5 Traits of The Top 1% Poker Player

5 Traits of The Top 1% Poker Player

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

If you’ve ever wondered why some players rake in millions of dollars playing poker, while the vast majority of players lose money over the long run, you’ve come to the right place.

Contrary to popular belief, the top 1% of poker players don’t have some innate talent or psychic abilities.

In this article, we’ll take a look at traits virtually all elite poker players have in common.

By emulating these traits, you are guaranteed to see a dramatic improvement in your poker results.

Let’s get right into it.

Winning Poker Player Trait #1: Superior Skill

There are multiple traits needed to achieve long term success in this game.

But when you boil it down, the one thing that separates the elite poker players from everyone else is their superior skill and technical knowledge of the game.

Poker is a game of skill, and the players with a skill edge will win over the long run. 

It doesn’t matter how lucky or unlucky you think you are. Over the long run, the luck element will be evenly distributed among the player pool.

If you play poker long enough, you will get a fair share of both good luck and bad luck, respectively. 

After variance is accounted for, most people will lose money over the long run, and only a select few players will be big winners.

These players are the ones that have honed their skills over a long period of time, and simply understand the game way better than the players they play against.

Beneath the surface, poker is an incredibly complex game. 

Anyone can learn to play it, but very few people can actually master it.

The simplicity of the game gives people the illusion that anyone can win big with a bit of good luck.

There is certainly a kernel of truth in there, and it’s exactly what makes poker so exciting and popular in the first place.

But it takes more than a particularly fortunate run of cards to achieve long term success in this game.

A lot of players have come and gone over the years, and the fact is that most people don’t have what it takes to play at an elite level.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you enjoy playing basketball, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure if you’re not playing in the NBA.

Same thing with poker. You don’t need to play the nosebleed stakes to be considered a success.

You also don't need to quit your job and travel the world as a professional poker player like I did.

All you need to do is play in games where you have a significant skill edge over your competition.

This takes a bit of humility and honest self-assessment.

Poker provides plenty of room for self-delusion, and most poker players think they’re an above average player, and that they’re unluckier than most.

It’s kind of like when everyone thinks they’re an above average driver. It makes you think where all the bad drivers are, then.

Elite poker players know they’re more skilled than their competition because they have a track record to show for it.

But at the same time, they are acutely aware of both strengths and weaknesses in their game, and are constantly working at improving their game.

In other words, they are always looking for ways to take their game to the next level, even after achieving a certain amount of success.

If you already think you know the game inside and out, you can’t improve.

If you already think you know everything, what’s the point of making any additional effort?

But the fact is, nobody’s game is perfect, and if you think you have it figured out, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Even Daniel Negreanu keeps studying up on the game, despite the fact that he’s already achieved huge success in his career.

In fact, his dedication to constant learning is exactly what allowed him to achieve his success in the first place.

If you want to learn poker from the best in the world, check out Daniel Negreanu’s Masterclass.

Bottom line: the top 1% of players have spent years honing their skills, finding and eliminating weaknesses in their game, and have adopted the mindset of constant learning and self-improvement.

If that sounds like a daunting task, that’s because it is. Like in other areas of life, there are no shortcuts to success.

What you can do, however, is take little steps in the right direction every single day. After a while, the results of your efforts will compound in unbelievable ways.

You just have to be patient and trust in the process.

Check out Nathan's recent video on what you shouldn't do as a winning poker player.

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Winning Poker Player Trait #2: Discipline

Most players play poker primarily for fun, and this reflects how they approach the game. 

Unfortunately, playing poker for fun and playing poker to win are entirely different things.

In order to win at poker consistently, discipline is just as important as technical knowledge of the game.

This is especially the case when the cards don’t seem to fall your way, and you can’t win a hand to save your life.

In these instances, a lot of players start forcing the action, open-raising hands they know they shouldn’t be playing, chasing draws with incorrect pot odds, attempting bad bluffs and so on.

In other words, they start displaying subtle, but pernicious effects of tilt.

Being on tilt doesn’t exclusively mean having a full-blown Hellmuth-esque meltdown.

In fact, most of the symptoms of tilt may be too subtle to notice, but can affect your game nonetheless.

Great poker players aren’t necessarily completely immune to tilt.

We’re all humans, and we’re prone to experiencing negative emotions when things aren’t falling our way.

The same is true for great poker players, but they possess a certain level of self-discipline that allows them to keep playing close to their best no matter how they’re running.

Having self-discipline entails a few things in poker.

The first has to do with how well you’re sticking to the winning poker strategy despite the negative variance.

This means playing tight ranges from early positions, not bluffing the wrong opponents, considering the math behind your decision making process and so on.

In other words, it’s about making sound, logical decisions based on math and probabilities, instead of your emotions.

