6 Traits of the Top 1% of Poker Players

6 Traits of the Top 1% of Poker Players

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

In poker, most of the players lose money over the long run, and only the select few rake in major profits.

So what separates the top winners in this game from everyone else? Is it luck, talent, or something else entirely.

Luck and talent certainly play a role, but that’s not the full story.

In this article, we’ll take a look at 6 traits all the top poker players have in common.

The good news is that anyone can work on improving these traits themselves.

By working on these traits, you are guaranteed to see a major improvement in your poker results.

Let’s get right into it.

Top 1% Poker Player Trait #1: Long Term Outlook

Poker may seem like an easy way to make a quick buck, but nothing can be further from the truth.

Poker is fairly simple to learn, and anyone can learn the winning poker strategy with a bit of effort.

But just because it’s simple to learn, it doesn’t mean that winning consistently is an easy feat.

It’s kind of like losing weight: simple in theory, much more difficult in practice.

In poker, it doesn’t take much time to learn which cards to play in which position.

But there is much more to winning at poker than following the charts.

That’s because poker has a short term-luck element involved, meaning you can sometimes lose despite playing perfectly.

In fact, a lot of poker players can’t seem to wrap their head around the luck element, and they believe that poker is 100% all about luck, anyway.

I won’t go into details why poker is a game of skill. If you don’t believe that to be the case, there’s no point in reading this article in the first place.

Check out my other article on why some people still think poker is all about luck.

But here’s the rub: even though poker is a game of skill, it takes time for this skill edge to manifest.

Even if you’re the best player at your table, it doesn’t mean you can just print money every time you sit down to play.

The best way to view it is that your skill edge is an investment that yields a return over time.

In poker, you can’t control how you’re running session to session, so there’s no point in worrying about it in the first place.

If you’re properly bankrolled for the games you’re playing, and you know you’re beating your current limit over a significant sample size, it doesn’t matter how you’re running day to day, or week to week.

The long run is much longer than most people realize. It can take months or even years to truly assess your results and account for variance.

It’s also worth mentioning that developing your poker skills takes time, as well.

Nobody was born a poker pro, and even the best poker players in the world started out as clueless fish.

So in order to succeed in this game, it’s crucial to develop a long term mindset.

If you get into poker for the prospect of making a quick buck, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

The best poker players don’t pay much attention to their short term results, either positive or negative.

In fact, running well at the beginning of your poker journey can be even worse than running badly.

Some players have the misfortune of running really well at the beginning of their poker career, and they develop a false sense of confidence and tend to overestimate their actual skill level.

This leads them to believe that poker is an easy game, and they can seemingly print money every time they sit down to play.

Until they inevitably encounter a soul-crushing downswing that destroys their bankroll along with their confidence.

The point is that it takes time to differentiate between your actual skill and variance.

A lot of players are quick to attribute good results to their superior skill, and bad results to bad luck (i.e. negative variance).

This is understandable, but not really conducive to your improvement as a player.

Bottom line: don’t be too quick to attribute good results to your superior skill, especially when you’re first starting out.

Poker offers plenty of opportunities for self-delusion, so be careful not to fall into this trap.

By the way, if you want to know the 7 signs to quickly spot a poker pro at your table, check out my recent video:

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Top 1% Poker Player Trait #2: Intellectual Humility

The best poker players know they don’t have everything figured out.

Beneath the surface, poker is an incredibly complex game, and there’s always something new to learn.

Also, the game is constantly evolving, so the players need to evolve with it if they don’t want to be left behind.

The strategies that used to work 10 or 15 years ago may not be as effective in today’s game. 

Similarly, just because you’re crushing the game today doesn’t mean you’re going to keep crushing in the future.

A number of poker player’s skills tend to plateau at a certain level. 

Players get content with playing at a certain level and think they already have everything figured out.

This means they get accustomed to a certain playstyle and rarely (if ever) deviate from it.

They never try anything new, and don’t feel the need to develop new lines in their strategy.

As a consequence, their game becomes stagnant and overly predictable over time.

The solution to this common problem is to cultivate and maintain a beginner’s mindset.

