What are the most important characteristics a poker player should possess? Think about it for a minute. I’m sure some of your ideas include traits such as patience, discipline, work ethic, instinct, tons of experience, math skills, a good poker face, and, of course, luck.Yet the one critical skill that doesn’t appear on most players’ lists may trump all the other characteristics: emotional control.
Poker is a game of decision-making. Once you’ve made a decision, anything that happens in a hand that is beyond your control does not matter. Learn from a mistake, but don’t dwell on it. If you aren’t able to control your emotions when an unfortunate situation arises, you are at a disadvantage already.
Your mental state doesn’t only control your decision-making, it is also in charge of your ego, which needs to be tamed as well. I’m going to put this into perspective by sharing a little of my poker history.I have played poker for almost nine years. Sometimes I would play 30 online poker tournaments in a single day. It took me roughly eight years to win my first World Series of Poker bracelet, which also happened to be my first major tournament win (live or online). I won a lot of smaller poker tournaments, but that victory in a major event always seemed to elude me.
At times, I thought I was the greatest tournament poker player in the world, but I was humbled quickly. I paid my dues. I was able to understand and come to terms with the most unpredictable element in poker: variance.Variance is essentially defined as luck. It is one thing you cannot control in a poker game. You could be the best poker player in the world, but if you’re always on the wrong end of variance, you will constantly lose. If you can learn to comprehend and accept variance, you will become a better poker player and a better person. This is directly correlated with emotional control and ego.Lose your ego — it doesn’t deal the river cards. We all get unlucky, but some of us don’t complain about it. (Flabbergasting, I know.)
Most of the poker industry, including its players, is focused on results. Focus on the decisions, not the results, and you will immediately benefit from it.
In 2011, I was at the final table of the WSOP $1,500 no-limit hold ’em event, and I could almost taste my first bracelet. I got into a hand with Robert Koss, who went all in for $715,000 from middle position. I snap-called with Kh Kc. I felt great when he turned over 6h 6c. I quickly felt a lot worse when the flop came 5s 6s 7c, followed by a 5c on the turn that gave him a full house. The 3c on the river didn’t help me, and Koss doubled up. All I could do was shrug and hand over my chips. I finished seventh and would have to wait to capture that elusive WSOP title.But that’s poker.
Poker is a grind. There are ups and downs. If you think you’re really unlucky, you’re not. Trust me, I know.
Variance rules the poker world. If you want to stand a chance against it, learn to control your emotions and embrace the struggle. Variance is conquered over time. But remember: Poker doesn’t owe you anything.
Tristan Wade is a World Series of Poker bracelet winner and the director of training and education for DeepStacks Live poker seminars.