5 Signs You're the Best Poker Player at the Table

5 Signs You're the Best Poker Player at the Table

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

If you want to win in poker consistently, you need to make sure you’re the best player at your table.

But assessing your own skill level against your competition can be tricky. How can you actually know you’re playing better than your opponents?

In this article, we’ll go over 5 signs you’re actually the best poker player at your table.

How many of these apply to you? Keep reading to find out.

1. You Don't Care if You Win or Lose

Nobody particularly enjoys losing, especially when there’s money on the line.

But in poker, losing money from time to time is inevitable, even if you’re the best player at the table.

In most other competitive arenas, a more skilled player will win close to 100% of the time. This is not the case when it comes to poker, though.

When you play poker, you can often lose despite playing perfectly.

This is because poker has a short term luck element involved. This is what makes the game exciting, as it gives everyone a chance to win, regardless of their skill (or lack thereof).

Over the long run, skill prevails. But the problem is that the long run is far longer than most people realize.

This is why the best poker players have a very long term outlook on the game.

In other words, they don’t pay attention to their short term results like most amateurs do.

Most amateur poker players get hung up on how they’re running in their current session, and fail to realise that it takes a while for your skill edge to truly manifest in this game.

It often takes months, if not years to play a significant amount of volume to fully account for variance.

Simply put, variance measures the difference between how much you expect to earn over a certain sample size versus how much you actually earn.

Variance plays a significant role in your short term results, so how you’re running session to session is not really indicative of your actual skill level.

This is especially the case if you’re playing live poker, where you can only play a small number of hands over a certain period.

When playing live cash games, for example, you can expect to play around 30 hands per hour.

This means it can take a lot of time to fully account for variance and truly assess your results, as well as your skill level.

One of the ways to “get to the long run faster” is to simply play poker online.

Online poker plays a lot faster than live poker, and you also have the ability to multibable, meaning you can put in a lot more volume over a short period of time.

One thing to keep in mind is that online poker games are usually a bit tougher than live poker, as online players tend to be a bit more knowledgeable about the winning poker strategy.

But whether you play poker online or in a brick and mortar casino, you are going to have to make peace with losing from time to time.

Poker is a game of razor thin margins, meaning that even the weaker players will almost always have a significant chunk of equity against you.

This is what makes poker profitable in the first place, but it can be very frustrating when you’re on the receiving end of negative variance.

This is why the best poker players are indifferent to their short term results.

Paradoxically, if you want to achieve success in this game, you have to get to the level where you don’t care if you win or lose.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean mindlessly splashing chips around with no regard to the expected value of your play.

It just means you need to be confident that you’re making the correct play regardless of the outcome.

For example, if you go all in with a made hand, your opponent calls you, and hits their miracle river card.

Spots like these are going to come up over and over again as long as you play poker, so there’s no point in getting worked up about them.

Losing a big pot this way is surely frustrating, but there’s nothing to be gained by letting the frustration  get the better of you.

Poker can be incredibly frustrating at times, and nobody is completely immune to tilt, not even the pros.

There’s no way to eliminate tilt completely, so the best you can do is try to minimize the negative consequences of tilt.

One way to do that is to simply play in games where you’re completely comfortable losing your whole buyin.

If you’re not completely ok with losing a full buyin (or a couple of them, for that matter), it’s a good sign you’re playing in games beyond your bankroll or your current skill level.

This is something I actually discussed in a recent video.

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2. You Are The Most Aggressive Player at Your Table

If you’re the most aggressive player at your table, you’re likely playing better than the rest.

Take this with a grain of salt, of course. Aggression does not always equal skill in poker, but the two are often correlated.

There are a few reasons why winning poker and aggression go hand in hand.

First of all, if you want to win big in poker, you need to be able to win big pots. And more often than not, the best way to win a big pot is to build it up yourself.

In other words, you shouldn’t rely on other players to build up the pot for you.

This is especially the case in lower stakes games where players tend to play too passively.

This means you should usually avoid slowplaying at low stakes cash games.

