The Surprising Traits All Winning Poker Players Share


No single category defines a winning poker player. Successful grinders come in all shapes and forms, including tournament pros, short stackers, high-stakes players, and those specializing in lesser-played variations.

The amount of ways that you can become a winning player keeps the game interesting. But while there are a variety of paths to earning poker profits, you’ll find that good players share a number of traits.

These attributes explain why certain poker players are more successful than their opponents. And identifying these characteristics helps you become a stronger player.

Some traits of a winning poker player are obvious. It takes hard work and perseverance to learn poker strategy and overcome obstacles.

But what are some of these surprising qualities that the best players possess?

Find out as I cover several surprising traits that the top rounders share.

1 – Emotional Discipline

Poker used to be demonized on a regular basis as pure gambling. But thanks to poker’s popularity, most people realize that it contains plenty of skill.

The best players win on a consistent basis because they have the necessary experience and knowledge. But naysayers are right to some degree in that poker also contains a gambling element.

You have no control over your hole cards or what lands on the board. Therefore, even the best players can have a bad session when the cards aren’t going their way.

Bad beats are especially tough to deal with. These are hands where you have the better cards on an earlier street, only to see your opponent get lucky and form a stronger hand later on.

The frustrating thing about bad beats is that they often happen to the superior player, who makes the right decisions on earlier streets. Too many bad beats in one session can send a player into tilt, where they make poor strategy decisions based on emotions.

This is where it really pays to be emotionally disciplined. In fact, research indicates that the top players all share the emotional discipline to work past bad beats and other tribulations.

A team led by the University of Helsinki’s Michael Laakasuo performed a study on how emotional stability affects poker results. The results, which appeared in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, states that having this trait helps people continue playing poker and bettering their skills.

“Higher emotional stability predisposes poker players to continue playing poker,” Laakasuo wrote, “whereby they are likely to accumulate poker experience and skill.”

The team had 478 poker players fill out a survey based on the HEXACO model, which measures agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotionality (neuroticism), extroversion, honesty, and humility.

Poker players also answered how long they’d been playing the game, their preferred stakes, and if they believe that they’re a professional. Those who scored well in the neuroticism category were also the most experienced and successful on average.

“The effect of emotional stability was most strongly associated with the levels of stakes at which the participant typically played poker,” the researchers noted.
“This indicates that experienced poker players may have an innate disposition to tolerate mental and emotional pressure, and keep calm while making decisions involving large sums of money.”

It’s no secret that strong poker players are regarded as having a good “poker face.” But this research shows that experienced and successful grinders aren’t just putting up a front, because they truly are good at handling their emotions.

2 – Never Being Satisfied

Many amateur poker players experience a rush of excitement when they first get into the game. And they spend a good deal of time studying strategy.

But these same players also tend to stop learning at some point and only worry about playing the game. This is when they stop improving their skills, too.


A big reason why amateurs slow down in learning strategy is because they’re satisfied with their current level of knowledge. A winning player, on the other hand, is never satisfied and continues finding ways to better their game.

Skilled poker players learn through a variety of methods, including articles, books, training videos, and Twitch. Training videos and Twitch have especially become popular in recent years because they allow players to watch how skilled pros work.

You’ll find no shortage of resources for becoming a better poker player. The only question is in what capacity you have to continue pressing forward and developing your skills.

Great players have the drive to keep learning strategy and improving their game on a consistent basis.

3 – Honesty with Oneself

Many recreational poker players lie to themselves about how well they’re doing. I myself was the same way when I started playing the game.

The tendency for losing players is to tell themselves and others that they’re “breaking even.” But these same players usually realize the downside in that they’re losing money.

I know from experience how easy it is to use one successful session as evidence that you’re a winning player.

But how have you performed over the last 10-20 sessions/tournaments or longer?

Most recreational players can’t answer this question because they don’t keep records of their play. And if you don’t have any way to measure your success, then it’s impossible to tell how you’re doing in the long run.

Anybody can run hot for a session or two. Variance and a good run of cards will help players pull off this feat

The ultimate determinant of poker success is how you do over hundreds of thousands of hands. Good players are willing to document their sessions or use software that helps them do so.

