5 Signs of a Good Texas Hold'em Player

What Makes a Good Texas Hold'em Player

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Before reading this article, think about what makes a great poker player in your own mind.

Is it someone who can read into their opponent’s soul and zero in on their exact hole cards? Someone who can make huge daring bluffs without breaking a sweat? Someone with an unreadable poker face?

All of these are good guesses, but there’s way more to being a good poker player than meets the eye.

This article will examine 5 traits virtually all good poker players have in common.

How many of these do you have?

1. Good Texas Holdem Poker Players Work on Improving Their Game, Constantly

The best players in the game aren’t necessarily the ones with some innate talent, psychic abilities or what have you. 

Nobody is born a great poker player, and everyone was a fish at some point. 

The difference between fish and good poker players is the fact that the latter work on improving their game. 

Fish stay fish because they often don’t even see the point of working on their game, because they believe poker is all about luck, anyway. 

Good poker players, on the other hand, know that poker is a game of skill with a short-term luck element involved. 

Check out Nathan's recent video if you're constantly getting "unlucky" in poker.

The luck element makes the game exciting and accessible to a wide variety of players, but over the long run, the players with the best results will be the ones with the superior knowledge of the game. 

And the ones with the superior knowledge are the ones that actually work on attaining it. It has very little to do with talent. 

Granted, some of it has to do with your natural inclinations and your temperament that’s not entirely within your control. 

But the amount of effort you’re willing to put in to improve is something that’s entirely within your control. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about the hours you put in. Great poker players have simply put more time and effort into honing their skills.

In order to improve your poker results, first you need to know where your game may be lacking in the first place. You can’t improve if you don’t even know what you should work on. 

When it comes to poker, it can be tricky to know which aspect of your game needs work. 

Since there’s a short term element of luck involved, a lot of players misattribute their weak results to bad luck, and good results to their superior skill, even though it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two in the short term. 

If you want to derive any meaningful conclusions about your game, first you need a reliable way to measure your results over a significant sample size. 

If you’re playing poker online, you can use a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4.

PokerTracker 4 collects hand histories from your preferred online poker site and shows you a comprehensive report on your stats, including your winrate, hours played, hourly rate and so on.

Keeping track of your results is only one of the benefits of using PokerTracker 4. Another useful feature is the Leak Tracker, which shows you exactly where your stats fall out of the norm from most winning players. 

For example, if you’re playing too many hands in early position, if you’re not c-betting enough, if you’re being too passive on the river and so on.

This means you don’t need to guess what you may be doing wrong. PokerTracker tells you EXACTLY what you need to improve.

You can also run filters to show hands that match a certain criteria. For example, if you’re not c-betting the turn often enough, you can run the filter for spots where you had the opportunity to make a c-bet on the turn, but failed to do so. 

The filters can be as broad or as specific you want, depending on what you want to focus on.

This is only scratching the surface of the features available with PokerTracker 4. 

There’s also an insanely useful heads-up display (HUD) that shows you your opponent’s stats as you’re playing in real time.

Check out all the best poker software the pros use to take their game to the next level these days.

Also, check out Nathan’s article on the most useful HUD stats you should know and get a good free poker HUD if you play online.

2. A Good Texas Hold'em Poker Player is Emotionally Resilient

Poker can be incredibly punishing even at the best of times. There’s very few competitive arenas in which a superior player loses as often. 

The fact that everyone can win makes the game appealing in the first place, but it can be incredibly frustrating when you seemingly get punished for doing everything right. 

Yet, this is the reality of poker. The bad beats and coolers never end, and the deck can run cold far longer than you could imagine. 

This is arguably the hardest aspect of the game to come to terms with, even for experienced poker players. 

These days, everyone can learn the winning poker strategy. What were once the secrets of the trade is now common knowledge for anyone with an internet connection. 

What prevents most poker players from achieving success in the game is not necessarily lack of knowledge. 

It’s the inability to stay the course in periods where the proven winning strategy isn’t producing the desired results.

5 Signs of a Good Texas Hold'em Poker Player

Anyone can play well when the deck is hitting them in the face. But to keep playing your best once everything is seemingly working against you is a whole other story.

Good poker players are, therefore, emotionally resilient above all else. They’ve learned that what happens to them at the felt is random and impersonal. 

A lot of players often feel slighted when things aren’t going their way. In fact, some go so far to claim their poker site is rigged against them. 

There’s rarely any merit to these types of claims, yet a lot of people swear by them. One of the reasons for this is the so-called negativity bias.

Negativity bias is the tendency to put more weight on what we perceive as negative events than the positive events of the same proportion. 

In other words, negative events have a greater impact on one’s psychological state than positive events.

If you’ve played poker for some time, you know exactly what this is about. 

Let’s say you go all-in preflop and win a coinflip. You’re obviously happy about it, but you forget about it after a while and you move on with your session. 

Now, contrast this with losing a coinflip and getting pissed off about it. 