This is what poker is all about in a nutshell.

Therefore, discipline is about mastering your emotions, and it is a lifelong journey.

It’s worth noting that we aren’t talking about suppressing your emotions (like frustration and anger).

Rather, it’s about observing and acknowledging those emotions without letting them impact your decision making.

Another part of discipline has to do with your bankroll management and game selection.

Good poker players know the limits of their abilities, and only play in games they have a reasonable chance of beating.

This means they don’t chase the action trying to make a quick buck, or worse yet, trying to chase losses hoping to get even.

Jumping the stakes in order to recuperate your losses is one of the quickest roads to ruin.

You should only climb up the stakes when:

a) you are beating your current limit over a significant sample size

b) you are sufficiently bankrolled 

c) you are confident in your playing abilities and aren’t experiencing tilt.

Without these three factors in place, climbing up the stakes will only lead you to pile up even more losses and frustration.

Check out my full guide on when you should jump up in stakes for a much deeper dive.

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Winning Poker Player Trait #3: Passion

The elite poker players aren’t necessarily in it for the money. Poker does provide an amazing opportunity to make money while doing something you enjoy doing.

But if making money is your primary concern, you won’t get anything but frustration from the experience.

Poker has a short term luck element involved, so if your primary objective is to make a reliable income, poker is not the best way to go about it.

While the most skilled players can earn a decent sum of money, how much you earn over a given week or month is not totally within your control.

If making money is your primary concern, it’s natural to assume that you’re going to get frustrated when you sit down only to keep losing over and over again.

And the reality is, you’re going to have to get used to losing if you want to make it in this game.

Poker is not like other competitive games where the superior player comes out on top most of the time.

The margins in poker are razor thin, and it takes a while to truly assess your results.

So the players who are in it for the prospect of making an easy buck are in for a disappointment.

5 Traits of The Top 1% Poker Player

Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money.

Achieving financial independence, taking care of yourself and your family are noble goals.

But poker simply doesn’t guarantee a stable income in the traditional sense of the word.

In other words, you need to have another source of motivation other than money if you want to achieve long term success in this game.

With that said, the elite poker players aren’t in it for the money, or put another way, money is not their primary concern.

Instead, they are motivated by the desire to compete and perform on the highest level possible.

This is similar to professional sports.

The athletes who have climbed to the very top of their fields don’t continue to play for the paycheck (for the most part).

Instead, they continue playing because they are chasing excellence. Money is just a bonus.

All of this is not to say that poker has to be your number one priority in order to achieve success.

It just means that having an intrinsic interest in the game is way more conducive to your success than the external desire of making an easy buck.

If you don’t find poker interesting and engaging on some level, there’s no point in trying to make money off of it.

People find poker interesting for a number of reasons. Some enjoy the mental challenge, others enjoy the social aspect of the game.

Whatever it is, you need to find the game intrinsically enjoyable.

If you enjoy the activity for the sake of it, it will be easier for you to focus on the process, instead of the end result (i.e. how much money you win).

You will also be more motivated to work on your game off the felt.

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Winning Poker Player Trait #4: Bankroll Management

In poker, you need to have money to make money. Aside from the deep understanding of the technical game, all the elite poker players follow strict bankroll management rules.

This allows them to play their best despite how they’re running session to session.

As mentioned, poker has a short term luck element involved, meaning you’re bound to lose from time to time no matter how well you’re playing.

In order to ride out the short term negative variance, it is crucial to be properly bankrolled for the games you’re playing, be it cash games, tournaments, or other poker formats.

Professional poker players rely on their winnings to cover their cost of living, so they need to have a fortress bankroll in order to withstand the negative variance that’s part and parcel of the game of poker.

The bigger your bankroll, the less likely variance is to play a role in your long term results.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is purely mathematical. The bigger your bankroll, the less extreme the downswings in your results.

Let’s look at an example.

Suppose you are playing NL10 online and you have a bankroll of $300, which equals to 30 buyins.

Let’s say you encounter a 10 buyin downswing and lose $100. A downswing of this sort is not uncommon, and can happen even if you play perfectly.

In this scenario, you lost 33% of your bankroll.

Now, let’s suppose you have a bankroll of $1000 and you encounter the same 10 buyin downswing.

This time, the money lost only accounts for 10% of your total bankroll. This means you can continue playing on NL10 without any problems.

This brings us to the second reason why you should have a fortress bankroll.

Losing a significant chunk of your bankroll in a short amount of time can be psychologically devastating. 

It can cause you to lose sight of the big picture, and it can make you feel like you’ve failed, even though you may just be going through standard variance.

This can make you start doubting your game and abandoning the proven winning strategy, which can cause you to rack up even more losses.