If you think you already have everything figured out, you can’t ever learn anything new.

This means being comfortable with not knowing.

Taking a good, hard look at your game can be painful. It can be frustrating to realize how much you actually don’t know.

But this is a first step towards improvement.

The best poker players keep improving their skills even after reaching a certain level of success.

This dedication towards constant learning is what allowed them to be successful in the first place.

In other words, all the best poker players have a growth mindset.

The growth mindset is the belief that knowledge and skills can be improved with enough effort and practice.

This is the opposite of the fixed mindset, where people believe that certain traits are innate and can’t be changed.

An example of a fixed mindset could be the belief that poker is all about luck in the first place, so there’s no point in trying to get better at it.

There’s no way to truly reach your potential without cultivating a growth mindset.

However, this comes at the cost of having to take an objective look at your game, which is anything but easy.

The best poker players have spent countless hours identifying and eliminating leaks from their game.

If you want to do the same, first you need to analyze your own game, and start with the biggest leaks first.

Some leaks are relatively easy to fix, while others require a bit more work.

If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can find your leaks by using the tool called Leak Tracker.

Leak Tracker shows you exactly where your stats fall out of norm for most winning poker players.

This means the guesswork is completely out of the equation. The program tells you exactly what you should work on next.

Using your own database to learn from your mistakes is just about the best way to improve your game quickly.

It would be great if we could learn from other people’s mistakes, but we all know that we usually learn best from our own mistakes.

Bottom line: everybody makes mistakes, and nobody is born a pro.

The key is using these mistakes as opportunities to learn something new.

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Top 1% Poker Player Trait #3: Risk Management

It’s an attractive notion to view great poker players as mavericks who laugh in the face of uncertainty and are willing to risk it all.

But this is the exact opposite of what most successful poker players do.

In fact, you could make the argument that good poker players are more risk-averse than their degenerate gambler counterparts.

Some players are able to win consistently because they play when the odds are in their favour, not when the odds are against them.

At its core, poker is all about risk management and maximizing expected value.

The players who make ill-advised plays with negative expected value may get lucky from time to time, but will inevitably go broke.

The players who make sound, logical decisions based on math and probabilities may lose from time to time, but will come out on top over the long run.

However, as anyone who has ever played poker for a while knows, being a better player doesn’t mean you’re entitled to win every time.

So even if you’re the best player at your table, you have to be mentally prepared to get your ass handed to you over and over again (see the emotional resilience part below).

There’s absolutely no way around this, so the best you can do is to prepare yourself for this going in (both mentally and financially).

This means being properly bankrolled for the stakes you’re playing, as well as practicing proper game selection.

Having a proper bankroll does not only mitigate the risk of going broke, but also helps you keep playing your best despite the negative short-term results.

If you’re properly bankrolled for the stakes you’re playing, you won’t mind losing a few buyins due to bad beats, suckouts, and so on.

Now, contrast this to playing in games beyond your skill level and your bankroll.

You’re much more likely to take bad beats and suckouts personally, and it will feel as though the deck is stacked against you, even though it may just be standard variance.

Bottom line: a proper bankroll will give you a peace of mind to keep playing your best no matter how you're running session to session.

It will also allow you to climb the stakes quicker and/or take an occasional shot at the higher limit.

Check out my ultimate bankroll management guide for a much deeper dive on how much money you need at each stake in poker.

Top 1% Poker Player Trait #4: Work Ethic

At a first glance, the terms work ethic and poker player don’t belong in the same sentence.

After all, how much work ethic do you need to sit down and play a card game all day?

If you only play poker for fun, you don’t need to put in a lot of effort into it. 

But your poker results will be directly proportional to the amount of effort you’re willing to put in your game.

If you treat this game like an amateur, you’re going to have amateur results.

And for most players, this means losing money over the long run.

If you want to achieve better results than most players, you need to do what most players aren’t willing to do.

And this means taking the time off the felt to plug your leaks and improve your game.

Let’s face it: playing poker is fun. Studying poker, not so much.

Unfortunately, this is the only way to truly improve your game.

There’s much more to being a winning poker player than just sitting down at the table and seemingly printing money at will.