They can then measure their win rate and see how much improvement they need to beat certain stakes.

Some players resist keeping records because it’s a scary thought to find that you’re a losing player. But it’s much better to know the truth and be motivated to improve rather than to lie to yourself and continue losing money.

4 – Competitiveness

One reason why many people are attracted to poker is because it’s possible to win long-term profits. This is why the best players are able to become professionals.

Some rounders are so good that they can make six or seven figures per year. But you won’t come anywhere close to this level if you’re not competitive.

Poker is a player-vs.-player game. You need drive if you’re going to continue working on your skills and beating opponents.

This drive often comes from a desire to be better than the others at the table. But you won’t find this motivation if you’re not a competitive person.

It’s no surprise that people who were successful athletes in their early days have gone on to become great poker players. Examples include Doyle Brunson, Ted Forrest, Erick Lindgren, and Sam Trickett.

A number of rich business gurus have also taken up poker, including Chamath Palihapitiya, Bill Perkins, and Dan Shak. These wealthy magnates, who were competitive enough to rise to the top of their professions, bring the same passion to poker.

If you don’t like competing against other people, then poker will remain a hobby to you. But you stand a much stronger chance of success if you have the competitive fire to succeed.

5 – Financial Responsibility

You’ve likely heard bankroll management preached in poker. And there’s a good reason for this: you must be able to manage your money for long-term poker success!

Anybody who’s already financially responsible heading into poker will have a leg up in this category. But that’s not to say you have to be a financial master just to manage your bankroll.

Instead, you must be responsible enough to set up a plan and stick to it. And you can even follow general bankroll management guidelines to handle your funds.

No-limit cash game players should choose stakes where they can afford at least 30 buy-ins (100 big blinds per buy-in). Here’s an example on doing so:

  • You have $3,000
  • 3,000 / 30 = $100
  • You can afford a $100 max buy-in
  • $0.50/$1 no-limit poker has a $100 max buy-in

Tournament players should have enough for anywhere between 75 and 150 buy-ins for their preferred stakes. The reason for the range is that you need more buy-ins to play large multi-table tournaments because it’s tougher to cash in these events.

If you have $1,500 and play large MTTs, then you should choose buy-ins worth $10 or lower. But if you’re playing in smaller events that give you a better chance to cash, then you can afford tournaments with $20 buy-ins or less.


The whole purpose of poker bankroll management is to ensure that you can survive variance and downswings. Even the best players have prolonged losing streaks, which is why you need padding to get through these periods and continue working on your game.

Keeping records of your play is also important in this matter because you can decide when to move up stakes based on your win rate.

For Example

You should have a sample size of at least 10,000 cash game hands to tell if you’re beating certain limits.

Some players suggest that you need 30,000-50,000 hands or more. But you can use your win rate size and general knowledge to decide if you’re crushing stakes and can move up earlier.

6 – Risk Tolerance

How comfortable are you with taking risks? If you’re perfectly fine with a little risk, then you’re cut out for poker.

I mentioned earlier how the game is a combination of luck and skill. Bad players can win, and good players can lose due to the luck element.

You have to be perfectly comfortable with knowing that you can experience a terrible run of cards when sitting down the table. You must also know that there’ll be times where you have the best hand on early streets, only to suffer a bad beat when an inferior opponent improves their hand on the river.

Risk tolerance also applies to a broader perspective in that poker success is an unknown proposition. You don’t know how well you’re going to do when entering the game, even if you possess all the traits that I’ve covered up to this point.


Players tend to misjudge how difficult it is to beat poker on any level. The good news is that you can become a winning player through a combination of hard work and playing weaker opponents.

But the bad news is that you can also be overwhelmed in the beginning and get discouraged. Not knowing where your skill level is at going in is something that you must deal with.

Another aspect that can help you in the risk tolerance department is separating yourself from the money. In other words, you want to look at your poker chips for what they are rather than a representation of money.

I’ve heard many top players describe how they see their bankroll and poker winnings as a score, like in a video game. They’re not, however, worrying about how they just lost $1,000 in a pot.

Treating poker like a game helps you better deal with losses and focus on the action in front of you.