To slowplay means to play your strong hand in a passive manner (checking and calling) in order to conceal your hand strength and induce action from weaker hands.

While there are certainly spots where slowplaying is a viable strategy, it’s usually not the case in most small stakes games.

When you’re slowplaying, you’re essentially relying on your opponent to build up the pot for you.

This can be a good idea if your opponent is overly aggressive and likely to bluff a lot.

But in most low stakes games, players tend to play passively, meaning you can’t rely on them to do the betting for you.

It’s usually better to keep things simple and play your strong hands straightforwardly by value betting them.

For example:

You hit middle set with 6♥️6♦️ on a flop of K♠️6♣️3♥️

Just make a big bet or raise here. Don't get fancy.

Check out my article on when to slowplay by the way to learn when to do the opposite.

Another reason you should play aggressively is the fact you’re giving yourself more than one way to win the pot.

In poker, you can win the pot two different ways: you can either make the best hand combination at showdown, or you can make everybody else fold their hand.

Most of the money you’ll win in this game will come from your strong showdown hands, i.e. spots where you have a strong hand that can get action by weaker hands.

The problem is, these strong value hands don’t come around very often. And even when they do, you’re not always guaranteed to get paid off with them.

This means you need to find ways to win an occasional pot even without a particularly strong hand.

In other words, you need to learn to bluff effectively.

Bluffing is a huge part of any advanced poker strategy for the simple reason that most of the time, your opponents won’t have anything worth calling you down with, either.

So if you can credibly represent a strong hand, you can win more than “your fair share”.

There’s a lot more to pulling off a successful bluff than having nerves of steel and an unreadable poker face.

You also need to consider your opponent’s playing tendencies, the board runout, the action sequence, your fold equity and so on.

Fold equity simply refers to the percentage chance of your opponent folding to your bet. The more often you expect your opponent to fold, the bigger the fold equity and vice versa.

Another advantage of throwing out an occasional bluff is that you’re making yourself more difficult to play against.

Your opponents are going to have a hard time figuring out your hand strength, and you will always keep them guessing.

This is why it is important that you bluff more that you currently are.

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3. You Can Laugh at Bad Beats

One of the easiest ways to distinguish between good and bad players at the table is the way they react to setbacks like bad beats and coolers.

All the good poker players know that bad beats and coolers are an essential part of the game.

For example:

You have A♥️K♠️ and the lucky fish hits three of a kind on the river of A♣️7♠️5♦️3♦️7♣️ with 7♥️4♥️

In fact, it’s what makes poker so profitable in the first place.

If you suffer a bad beat, it simply means you’ve put your money in with a mathematical advantage, which is the best you can hope for when you’re playing poker.

Just because your edge didn’t manifest in one particular instance is irrelevant. What matters is the long term expected value (EV) of your plays.

The best poker players think in terms of EV, not the individual outcomes of hands.

They know that as long as they keep putting their money in with a mathematical advantage, they’re going to come out on top over the long run.

This level of confidence allows them to shrug off bad beats and keep playing their best, despite how they’re currently running.

Everyone can play well when the deck is hitting them in the face. When you’re running well, poker seems like an easy game, and it may feel like you can just print money at will.

But if you’ve played poker for some time, you know this is only an illusion.

The variance will inevitably swing the other way, and this is where most players will simply crumble under the pressure.

Learning the winning poker strategy is not the hardest aspect of the game. The hardest part is persevering when the winning strategy is not producing the results you may be hoping for.

So to succeed in this game, not only do you need to be familiar with the strategy, but you also need to be emotionally resilient, patient, and disciplined.

This is arguably the hardest part of the game, and this is where most aspiring poker players tend to trip up.

If you want to achieve any level of success in this game, you need to find a way to make peace with variance and everything it entails.

You can’t afford to get pissed off every time you lose a coinflip. If you do, you’re going to have a miserable time playing, because bad beats never really end.

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to fix all the mental game issues you might have.

However, there is a trick you can use to better react to all the inevitable bad beats and suckouts.

