Top 5 Skills That Separate Poker Pros from Poker Amateurs

Published On: 7 October 2008 / Modified: 18 June 2018
Created By: Daniel Skolovy
Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey

The gap between pros and amateurs is always huge, whatever the game. Try watching an adult league hockey game and then watch the NHL.

It just doesn't compare - the game is faster, the players are stronger, the hits are bone-crushing; it's a whole different ball game.

In poker the edge isn't always quite so apparent. After all, both pros and amateurs are still playing a card game. Their edge can't really be seen by their plays alone.

Their edge comes from their understanding of the game and from the amount of thought they put into each move. In fact, if you've watched the nosebleed games online, you may even think the pros are crazy.

Every hand is raised and reraised; players are calling with second pair; they're getting all-in with flush draws ... it looks like a 1¢/2¢ game. This couldn't be any further from the truth. What may appear maniacal actually isn't at all.

Each play is a chess move, taking into account information from thousands and thousands of hands played versus each opponent. They know their opponents well - probably as well as you know your own game. Maybe even better.

To survive at the top you have to have a certain skill set, and this is just a short list of the most important.

5 Skills That Separate Poker Pros from Amateurs

5) Attention to Detail

Amateurs pay attention to themselves - they worry about what they have, and they worry about hands they are in.

Professional poker players always watch everything. Even when they aren't in a hand they are watching the action.

They are like a sponge - every little bit of information you give at a table, they soak up.

What hands you show up with at showdown from a given position. How you react to turn raises. How often you bet out with a big hand.

Are you the type that likes to check-raise? What strength hands do you stack off with?

Do you fast-play draws? Pros use all of this information to maximize their expectation against a given opponent in a future hand.

4) Emotional Control

Professional players do not tilt. They understand the game; they know poker is a long-term battle.

What happens in one hand is of little meaning. They don't let bad beats get to them - they're just part of the job.

Pros also understand that money is just the tool of a poker player.

They're naturally going to have winning days and losing days, so there's no reason to sweat the losing days.

3) Ability to Vary Play

A good player strives to play unpredictably. He varies his play.

He takes unconventional lines so as to not be easily read by his opponents.

If he plays in too straightforward a manner, his savvy opponents will pick up on this.

In poker, if you know how your opponent plays, you can tailor your play against him.

If you know what he's going to do in every situation, you'll own him in the long run. Pros avoid this by mixing up their play.

2) Range-Balancing

This is an extension of No. 3. Professionals know that if they make one move all the time, they become extremely predictable.

To fight this they "balance their ranges."

If they check-raise the flop with a big hand, they also have to be able to do that as a bluff, or as a semi-bluff.

If you check the action on the river when you give up, occasionally you have to check the river with the intention of raising.

Simply put, you must play in such a manner that whatever play you make, your opponent is thinking, "He could have anything; he could have the nuts, or a total bluff."

If you've got your opponent second-guessing himself, his stack is yours, whether it be sooner or later.

1) Ability to Adapt

Poker is a game of ever-changing variables.

What the best possible play is depends on so many different, changing factors: what your image is at the moment, how your opponent has been playing in this session, previous hands and similar situations.

Professionals take all of this into account and adapt their play to their specific opponent and their playing tendencies.

The optimum play may change several times throughout a session. The pros recognize this and can switch gears on a dime.

Adapt to your opponents, and you'll constantly stay one step ahead.

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