7 – Organization

General society has long miscast poker pros as degenerate gamblers. But modern pros are typically responsible people who are well organized in their approach.

This organization comes through the form of bankroll management, time management, keeping a proper playing schedule, and making time to learn strategy.

It’s hard to win in poker when you’re overly spontaneous and don’t have a clear plan. Few successful players grind for six hours one day, then completely ignore poker for the next two days when they don’t feel like playing.

I won’t go as far as to say that winning players always map out their schedule by the hour. But they at least have a good idea in their head of what the day will look like.

If you create a detailed schedule, then your chances of success go up even more. Here’s an example of how you could make a poker schedule:

  • 8:00 am to 5:00 pm – Work
  • 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm – Free time
  • 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm – Playing session
  • 11:00 pm to 12:00 am – Review session and study strategy

You may not have this much time to dedicate to poker. But this is just an example of how you can plan your session and study to improve.

Another thing about winning poker players is that they have the discipline to play at optimal times every day. For many grinders, this time is in the evening when recreational players are off work and at live or online poker rooms.

Winning pros forsake the nightlife to take advantage of these opportune times. This is tough for young players who want to get out and socialize, but it’s also necessary in order to increase your win rate.

That said, you need a mixture of organization and discipline to keep on your schedule and continue racking up wins.

8 – Confidence

Poker players are encouraged to be more aggressive. The reason why is because being aggressive helps you win hands by either having the best cards or forcing others to fold.

In contrast, weak-passive players can’t win pots by forcing opponents to fold. This leaves them either needing the best cards or folding their hands and giving up previous bets.

Aggression pays in poker. But it’s hard to find this level if you lack confidence and don’t believe that you can truly win.

You’ll find that confidence overlaps other traits of poker, including competitiveness, emotional stability, and risk tolerance.

But how do you develop this confidence if you don’t have it?

The best way is to gain experience and keep boosting your skills. Even people who are generally timid can become strong poker players with enough experience.

The poker world has plenty of quiet, frail players who are still successful on the felt. These grinders know that they can win, because they’ve put the time in and have proven to themselves that they’re capable.

Of course, experience alone doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a poker success. This is why you should mix your playing sessions in with studying strategy so that you boast both aspects.

9 – Endurance

Perhaps the most underestimated trait of a winning poker player is endurance. You must be able to play for long time periods for deep MTT runs or to take advantage of favorable cash game situations.

Anybody who’s out of shape and loses focus within a couple hours will struggle to be a successful poker player. Meanwhile, those who have both the physical and mental capability to last for hours stand a better chance.

For Example

One of the most extreme examples of poker endurance is when Phil Laak set the Guinness World Record for the longest poker session in 2011. Laak played $10/$20 no-limit Texas hold’em for 115 hours, with only 5-minute breaks every hour.

This record was broken the following year by Barry Denson. The former UK soldier played poker for over 120 hours during a charitable event.

Nobody expects you to sit at a poker table for the equivalent of five days. But these are examples of the extreme endurance that players can develop.

Being able to focus for 5-10 hours a day is helpful to becoming a winning player. But you won’t develop this ability if you don’t get sleep and if you eat poorly.

You instead must work on staying in shape, getting proper rest, and eating right. You should also take scheduled breaks to refresh your mind and come in focused.

14-time WSOP champion Phil Hellmuth is legendary for his focus. He maintains this concentration by getting adequate sleep and maintaining a good diet.

Other poker players like Daniel Negreanu preach meditation, which is something else that will increase your focus. Simply meditating for 5-10 minutes at a time is enough to improve your concentration.


You can see that it’s not just one trait that makes a poker player successful. Instead, good players possess a variety of characteristics that help them excel.

It’s hard to pinpoint one surprising trait that stands out over others. Many of them are interconnected, and all are important to winning more money.

But if I had to choose a good place to start, it would be competitiveness. Having drive and motivation fuels you to spend time improving your game and becoming a better player.

Other things like emotional discipline, financial responsibility, risk tolerance, and confidence are also crucial to playing your best. I suggest that you start with these traits and slowly improve yourself in other areas to win more often.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.