And the trick is to simply laugh about them.

It may sound silly, but it actually works.

If you can laugh about bad beats, it means you’re comfortable with losing the money you’re playing with.

If not, it may be a good indicator you should drop down in stakes. You should only play with money you’re 100% comfortable with losing at any given time.

Another reason laughing works is that it helps you make light of the situation, and it shows you’re not taking yourself too seriously.

In other words, it shows you don’t have an ego problem. 

A great number of poker players have an overly inflated sense of ego, which not only hurts their game, but it also makes the game less fun for everyone involved.

You can see this on full display when regular players berate the recreational players for their mistakes.

This is terribly shortsighted behavior that should absolutely be avoided, and it’s usually done by mediocre regs who can’t keep their ego in check.

If you lose a big pot to a recreational player, the last thing you should do is berate them and try to educate them on why they’ve played the hand wrong.

As Napoleon famously said: “never interrupt your enemy when they’re making a mistake”.

It serves absolutely no purpose other than protecting your ego for a few seconds.

At best, the fish is going to stop making the same mistake in the future, and at worst, they’re just going to get offended and leave the table, which prevents you from trying to win your stack back.

Check out my other article on how to spot poker fish for more.

4. You Know You Still Have a Lot to Learn

The best poker players are the ones that know they don’t have everything figured out yet.

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

Even the most successful poker pros keep working on their game despite already achieving notable success.

This is something I had to learn very early on in my professional poker career.

In fact, you can argue that this desire to keep improving is what led them to success in the first place.

This is why having intellectual humility and curiosity is crucial if you want to achieve long term success in this game.

You need to be able to examine your own game critically, and be aware that you don’t have everything figured out yet.

If you think you have everything figured out, it means you can’t really learn anything new.

When you first start trying to improve your game, it can be discouraging when you realize how there is so much you don't know yet.

But this is actually good news.

If you’re still not achieving the results you might be hoping for, it means there’s still something left for you to learn.

This can give you a lot more hopeful outlook and the motivation to keep working on your game.

Cultivating a beginner’s mindset is a great way to keep your game fresh and evolving.

If you find yourself just going through the motions at the felt, or if you feel like you’re just walking in circles, it may be because you’ve stopped learning.

Think about the time you just started playing poker. Chances are, you were excited whenever you’ve learned about a new concept, and you couldn’t wait to apply it on the felt.

But after a while, your game has reached a plateau. You’ve settled in the stakes you’re currently playing, you’re playing against the same players all the time, you’re using the same lines over and over again.

In other words, the game has become a grind. You’re not as excited to play anymore, bad beats annoy you more than they should, and it feels like you’re not making any progress.

This pattern is all too common in poker players, and it can be hard to break out of.

But the solution to this problem is actually very simple: stay curious.

Don’t assume you have it all figured out, because you don’t. Question your own beliefs and assumptions. Go out of your way to pick apart your own game.

Doing this can be uncomfortable, but not doing it is a lot more costly over the long run.

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5. You Can Quickly Identify Weaker Players

Poker is a game of skill, so the key to winning at poker is recognizing your skill edge over your competition.

Good poker players are able to recognize weaker players from a mile away, and they’re able to make adjustments in their game to take advantage of mistakes in their opponent’s game.

That’s because weaker players routinely give off tells that indicate their lack of understanding of the winning poker strategy.

This may come in the form of physical or timing tells, mistakes in bet sizing, or other strategic blunders like playing too many hands, calling down too much etc.

The best poker players will never do this by the way.

Aside from being able to recognize weaknesses in their opponent’s game, good poker players will also be able to play in a way that doesn't allow other players to gain an advantage over them.

In other words, good poker players will have at least a basic understanding of game theory.

Game theory optimal (or GTO for short) is a term that gets thrown out a lot these days, and there’s a lot of discussion about whether GTO or exploitative strategy is superior.

But this “debate” is really a non-issue for the most part.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the debate, let’s quickly define what the two strategies entail.

