Patrick Leonard knows a thing or two about crushing at poker. The England-based pro has compiled over $2.5 million in live tournament earnings in his career. Over the course of one week in 2017, Leonard picked up the three biggest scores of his career, winning the $25,000 Aria High Roller 67 for $403,200, the $25,000 Aria High Roller 70 for $386,400, and the $10,400 Belagio Cup XIII for $475,940. The partypoker ambassador has over 20,000 followers on Twitter and often shares his thoughts on poker and what’s going on in the poker world with his followers.
On Monday, Leonard put out a tweet listing the five “biggest traits of all [poker crushers] I know”. In this article we will break down each of these five traits with some analysis and examples along the way.
1. “Strong Intuition / Instinct“
This is an interesting trait to open with. Nowadays, so many players aim to play game-theory optimal (GTO) poker, which is based purely on the mathematics of each situation. Human beings are incapable of playing perfect poker in every spot like a computer can, but the idea of GTO strategy is to get as close to perfect as possible. By balancing all of your calling, raising, and folding spots using ratios that have been solved mathematically, you theoretically can’t be exploited. Because no matter how your opponent plays, you will always have the math backing your decisions.
Yet despite GTO being considered the gold standard and the future of poker being “solved,” the human element to the game is still very real. Take Doug Polk’s fold against Phil Hellmuth on a High Stakes Poker hand that aired in March. The flop came jack-nine-eight with two spades. Polk had the second-nut straight with the ten-seven and Hellmuth had the nuts with queen-ten.
Polk and Hellmuth both checked to James Bord, who bet $2,000. Polk raised to $7,000, and Hellmuth over-jammed all-in for $90,200 more. The math says call here; you have the second nuts and your opponent could have bluffs and semi-bluffs in their range. But as Polk tanked, Hellmuth’s table talk gave Polk the feeling that he was beat. And despite the fact that he has routinely talked about not being afraid to stack off and avoiding soul-reading in his strategy videos, Polk knew he was beat and made the excellent lay down.
Having the intuition to know when to fold when you are beat, call when you are best and to bluff when your opponent is weak is an invaluable tool in every poker crusher’s arsenal.
2. “Committed to big volume“
This one is fairly straight forward. To become an expert at something, you need to put in thousands of hours of work. This applies to all hobbies and trades, and poker is no exception. The best players in the world are constantly playing poker and studying poker. Even if you reach the top of the mountain, you won’t stay there for long if you aren’t still putting in the same amount of volume and study as your opponents are.
3. “Don’t mind to look stupid/care what others think“
Having intuition is one thing. Being willing to act on that intuition, even if it may potentially make you look bad, is what separates the crushers from the pretenders.
There are countless examples of this that come to mind, but here are just a couple. Michael Addamo won two bracelets this year in the midst of one of the most impressive heaters in poker history. In the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl VI, Addamo won a massive pot and eliminated Daniel Negreanu early on with a massive over-bet all-in when he had the goods. Later in the same tournament, he made another over-bet all-in as a pure bluff against Jake Schindler.
Had Negreanu folded, people would have questioned why Addamo didn’t pick a more standard value-sizing on the river. Had Schindler called, people would have criticized the bluff, asking why Addamo would risk so much on it when he already had a healthy stack. Addamo doesn’t care what any of us think.
Tom Dwan has been seen calling a river bet with nine-high on two different poker shows — once back in the day on High Stakes Poker and once far more recently on Hustler Casino Live. In both instances, Dwan put his opponent on low cards that missed draws. And in both instances Dwan was wrong. But despite the fact that he was playing on a televised stream and could look foolish calling with such a weak hand, Dwan didn’t care. That type of fearlessness goes a long way.
4. “Understand theory well enough so they understand where to exploit/what regs are doing“
This was mostly covered in the section on intuition. GTO is a great baseline to study as it can help you to understand what perfect play dictates in specific spots. But in reality, very few players are playing GTO at a high level, and that number really plummets as you go down in stakes or play in tournaments with large fields.
In addition to knowing GTO lines, successful poker players must also know how the average player at different skill levels deviates from these lines. This will help them to adjust their play accordingly to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. And if the opponent is too weak to make adjustments of their own, they won’t have to worry about counter-exploits.
5. “Play BIG pots, don’t small ball“
Poker is very cyclical. Small ball and risk aversion used to be the name of the game. Not anymore. Taking more aggressive lines and building bigger pots gives crushers the opportunity to put more pressure on their opponents with larger bluffs and to win bigger pots with their made hands. Small ball may come back into favor one day, but in today’s poker world, you can’t be afraid to mix it up in big pots.
FlicFeatured Image Credit: Flickr – World Poker Tour