see a goal through to it's end.

Highly impulsive people who like to gamble it up and view poker as a get rich quick scheme rarely succeed. This is the same for people who need to see results right away.

I think work ethic, which is closely aligned with this, is another big part of becoming a winning poker player.

As I have mentioned many times on this blog, what is the #1 common attribute that you find among almost every single big winning poker player?

Can Anyone Learn to Win at Poker?

That's easy.

They have played far more hands of poker than everybody else! They take the grind seriously and they are in there every single day no matter what.

There are tons of great advanced poker strategy courses, poker books, coaches and so on to learn from these days. But honestly, one of the best ways to improve is through simple trial and error.

I have played over 10 million hands of poker throughout my career. This gives me a huge advantage over most poker players who have nowhere near this level of experience.

The best poker players in the world continually work on their craft every single day to get better and improve. And they put in the hard hours at the poker tables.

Lastly, let's discuss intelligence. Are some people naturally better than others at mathematics, logical reasoning, quick decision making and handling pressure?

Sure of course.

But is there any direct correlation between all of this (or even your "IQ level") and winning at poker? Probably not as much as many people think.

I think that highly intelligent people will naturally pick up the game of poker and learn to win faster than others.

But I don't think that being highly intelligent is a necessary condition of becoming a winning poker player. It is instead merely just a sufficient condition of becoming a successful poker player.


Final Thoughts


So what is the final verdict here? Can anyone learn to win at poker? Can anyone become a poker pro? Are you going to be the next Phil Ivey?

Well, I think at the lowest stakes most people could learn to become a winning poker player if they really wanted it bad enough.

And what I really mean by that is being disciplined enough to make the right plays no matter how things have been for them lately.

This also includes knowing when to quit and not chasing losses when it clearly just isn't your day at the poker tables.

Too many people start making terrible calls and tilting like crazy any time the tiniest bit of adversity strikes for them at the poker table. You can't win at poker like this.

Going pro is a whole different discussion though. I think very few people should attempt to play poker professionally because it changes everything about the game for you.

Playing poker for a living is also one of the most stressful and demanding jobs that I can personally think of.

However, for a very small amount of people it can work out. And there is the obvious benefit of the freedom to work where and when you want which is a big bonus for some people.

Lastly, it is really important to always track your results so that you know if you are a good poker player or not. Good poker players win consistently over the long run.

There is really nothing more to it than that.

If you want to know how I consistently make $1000+ per month in low stakes poker games, and how you can too, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

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Let me know in the comments below if you think anyone can learn to win at poker. What about going pro?

Can anyone learn to win at poker?

8 comments:

  1. Excellent article. I agree that most people could probably learn how to beat the lower stakes games but very few will last as a pro.

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    1. Thanks TJ! Ya for sure, beating low stakes games as a side hobby is relatively easy. Surviving this game as a pro over the long haul, whole different story haha.

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  2. Very good assessment. I'm reasonably intelligent, university degree, but not maths!

    I retired quite a while back with a good pension but thought I could supplement it from poker.. Dived in, read a few books by Sklansky, Harrington et al, and with a reasonable bank stupidly jumped in at 2c 5c and higher, thinking I knew it all.. Got absolutely mullered!! After finding your excellent low stakes guidance I can now hold my own down there, but I fear moving up a few spaces on the ladder is probably going to be beyond my ability, as i can't devote the required amount of time..

    I also suspect I have missed the boat by about 15-20 years, from what I can gather..!

    Keep up the good work, I enjoy everything you produce..

    Cheers,

    Dave

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    Replies
    1. Hey Dave,

      That's awesome! I am glad that my poker advice is helping you find your way at the micro stakes. Let me know how it goes for you :)

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  3. Hey, mate. Do you still play? If yes, could you make an article where you post your recent results and talk a little bit about your current carrer?

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    1. Hi Giovanni,

      Yes I do still play. I talk about my poker career from time to time on social media.

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  4. To me your article was amusing. Especially after reading it all the way to the end and then see you can teach me how to make $1000 a month playing 1-2 no limit!! 😂😂😂😂😂😂 Beautiful, good luck with your poker career!! By the way, I estimate you to be in your mid thirties, if so no worries, you can still learn! 🤗🤗

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading! All the best in your poker career as well :)

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