“What is the difference between a good and a very good poker player?”

First, please consider that only about 10% of poker players are lifetime winners. Another 10-20% are lifetime “breakeven” (or near enough). The rest are lifetime losers. Also, of the 10% of lifetime winners, probably only about half win enough that it’s in any way meaningful that is, if you have a sustained lifetime win rate at no limit of 1BB/100 hands, that makes you a lifetime winner, but unless you’re playing pretty high stakes, that’s not particularly good money.

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Let that sink in. Then think through what you actually mean by “good” and “very good”. I’ll answer this in the context of what separates the negligible lifetime winners from the significant lifetime winners. I should also clarify that my answer will pertain almost entirely to cash game play, as that is the overwhelming bulk of my experience (I played occasional tournaments, but wasn’t nearly as good at that as I was at ring games). I think there are a few categories.

1) Risk tolerance. This is a really tricky one, because there can be a lot of reasons for discrepancies in this that aren’t really anything to do with a player’s potential. For example, when I was *just* starting out professionally, I had the very low end of the bankroll that I needed to weather a potential downswing (even if I was playing well). I also had monthly rent and other expenses, and so I had extremely little ability to “take shots”. When I had a more substantial bankroll, I could confidently get my money in on the good side of coinflips, because having just a 52-48 edge meant I was a long-term favorite but could weather the reasonably high likelihood of a short-term loss: That said, to be a very good player, you at the very least need to understand that you should be aggressively pushing your edge when you have the best of it if you can’t due to circumstances that is fine, but it should pain you every time.

2) Bad beats. This is a term that I personally use to identify people who cannot possibly be top tier. Simply put, bad beats are not bad. On the contrary, they’re awesome. They might be annoying as all hell in the moment, but once the shock of someone catching runner-runner on you wears off, you should be happy as a clam. Why? Well, what is a “bad beat”? It’s when you get your money in while you’re ahead, often way ahead, but lose because a hand with a lower chance of winning catches up. Or, to put in another way, your opponent made a massive mistake and you capitalized on it, but you got unlucky. Look, if your opponents are making massive mistakes against you, that’s great. So what if you lose a few? If you keep that up, you’ll be a prohibitive lifetime winner: It’s not really all that common that you’re getting your money in with *that* much of an edge. Even allin preflop with AA vs an opponent who hasn’t looked (i. e. random hand) you’re barely more than 80-20. Granted, 80% favorite is awesome. But if your doctor told you there’s a 20% chance you have cancer, you’d presumably be terrified, because that’s a relevantly large percentage. So it’s not absurd to imagine that your AA vs a random hand won’t win. But obviously you still want to be doing that as many times as possible, even knowing you’ll lose a bunch of them: Tl;dr, if someone is telling a bad beat story, they might be good but they definitely are not *that* good, because they clearly don’t understand a fundamental aspect of the game. Or perhaps, they lack…

3) Emotional control. It’s fine to get pissed about losing. But if getting pissed makes you do stupid things, you will never be “very good”. Likewise, it’s fine to get excited when you win a big pot, but if that giant pile of chips in front of you means you will start playing poorly, you will never be “very good”. It’s just the way of things. Consisting and recurrent “subtle instances of tilt” are cumulatively just as bad in the long run as isolated moments of mega-tilt. There are circumstances in which it’s fine to adjust your game due to a change in stack size, but that’s not the same thing as ignoring your personal strategy sets and making decisions you wouldn’t otherwise have made. I think a good strategy is to high-five someone whenever they take a big pot off of you, and do NOT be sarcastic; similarly, give a sheepish apology to anyone who you beat. If you can’t do those things (or whatever equivalent fits your personality), your head probably isn’t in the game at the moment. Take a walk, find a stairwell and scream for a few seconds (be careful not to get security on you…), or whatever you need to do to be able to go back and be a human again. If it’s so bad that you can’t, pick up and come back another day.