Playing a GTO strategy means playing in a way that doesn’t allow your opponent to play in a manner that allows them to get an edge over you. 

In other words, it means playing theoretically perfect poker. For example, you play a certain spot with a perfect mix of value hands and bluffing hands, meaning your opponent can’t get an edge over you by overcalling or overfolding.

Therefore, GTO strategy can’t get exploited, but it also doesn’t exploit the weaknesses in your opponent’s game.

An exploitative strategy means deviating from GTO so you’re taking advantage of weaknesses in your opponent’s game. 

For example, if your opponent is making the mistake of calling too widely on the river, you can exploit that by value betting more and bluffing less.

The downside of this approach is that your opponents could make adjustments by simply overfolding to your river bets.

In other words, an exploitative strategy takes advantage of the mistakes in your opponent’s game, but leaves you vulnerable to getting exploited yourself.

There are merits to both approaches, and the strategy you choose is going to depend on the type of opponents you’re up against.

But in the real world, most players are playing nowhere near perfect GTO strategy, especially at the lower stakes.

Having sound theoretical knowledge of game theory is a must in today’s games if you want to stay competitive, but it’s important to know when and how to deviate from GTO to maximize EV.

To quote Immanuel Kant: "Theory without practice is empty, and practice without theory is blind."

If you don’t know the theory, you can’t really apply it in an effective manner. However, if you just blindly follow the theory, it means you don’t really understand it at the fundamental level.

Worse yet, it can lead you to making a lot of costly mistakes without you even realizing it.

A sign of a true expert is knowing all the rules well, and knowing when to break them.

Bottom line: having a fundamental understanding of the game theory is a must if you want to play poker at a competitive level.

But for the vast majority of people playing small stakes games, GTO simply doesn’t apply.

That’s because most people at the lower stakes make all sorts of fundamental mistakes and have glaring leaks in their game.

Your job is to maximize your expected value by identifying and exploiting these leaks.

This doesn’t mean you should disregard the GTO approach completely, as it can help you understand the game at a deeper level.

But remember that you’re playing poker against living, breathing humans with their insane monkey brains, not against computers.

5 Signs You're the Best Poker Player at the Table - Summary

Assessing your own skill level against your competition can be tricky, but there are some signs that may indicate you have a real skill edge over your opponents.

To sum up, here are 5 signs you are actually the best poker player at your table:

1. You are indifferent to short term results

Success in poker takes time, and it can take months or years for your skill edge to truly manifest.

This means the best poker players don’t pay attention to how they’re running session to session.

If you’re beating your current stake, and if you’re adhering to proper bankroll management and game selection, there’s absolutely no reason to fret about your short term results.

2. You are the most aggressive player at the table

Aggression does not always equal skill in poker, but the two usually go hand in hand.

Playing aggressive poker allows you to win “more than your fair share”, by getting max value out of your strong hands, or by raking in a few extra pots with a well-timed bluff.

In fact, any good advanced poker strategy these days will advocate for an aggressive playstyle, both preflop and post flop.

3. You can laugh at bad beats

Poker can be incredibly frustrating at times, but if you get discouraged every time you encounter an obstacle, you’re not going to make it far in this game.

Bad beats and coolers are unavoidable in poker, so you need to find some way to make peace with them.

The best poker players are usually the ones that can shrug off bad beats (or even laugh at them), and keep playing their best.

4. You know you still have a lot to learn

The best poker players don’t get complacent and always strive to learn something new.

In fact, this may be the most important sign you’re the best player at your table.

That’s because most players put in very little or no effort into improving their game.

So by reading articles like these, you’re already way ahead of the curve.

5. You can quickly identify weaker players

The only way to win at poker consistently is to play in games where you have a significant skill edge over your opponents.

And a big part of that skill means recognizing weaknesses in your opponent’s game, then adjusting your playstyle accordingly.

The best poker players can spot weaker players a mile away, but they also know how to play in a way that doesn’t allow the other players to exploit them.


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.

5 Signs You're the Best Poker Player at the Table