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Poker Player Virtues

October 30, 2019
by Pete Clarke

In this article we are going to flip our perspective from what to do as a poker player to how to be as a poker player. A ‘virtue’ is a ‘good or useful quality of a thing or person’ – in this case of a poker player. Most players who devote themselves to the game do not become successful – it’s a tough field these days. Here are some of the virtuous traits that have enabled some of my most successful students to get to where they are today.


Giving up is common to every poker who did not reach their goals. It is entailed in the very notion of failure. I made the immature choice to quit poker forever in 2009, at the very start of my career, after one bad downswing. A few weeks later I got home from a night out and fired up some tables ‘just for fun’. A ten buy-in heater later and I was off and running. I made $20,000 that year playing 6-Max cash and making my way through the stakes. Now poker is my job and my life and will be for the foreseeable future. It just shows you – those who give up too quickly might be throwing their dreams away. Have the conviction to keep getting up and trying again, no matter how badly variance, or even your own bad play, might knock you down. Seek help from better players and stay in the game. If you work hard enough for long enough and have a little natural ability, your day will come.

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Acceptance and Focus

Acceptance and focus are such important characteristics for survival in the turbulent realm of poker. They need to be combined in order to succeed. The more hands you play, the more insane swings you will see. The ability to shrug off losing pot after losing pot, while keeping your eyes on the long-term goal, is key to success.

To illustrate, let me tell you a little anecdote. Once while I was living in Italy, I took a trip out to a seaside town and lay sunbathing on a rocky beach. That afternoon, I witnessed many little green crabs make their journeys across the wet slabs of stone over which washed powerful rhythmic waves. Every few seconds, the crabs would get hit by a wave and washed from the rock they were traversing, down into a crevice between slabs of stone. They would then simply swim back up through the wave and onto the rock once more. A few steps forward towards their destination before another wave would come along and repeat the process over and over again. Those crabs and their humble determination have always reminded me of the struggle of the poker player. The waves are surges of bad variance, coolers, suck outs, doubts, fears; whatever obstacles will arise in your poker career. The crab is you. In order to get to that lovely rock pool (or wherever crabs go) you have to get back up and keep going, knowing that the next wave is just around the corner. You have to be acceptant of the obstacles that threaten your success and embrace them as inevitable challenges that can be overcome.

Thirst for Knowledge

Imagine that you had to drink six litres of water to win a prize. This daunting task would be a great deal easier if you entered the challenge already very thirsty. There is so much to learn and digest in poker that if you do not have a huge appetite for learning, it will be very difficult to make your way through all of the material in an organized way. To become a strong player, you have to fall in love, not just with the highs of winning, but with the technical depth of the game. Otherwise, you will lack the devotion to keep learning and keep working hard day after day.


The mistakes that you make are the key to improving your play. They shine the light on where the cracks are located in your game, so that you can get fixing and become a strong winning player. In order to fix a mistake and grow from it, you have to first own that mistake in an impartial and content way. If you are constantly in denial about what you are doing wrong, you will stagnate. There is no light to see where the cracks are located, and your game will crumble in the dark like a faulty building. Do not take criticism as an affront; try to see it as fuel for improvement. Our egos run wild in poker – such is the competitive environment, but that is no excuse for arrogance. After ten years in this industry, I still make mistakes every time I play a session. As long as you make less errors than your opponents, you will beat them, so try to see the errors you make as opportunities not to make the same mistake again.

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Are you the type of person that can stand by your convictions and say no to short-term temptation to maximise your long-term gains? If so, poker is for you. There will be many times when a battle emerges between your conscious and subconscious minds. The former will have some rational idea of what action is most likely to maximise your expectations, while the latter will crave some irrational action in order to appease a rising emotion, caused by the financial battle you are currently fighting by playing the game. The conscious mind knows that folding is correct and if it manages to quell the emotional rebellion within and prevent the hand from reaching for the call button, it has won one of many battles and set the precedent for future victories. Try to get in to the habit of not letting emotion dictate your actions early on in your poker career. It will save you so much time and money further down the line.


The successful poker player is generally a very well-rounded individual with a lot of positive traits that playing the game well has forced them to develop over time. There are many more virtues to cover and so we shall examine more in future articles.


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