There are lots of valid answers to the question of "What makes a great poker player?", but five really stand out and are common among the greats of the game.
Today, let's look at the personality traits common to the most successful poker players. I'm going to rank them by importance, and you might be surpirsed at which one I rank lowest.
See? That seems like an odd thing to rank last. The reason I'm raking intelligence last, is that in todays world, there are SOOOOOOO many learning resources avaiable to players, that it really is possible to become a great poker player without having to be a member of Mensa!
Strategic concepts, developed by some very intelligent people, are widely available and discected all over the internet - especially in Hold'Em - which means that you can improve your play with one simple Google search (or by reading this blog).
Don't get me wrong. There is most definetly a connection between intelligence and poker skill. Some very successful poker players have impressive academic resumes, but there are also lots who never finished school.
#4: Natural Ability
There are lots of examples of players who did great things in the poker community through their natural abilities. More often than not, these were the players who were successfull before the 2004 poker boom. Think of the players like Doyle Brunson, Stu Unger and Phil Hellmuth. They were successfull before poker had almost been turned into a science.
But, some newcomers have found success quickly as well. I'm thinking of Viktor Blom who jumped right into the highest stakes games and learned very quickly how to dominate them.
With how much more competitive poker has become in todays world, the players that rank near the top now are the ones who are regularly studying and working to improve their game. In any competition, the person who stops working hard will likely be the one who gets left behind.
#3: Bankroll Management
This is where most amateur players make their biggest mistakes. If you want to be successful in poker, you need to treat it like a business. Proper bankroll management is essential to long term success, as is generally managing your money well off the table.
As a whole, poker players tend not to be all that smart with their money. This is particularly true on the tournament circuit where players can find themselves with a huge payday after a single event. Far too often, these players find themselves with not much to show for it very shortly thereafter.
#2: Emotional Intelligence
Being able to control your emotions is a HUGE part of being a successful poker player. You will lose at times. Sometimes you'll lose for what seems like an eternity even when you're making the correct decisions. If you can stay motivated, focused, and level headed during a time where you're running bad, you can play through the variance and get back ahead. If you can't keep in control, you can expect your losing streak to continue.
Being able to do this gives you a huge advantage of your competition. When someone else is on tilt, and playing poorly, you want to be able to keep playing your best game to stay on the right track.
Discipline is the single most important personality characteristic a poker player can have. Discipline is the single most important personality characteristic a poker player can have. Yep, I said that twice.
Proper discipline with help you make the right fold when you're frustrated and want to all. Discipline will help you spend time analyzing hands that lost, and seeing where you could have played the hand better. Discipline will get you up off the table when you're not playing at your best.
With those five traits discussed, there's one more that didn't make the list. Luck. I didn't include luck because it's not something you have an control over, or influence on.
Luck is especially important in poker tournaments, where the payouts are so top heavy and the fields so large these days. You can't win a poker tournament without getting lucky (which is also the same as not getting really unlucky and flopping set under set). Skill is important, for sure, but with so much variance in an individual poker tournament, luck is also a huge factor.
So, tell yourself that luck plays a role. Because it does. Don't let a run of good cards get to your head and make you think you're playing better than you are, and don't let a bad run of cards make you start questioning your decisions.
With that said, Good Luck at the tables!