Thoughts like: “I can’t believe I’m running this bad!”, “Why does this keep happening to me!?”, or “I NEVER win a damn coinflip!” are sure to pop in your head.

This is something that even Phil Ivey discusses in his advanced poker training program.

Then you’ll start ruminating on all the other times where you got robbed, coolered and so on. It’s not that you lost this one coinflip. 

It’s the fact that you KEEP losing coinflips over and over again, and you never seem to get your fair share of luck.

So what was actually a pretty innocuous and standard event can quickly spiral into anger, frustration, which in turn results in more bad plays, more losses, even more frustration and down the rabbit hole we go.

In other words, losing produces more negative emotion than winning produces positive emotion.

This is understandable, of course, but obviously completely irrational. Sometimes you’ll run well, and sometimes you’ll run terribly. Poker is unfair that way. But adding more weight to the times you run badly also isn’t fair. 

You obviously don’t ALWAYS lose a coinflip. You lose a coinflip 50% of the time, give or take. You just tend to forget the times you actually win.

Good poker players learn to take the bad with the good. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The players that make peace with that fact tend to win more than the ones that get caught up in bemoaning how terribly they’re running. 

For more info on how to deal with negative variance, and how to manage your poker career like a pro, check out the Microstakes Playbook.

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3. Good Poker Players Know Their Skill Edge

A good poker player is someone with superior knowledge and skill over their competition. It’s worth pointing out that your skill edge is RELATIVE to the games you choose to play in. 

A player who’s crushing at their local $1/$2 cash game is going to be considered a fish if they were to go up against Phil Ivey. 

Conversely, a mediocre professional poker player will clean up NL2 or NL5 online. 

You can be the sixth best player in the world, but if you go up against the top five players in the world, you’re going to lose over the long run. 

With that in mind, a good poker player knows the limitations of their skill level and plays only in games in which they have a significant edge. 

A lot of players lose in poker or are barely breaking even because they’re constantly playing in games just beyond their skill limit. 

Now, pushing just beyond your comfort zone and skill limit is the best way to actually improve as a poker player. Only playing against a bunch of clueless fish is a sure way to make your game stagnate.

So there obviously needs to be a balance between the two. There’s nothing wrong with taking an occasional shot at a higher limit, or playing in a tournament slightly beyond your bankroll from time to time. 

But constantly playing well beyond your bankroll and your skill level is going to bring you nothing but frustration over the long run. 

In order to improve, you need to have a positive feedback loop to tell you you’re on the right track. If you’re constantly losing despite your best efforts, you may need to reassess your game selection. 

Some players have a hard time with this, because they don’t want to play the games they deem “beneath them”. Their ego prevents them from dropping down in stakes because “they don’t want to play for pennies.”

Good poker players, on the other hand, are able to leave their ego at the door. This means they can examine their game critically, and see where their skills may be lacking. 

This makes them less likely to ascribe their bad results to external factors, such as variance, idiot opponents and so on.

Recognizing weaknesses in your opponent’s game is relatively simple. But recognizing inadequacies in your own game is an entirely different thing. 

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4. Good Poker Players Always Think Long Term

Poker has a short term luck element involved, which means that at any given session, anything can happen. 

Even if you’re by far the best player at your table, you can still lose spectacularly, and for prolonged periods of time. 

This short term luck element is what makes the game exciting, but it’s also infuriating when you’re the one on the receiving end of bad beats, coolers and so on. 

But your overall success in poker is not determined in a single session, or ten sessions, or even a hundred. 

It takes a long time for your skill edge to truly manifest. 

In fact, it takes so long that most people just don’t bother with it in the first place. 

Poker is the opposite of a get rich quick scheme. Anyone who views poker as an easy way to make a quick buck is in for a disappointment. 

The players who’ve had notable success in this game are the ones that took the time to hone their skills over months and years. 

They’ve also endured all the soul-crushing downswings along the way without throwing in the towel. In other words, they’ve endured the test of time. 

They didn’t give up when they were running terribly, and they kept showing up. They’ve also proved that they didn’t just get lucky. 

Anyone can “get lucky” and win a huge tournament, for example, but winning a single tournament does not equate to long term success in this game. 

Check out Nathan's recent video for tips on winning more poker tournaments.

In fact, a lot of players might get overconfident when they manage to take down a huge prize, and wrongly attribute it to their superior skill, when they were in fact just running hot for a while. 

In other words, variance was briefly on their side. They get the wrong impression they don’t need to work on their game because they’ve already have it all figured out. 

It’s only when the variance inevitably swings the other way that they realize they aren’t all that.

Therefore, good poker player is someone who doesn’t pay too much attention to short term results, both negative AND positive. 

Rather, it’s someone who’s adopted a long term outlook, and views their skills as the investment that’s going to pay dividends over time. 

Maybe not immediately, but sooner or later. 

That’s why the previous point of improving your game and investing in your knowledge is so crucial. 

The sooner you invest in your developing your skills, the more time you have for those skills to pay dividends. 