4) Understanding more than just pot odds. Pot odds are necessary things to learn, obviously, but really it takes a decent handle on arithmetic or a good memory and you’re basically set. It’s not tricky stuff. However, there’s a lot more to “odds” than just straight pot odds. Let’s look at the example of NLHE: On the flop, you have a flush draw against someone with 2 pair. They make a bet, and you have to decide if you are getting a suitable price to call based on pot odds… right? Well, sort of. If you and your opponent have huge stacks (relative to current bet/pot sizes), you can potentially call even if your immediate pot odds aren’t sufficient, because of implied odds. Implied odds reflect money that you can reliably win on future streets if you make your draw. So if your opponent just bet the pot, that’s not sufficient for you to call on your draw, but if you can reasonably expect that your opponent will put in another pot bet on the turn if you make your flush, then instead of getting 1: 1 odds, your implied odds are 3: 1, which are getting a lot less unfavorable for a call (not quite there, but you get the idea). However, there are reverse implied odds, which in this case would be relevant if you made your flush with a card that paired the board, improving your opponent to a full house that is, you improve but you aren’t helped by it. These detract from your odds. You also need to realize that it’s incredibly rare that you know what your opponent actually has, so really you’re looking to put them on a range of hands and assign relative probabilities to each type of hand (big draw, set, overpair, total bluff, etc are all possibilities that need to be considered and weighted accordingly). Then you’re factoring odds against those things. Assuming you have a play style that accommodates bluffing, you’ll also need to consider bluff equity. This is the general % of “win chance” that you can add into your game plan for a given hand based on how likely they are to fold to a bluff, if you don’t make your hand. This can also affect your ability to make correct calls, that goes way beyond just normal pot odds. Some people NEVER fold overpairs, so you’ll have no bluff equity against them. Some people think it’s a hallmark of great play to make The Tough Fold. TM on a regular basis, and you’d have pretty decent bluff equity against them as long as your bluff looks credible. And so on.

5) Pushing advantages. This is kind of an extension on themes in the 4 items I’ve mentioned already. Semibluffs are a great example of this. If you have a straight draw and you bet, it can look like you have a made hand of some kind rather than a draw. This may lead one-pair hands to fold (which is great!), and will likely help disguise your straight if you make it on a later street: Also, there are instances where your opponent has a hand that *looks* better, but actually is a slight dog against your hand. Examples would be a pair and a flush draw for you against an overpair on the flop, or both a straight and flush draw add in even a slight bit of bluff equity to these, and your equal or slight mathematical advantage starts to become somewhat substantial. If you want to be “very good”, and again this factors in elements of all the previous points, you should be willing to get all of your money into the middle. It’s high-variance play, so you’ll need an appropriately deep bankroll to compensate for losing a bunch of coinflips, but getting all in with huge draws is almost always mathematically advantageous to you (I say “almost” because you will have some reverse implied odds scenarios, such as when someone else also has a draw that will beat yours if you both get there). As I said with #1, if your bankroll can’t support this but you *would* do it otherwise, that’s fair enough but you should know that it was the correct decision. Put another way if you had to bet your life savings on the 52% side of a 52-48, you’re an idiot. But if you could bet $10 as many times as you wanted, you should take absolutely every one of those bets until the end of time.

There are probably more areas that separate “good” and “very good”, but this is getting kind of long, and I think what I’ve listed above is a pretty good starting point.

This answer originally appeared on this Quora question on Betting.

The Difference Between Good And Great Poker Players | School Of Cards

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Transcript:

