Millions of people enjoy playing poker every day in the US, both online and at casinos and licensed poker clubs. It’s easy to assume that succeeding at poker is all about understanding odds and probabilities while balancing risk against return. That’s true to a certain extent, and those are certainly important skills for a poker player to learn.
But poker is, by nature, a social game and many poker experts will argue that it is as important to play the other players as it is to play the cards. Here, we look at the personality traits and soft skills that poker players need if they are to rise above mediocrity.
Managing your emotions
They don’t call it a poker face for nothing. Poker players face ups and downs, elation and deflation in every game. It’s vital to be able to keep your emotions under control, and not just to avoid giving information to other. If you’re angry, excited or stressed, it’s going to affect your judgement and sooner or later, you’ll slip up.
The best players are those with great observational skills. They will watch their opponents like hawks and notice what are known as “tells” – little things they do, from the way they take a sip of their drink to a habit of scratching their ear when they have a good or bad hand.
Setting the pace
Many of the skills we mention here are mostly applicable to live poker games. But here’s one that is equally important if you prefer to play online poker at one of the many US legal poker sites. You need to be able to dictate the pace of the game so that it suits your purposes – because if you don’t, another player will, so that it suits theirs. It is not an easy skill to master but if you can crack it, it will make all the difference to your success.
A favorite topic among those who know a little about poker – and a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Novices tend to go overboard on bluffing, but it is as much about your opposing players as it is about you. It is as important to be able to read when it is appropriate to try to sell a bluff as it is to be able to do it convincingly.
Poker might be a social game, but when you are up against it, the poker table can be a lonely place. You can’t ask anyone for help or advice, it’s just down to you to make the right call. Sometimes that means taking a “least worst” course of action and folding to minimize your losses rather than pressing on and risking a much bigger fall.
Following on from the last point, you need to have the courage of your convictions. This also relates to our point about setting the pace. There are occasions when pausing to ponder can ruin everything and, to quote a long ago playwright, he who hesitates is lost. Making decisions swiftly and without second guessing yourself is a valuable skill.