The best poker players spend a significant amount of time away from tables to improve their game.

This includes reviewing your past hands, doing equity analysis, studying preflop ranges, identifying and plugging leaks and so on.

Good poker players will also find a way to keep track of their results and measure their progress.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so it’s important to find a way to keep track of your results.

This can be done by using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, using an app or an Excel spreadsheet, or just good old fashioned pen and paper.

Without keeping track of your results, it’s easy to simply delude yourself into thinking you’re doing better than you actually are.

Or worse yet, thinking that your bad results are just a result of bad luck instead of bad play.

If you can’t critically assess your game, there’s no way to improve it.

This takes a bit of honest self reflection, and it may be painful to realise just how much of your game needs fixing.

But this is actually good news.

It's empowering to realize that identifying areas for improvement is the first step towards progress. 

The leaks in your game can serve as guidelines to what you should focus on next.

This means you can stop looking at your mistakes as setbacks, and see them as opportunities to improve a certain aspect of your game.

When you realize you’ve made a mistake, this means you’re getting closer to mastery.

Recognizing a mistake means you’ve become aware of a certain aspect of the game you didn’t notice before.

A lot of players never improve because they aren’t even aware that they’re doing something wrong.

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Top 1% Poker Player Trait #5: Emotional Resilience

Anyone who has played poker for a while already knows that it can be an incredibly frustrating experience.

The bad beats never end, the deck can go cold for days and weeks, and fish always seem to hit their miracle river cards at the worst possible time.

If you play poker for long enough, sooner or later you’re going to experience a soul-crushing downswing.

A downswing so bad that it will destroy your bankroll and your confidence along with it.

A lot of amateur poker players don’t really know how bad variance can get until they experience it firsthand.

It’s easy to say that you should just ignore your short term results, but it’s very difficult to do when you seem to get wrecked every time you sit down to play.

If things seem to go from bad to worse, it’s better to take a break and live to fight another day.

There’s no point in trying to fight an uphill battle.

If you’re not confident that you can play to the best of your abilities despite running badly, the best you can do is cut your losses and try again tomorrow.

Of course, quitting every time things don’t go your way is not a great long-term solution, either.

This means that sooner or later, you simply need to make peace with variance.

This is easier said than done, of course, but it’s precisely what separates the truly great poker players from the rest.

These days, anyone can learn the winning poker strategy with a bit of effort.

But keeping your cool when this winning strategy is not producing the results you may be hoping for is another matter.

Everyone can play well when the deck keeps hitting them in the face.

It’s an entirely different story if you seem to be getting punished for making the right play.

Nobody particularly likes losing. And losing despite doing everything right is a special kind of awful.

Yet that’s poker for you. Getting to terms with that reality is arguably the hardest aspect of the game.

Fortunately, developing emotional resilience is a skill like any other, meaning you can get better at it with practice.

One way to develop emotional resilience is to simply acquire more experience.

Chances are, you’ve already made progress in this regard compared to when you first started out playing poker.

In the beginning of your poker journey, a single bad beat could have been enough to cause a full-blown tilt.

Now, getting a few bad beats in a row is still frustrating, but you’re still able to keep your cool and keep playing a solid game.

I discuss exactly how to do this by the way in Crushing the Microstakes.

The improvement in your mental game is often subtle and takes time, so it can be easy to miss.

So it may be worthwhile to zoom out and take a look at the big picture.

You still may have issues with tilt, but your mental game is likely a lot better than it used to be when you first started out.

Observing progress in this area can help motivate you to keep improving further.

Another way to develop emotional resilience is to change your mindset.

Instead of looking at bad beats and suckouts as obstacles, think of them as signals that you’re actually playing in profitable games.

Remember, good players suffer bad beats, while bad players inflict them.

If you get a bad beat, it simply means you’ve put your money in with a mathematical advantage, which is the best you can do in poker.

The fact that your advantage didn’t come to fruition in one particular instant is completely irrelevant.

As long as you keep putting your money in with a mathematical advantage, you’re going to win over the long run.

This means you should actually celebrate bad beats.

This may seem like mental gymnastics, and fair enough.

But look at it this way.