okay so I wanted to talk about the difference between good and great players and it’s interesting because it I mean there’s there’s many levels of bad players there’s many levels of good players and many levels of great players but there’s a distinctive difference what I think good players and great players do now good players in my opinion are able to play fundamental ABC poker they’re able to you know now are their range and so on and so forth they’re able to extract value and do all these things that are just fundamental ABC poker right and they’re good at issue in restraint and not you know not going crazy at the table and dealing with all these fundamental things that you need to be good at like 1 2 or 2 4 or whatever 2 5 5 5 anything great players don’t really focus on cards but great players focus on situations so great players are different because great players exploit way more than good players and great players exploit in the right times that are profitable over the long run so you’ll see really bad players try to exploit but they’re exploiting or bluffing or trying to make steals that’ll never work the difference between bad players and great players is great players do it it may not work right then and there but over the long run they know that that play that they make will work so the example is like you know the good if I sit down with one of my you know players who played straight up you know basic ABC poker at a 1/2 table they’ll do good they’ll win they’ll have a good hourly rate but if I were to sit down next to them and play out with them I’d have the same hourly rate as them but then plus a little bit on top because of all the little slick things that I do so I’ll be noticing at the table that maybe the player you know maybe the player in the one seat is the kind of player who likes to see every single flop and if they hit they stay in and if they don’t they leave so this is the kind of player that I’m constantly in pots with trying to you know I can take the pot down like 80% of the time and if they don’t if they know they stick around they probably have something and simple things like that that you’re looking for or things where it’s like you know it’s a limp call call call and you know that raising there is going to take down is getting everybody to fold like 90 percent of the time because the players just limp so often they limb foam so off and you know that play to be profitable so you take that perspective or you raise that that’s what you got to do you got to really exploit like poker is all about exploitation for the means people try to good great players are going to exploit when they know that’s profitable over the long run we’re good players are going to not really exploit that much and shitty players are going to exploit in the wrong spot so they’re not being exploiting they were usually exploited they’re not being then I exploiting anyone they’re usually being exploited themselves it’s very very interesting how you know the different dynamic between that and usually you see growth so usually what usually happens players come in they have no idea what the hell they’re doing right so they’re they’re you know raising they’re bluffing it’s tall terrible and then they get to good fundamental ABC poker once that’s their foundation you know fundamental poker is their foundation then they can step away from it from time to time and exploit players all right and it’s it’s a really delicate gradual balance and a good gradual process and the good thing to do is really think about where you are along this scale like you know are you the kind of player who’s is saying you know I think this play is exploitable over the long run you know I’m gonna go all in in this spot because I think that my opponent folds 70 or 80 percent of the time and if they have aces here so be it but most of the time they don’t most the time I pick up this pot and I know this play is plus TV and blah blah blah blah blah if that’s you you know it’s a good thing I mean if you’re just like raised raised in a river raised all and I hope you folds in there bad player probably all right so it usually for the most part people gravitate you don’t see that many great players most players gravitate between good and bad they’re in the middle right there and bringing them to good is pretty easy but bringing them to great takes a lot more time so that’s why you’ll see a lot more and really great boils down to being more exploitive on post post flop everybody’s pretty decent preflop everybody’s going to flop most of the money is made in my game from taking players to the Turner river and then exploiting them that’s where most of your money is going to come from yeah so and then post flop experience comes from experience and post flop skills come from a lot of experience that’s one of the things you see in players you’ve been playing for a long long long time and thinking about the game for a long long long time will have a lot better post flop skills which is very very important and I’ll get into that into another video so just ask yourself really honestly like where are you no shame in it like June as long as you figure out where you are you can you can get better..

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  • YOU DONT SAT. What im saying is the vast mojority of people arent pros. There are even some who are convinced they are pros but lose money consistently

  • Good basic point, though these would be better, Blake if you did a bit more planning, especially for the examples you use to illustrate the major point(s); rather than just talking off the top of your head & trying to come up with relevant, helpful examples as you go.

  • I agree with tubewatcher38 below me there man, I’ve done a lot of teaching dudes over the years, preparation is FUNDAMENTAL. Happy to sit down n have a chat with you sometime, help you learn how to lesson plan a bit better. Hit me up man.

  • Yes and i assume most if not all who play for a living must have a good rakeback deal assuming they arent playing super high stakes where the rake is not that relevant

  • stupid question: if bringing them to good is “pretty easy” ( i assume a good player is a winning player) then why only 1% of players make money long term…

  • it makes perfect sense,most payers would be happy breaking even as they are rec players who like the regs and the dealers at the casino they play at ,some players want to get a little better than break even and yes there are some that want the DREAM (sponsership,TV,etc.) so if he can make a comfortable (remember this is a highly SUBJECTIVE number) living with no risk of bad beats or running bad and not spending hours a day online or in a casino but helping maybe 70% of the players WHY NOT?

  • Meh, it depends. I think rakeback deals online used to be much better pre-2007 when all the sites were scrambling to grab the rush of new players. Everything is so much more dry nowadays.

    As for live players, I know some pay attention to rake/comp differences more than others. If you have a lot of stationy players, it can also encourage you even more to play few pots and look to win one big pot every so often so that the cap results in a lower proportional tax.

  • why would anyone want to teach people to become better poker players instead of making a living playing poker?… Doesn’t make sense. It’s like professional sport tipsters.

  • Now i’m playing with free dollars on Poker stars right this moment. I found your marketing code psp15562 and yes it ensure you get some sort of 100% put in bonus once you put in the 1st time.

  • are you stupid? who said that only 1% of players make money long term? professional players make a living off a poker.