With a big bankroll, on the other hand, you will see the downswings for what they really are: slight setbacks on an otherwise very profitable journey.

Think of your bankroll as your war chest. The deeper your war chest, the better prepared you are to endure whatever happens to come your way.

Bad beats and suckout won’t hurt as much if you can comfortably afford enduring them.

Check out my article on bankroll management for a much deeper dive by the way.

It’s important to note that following strict bankroll management rules won’t do you any good if you’re not a winning poker player to begin with.

If you’re a losing poker player, the biggest bankroll in the world won’t help you. It’s just going to take you longer to go broke.

If you’re not a winning poker player yet, keep learning and working on your game, and you’re guaranteed to see an improvement in your results.

Winning Poker Player Trait #5: Emotional Resilience

If you’ve played poker for a while, you already know that it can be an incredibly frustrating experience. 

The bad beats never end, the deck can go cold for days and weeks, and how much you earn on a given day is not entirely within your control.

Knowing all the ins and outs of a winning poker strategy is one thing, but sticking with it during the periods where you’re not getting the results you’re hoping for is something else entirely.

Everyone can play well when they’re running hot. When you experience positive variance, it seems like you can just print money every time you sit down and play.

But when variance inevitably swings the other way, most players simply don’t have enough mental fortitude to keep playing their best.

5 Traits of The Top 1% Poker Player

As their losses pile up, so does their frustration. This can lead to tilt, making mistakes, which causes even more losses to pile up and the vicious cycle continues.

During these periods, a number of players get the impression that the deck is stacked against them, while failing to realize how they are contributing to their bad results.

Losing some money in poker is inevitable, but when the cards aren’t falling your way, the best you can do is keep your cool and make sure you don’t lose more than necessary.

Elite poker players know that occasionally losing money is actually good for them long term.

Variance gives weaker players a fighting chance. 

Without variance, superior players would win 100% of the time, and the recreational players would simply stop playing altogether.

In poker, the vast majority of your winnings will come from the mistakes of recreational players.

This is why you need to make peace with losing to inferior competition from time to time.

Nobody particularly likes losing, especially if you’re overly competitive (most poker players are).

There is nothing wrong with wanting to win. But again, winning and losing are not always entirely within your control.

That’s why the elite poker players don’t obsess over how they’re running session to session.

Instead, they focus their energy to play to the best of their abilities.

Emotional resilience is a skill like any other, and you get better at it with practice.

Nobody was born a zen master.

Some players have developed emotional resilience through sheer power of repetition. They have played an insane number of hands over a long period of time, and have a proven track record of winning over a significant sample size.

When you see the long term trajectory of your graph going upwards, it’s easier to disregard the downswings and keep a long term outlook.

Aside from a proven track record, great poker players use other techniques to perform at an optimal level.

This includes getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.

In other words, they develop healthy habits like a professional athlete would.

There are other techniques you can use to develop your emotional resilience, but by taking care of the “big three” mentioned above, you will likely see an immediate improvement in your game.

Poker is a game of razor thin margins, and to compete at a highest level, innate talent can only get you so far.

That’s why the best poker players look for edges outside of the technical game.

These days, there is plenty of information on winning poker strategy for anyone who’s interested in improving their game.

But nobody can teach you how to be emotionally resilient but yourself.

There are certain mindset shifts you can adopt, but at the end of the day, it’s all you.

5 Traits of The Top 1% Poker Player - Summary

To sum up, here are 5 traits virtually all elite poker players have in common. 

You can be the most talented poker player in the world, but without these traits, you can’t achieve long term success in this game.

1. Superior skill

LIke in any other competitive arena, the top 1% of players are simply more skilled than the rest. 

To get to this level, they have studied the advanced poker strategy and honed their craft over countless hours of deliberate practice.

2. Discipline

Being disciplined means following the tried and true strategy despite the negative short term results. 

It also means following strict bankroll management and game selection, as well as working to improve your game off the felt.

3. Passion

Best poker players have a deep interest (and a near fascination) with poker, and they are intrinsically motivated to play. They aren’t primarily in it for the money.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but if that’s your primary motivation, it can cause a lot of frustration due to the simple fact that you aren’t always guaranteed to win.

4. Bankroll management

Elite poker players treat their game like a business. In business, you need money to make money, so having a healthy bankroll is a must.

Being the best player in your games is not going to mean much if you constantly keep going broke. 

Having a healthy bankroll gives you a peace of mind to keep playing your best despite the negative variance.

5. Emotional resilience

Poker can be incredibly frustrating, so having emotional resilience is just as important as your technical knowledge of the game. 

The best poker players can keep playing their A game no matter how they’re running session to session.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Traits of The Top 1% Poker Player