Suppose you go all-in, and a fish calls you with a worse hand and they hit a miracle river card.

They just got rewarded for making a bad play, which means they are more likely to keep making the same mistake in the future.

Fish getting occasionally rewarded for making the wrong play is what makes poker profitable in the first place.

Another way to come to terms with bad beats is to ask yourself what you can learn from it.

For example, a fish calls you down with a third pair and they hit trips on the river.

What can you learn from this example?

You now know that this particular player is likely to call you down very wide, meaning you can thin value bet them with a wider range.

In the future, you can try to increase your bet sizing to charge them a premium for their mediocre and/or drawing hands they can call you down with.

You also notice that they called you down with a bad hand they really shouldn’t be playing in the first place.

This means that their preflop calling range is likely to be quite wide as well. You can use this information in the future when trying to hand read against this particular opponent.

Bottom line: bad beats suck, but they’re also opportunities for you to learn something new, either about your opponents, or your own game.

They’re also signals that you’re playing in profitable games against opponents who want to donate their money to you.

So instead of getting worked up about it, simply smile and focus on the next hand.

Top 1% Poker Player Trait #6: Passion

Playing poker is a great way to make money while doing something you enjoy.

However, if making money is your primary concern, poker probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

That’s because the amount of money you can win in the short term is not entirely within your control, even if you do everything right.

With that in mind, the best poker players aren’t necessarily in it for the money.

There are certainly easier and less stressful ways to make money than playing cards.

This means that if you want to achieve great results in poker, you almost have to be indifferent to how much you win (or lose) over a certain period.

If you’re only in it for the money, you’re more likely to get frustrated when the cards don’t fall your way.

Focusing on the money means being results-oriented, which is a big mistake since your results aren’t entirely within your control in the short term.

This means you need something to keep you going even when you’re losing.

In other words, you need to love the game regardless of whether or not you’re winning.

Rather than being motivated by money, the best players are motivated by the desire to improve their skills and compete at the highest level.

You can compare this to professional athletes. 

The best athletes in the world aren’t in it just because it pays their bills, but because they have a deep passion for the game.

If you don’t enjoy poker for what it is, there’s no point in trying to make money off of it.

If you don’t find the activity enjoyable, trying to profit from it can only result in frustration.

Here are the 7 poker tips that changed my life, allowing me to quit my job and retire early:

6 Traits of the Top 1% of Poker Players

To be a top 1% poker player, it takes more than just knowing the latest advanced poker strategy.

Apart from their superior knowledge and skills, all the top poker players have these traits in common:

1. Long term outlook

Success in poker takes time. Not only does it take a while to develop your poker skills, it also takes time for your skill edge to truly manifest.

That’s why the best poker players don’t pay much attention to their short term results. Instead, they focus on playing to the best of their abilities, no matter how they’re running session to session.

2. Intellectual humility

The best poker players know they don’t have everything figured out, despite already achieving notable success in this game.

Taking a critical look at your game may be painful in the short term, but it’s the only way to truly improve as a player.

3. Risk management

Poker players may have a higher risk tolerance than most people, but the best poker players are anything but reckless with their money.

Practicing proper bankroll management and game selection is a skill of its own, and a crucial one at that. 

4. Work Ethic

To be a winning poker player, it's not enough to just sit down and play whenever you feel like it.

Winning at poker consistently requires discipline and effort, both on and off the felt, and your results will be directly proportional to the amount of effort you're willing to put in.

5. Emotional resilience

Poker can be incredibly frustrating, so having a thick skin is crucial if you want to achieve long term success in this game.

You’re going to keep losing despite doing everything right, so finding a way to make peace with it is the best (and hardest) thing you can do to improve your game.

6. Passion

All the other traits on this list are important, but they won’t mean much if you don’t simply enjoy playing poker.

In poker, you need to take the bad with the good, so if you don’t enjoy the game for what it is, there’s no point in playing it at all.


This article was written by Fran Ferlan

Poker player, writer and coach
Specializing in live and online cash games

For coaching enquiries, contact Fran at email@franferlan.com
Or apply directly for poker coaching with Fran, right here

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.