A lot of poker players make the mistake of putting off on studying their game, and use different excuses like: I’ll start studying once I reach an x limit, or I already know enough to beat my current limit and so on. 

This way of thinking is a surefire way to make your game stagnant over time. 

There’s no such thing as standing still. You’re either improving, or you’re deteriorating. 

If you want to learn the advanced poker strategies to take your game to the next level, check out Modern Small Stakes.

5. Good Texas Holdem Poker Players Use Proper Bankroll Management

Even if you’re the most technically skilled player at your poker table and have the mental fortitude of a buddhist monk, it’s all in vain if you end up broke. 

In poker, as in life in general, you need money to make money. 

All good poker players, therefore, follow strict bankroll management rules so they can ride out the short term fluctuations in their results without the risk of going bust. 

Your poker bankroll is the amount of money specifically set aside for playing poker, i.e. a select number of buyins for your preferred cash game, tournament, sit-and-go and so on.

The poker bankroll should be completely separate from your other money. You shouldn’t fund your bankroll with your rent money, or take out the money out of your bankroll to pay for groceries etc. 

Now, you might argue that money is fungible, i.e. one dollar bill is basically indistinguishable from another dollar bill, so who cares? 

You can move the money around, and the dollars in your bankroll are no different than the dollars in your bank account.

But the point of a poker bankroll is so you don’t have to move the money around constantly. If you set an appropriate amount of money the first time around, you don’t need to constantly reload once you run out of money. 

And if you’re not sufficiently bankrolled for the games you play, you WILL end up broke thanks to basic variance. 

Even if you’re a great poker player, you will still experience prolonged losing periods (aka downswings), even through no particular fault of your own. 

Downswings suck, but they’re an inevitable part of poker. 

It’s completely normal to experience 10 or even 20 buyin downswings due to the deck running cold. If you don’t have a sufficient bankroll, you’ll routinely end up going broke, and you won’t allow your skill edge to even fully manifest.

Not to mention the psychological toll of constantly needing to reach for your credit card to fund your account. If you set aside an appropriate amount the first time around, it should be the last time you ever need to fund your account again. 

As a general rule, it’s advised to have at least 30 buyins in your bankroll for cash games, and at least 100 buyins for tournaments, because tournaments have inherently more variance built into them. 

This means your results will be far “swingier” on average if you’re a tournament player.

These rules of thumb are enough to weather the basic variance, but more is always better, of course, if only for a peace of mind a healthy bankroll will provide you. 

It’s important to mention that following bankroll rules only apply if you’re a winning poker player to begin with. 

If not, the biggest bankroll in the world isn’t going to help you. You’ll just end up broke later rather than sooner.

Another important thing to remember is that you don’t need to adhere to strict bankroll rules if you’re only playing poker recreationally. 

All hobbies cost money, so why should poker be any different? But this article is about what makes a good poker player, and a good poker player is a winning poker player by default. 

And you can’t be a winning poker player over the long run if you keep going broke.

For more info on proper bankroll management, game selection, and when to move up or down the limits, check out Crushing the Microstakes.

What Makes a Good Texas Hold'em Player? - Summary

To sum up, here are the five traits virtually all good poker players have in common:

1. Constantly working on improving their game

Your poker success is not predicated on some innate talent, but the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into improving your game. 

The best poker players out there are the ones that are willing to go the extra mile when it comes to improving their game. 

They’re not in it for the money or fame (for the most part). They do it because they want to be the best at what they do.

2. Emotional resilience

Knowing a proven winning poker strategy is only a part of being a good Texas Hold'em player.

It’s also crucial to stay the course in periods when this strategy is not producing the results you’re hoping for. 

Being able to withstand the negative results is just as important as the technical game knowledge.

3. Self-awareness

Good poker players know the limitations of their own game just as well as the limitations in their opponent’s game. 

Knowing where your skills may be lacking is the first step to actually improving them. 

Also, knowing your skill edge in relation to your opponents allows you to only play in games you have a reasonable chance of beating over the long run.

4. Long term outlook

Poker is not a get-rich quick scheme. Good poker players know that success in this game takes time and perseverance. 

This means enduring the neverending downswings without throwing in the towel. 

Winning poker is about making the most +EV plays day in and day out, regardless of the negative short term results.

5. A+ bankroll management

Being mentally tough, maintaining a long term outlook and focusing on making the correct plays despite the negative results is a lot easier if you don’t end up going broke over and over again. 

And the only way to not go broke is to have a fortress bankroll that’s able to weather the negative variance. 

Aside from mitigating the risk of going broke, a healthy bankroll also gives you a peace of mind to keep playing your best, despite how badly you may be running.

Having these traits isn’t all it takes to succeed in this game, but not having them is a sure way to fail. 

Fortunately, just like any other skill, all of these traits can be attained with enough effort and practice. 

If you’re reading articles like this one, you’re already on the right path. 

So keep reading, keep improving, and the results will surely follow.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $5000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

What Makes a Good Texas Hold'em Player?