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Comparing Amateurs With Pros - A Top Ten List

|  Published: Aug 17, 2016


This list is not exhaustive, as there are too many comparisons to relate here. These are just the most common ones in pot-limit Omaha and no-limit hold’em. The order is not meant to be instructive, but the first five are probably the most significant.

1. Patience And Discipline

Amateurs often want action and come to play. Pros are highly disciplined and patiently wait for opportunities. As Daniel Negreanu said about amateurs, “You don’t try to outplay them; you have to out-fundamental them.” Patience and discipline are fundamental.

2. Emotional Control

Amateurs get seriously distracted by becoming emotionally involved with their opponents. (“I’m gonna look that guy up with anything next time. I just know he’s stealing.” Ed Miller.) Pros are not usually distracted by their emotions, especially emotions driven by their opponents’ play. “Once you take anything personally at the poker table, you’re done,” Phil Ivey.

3. Ego Control

Amateurs often get too fancy trying to outplay their opponents in individual hands and get a lot of satisfaction from it. Some play like they want to win every pot they enter. It’s an ego thing. Pros are much more detached and don’t let their egos affect how they play. While they may target players to exploit observed weaknesses, they don’t pick on anyone to retaliate or get even. And the play or result of any given hand does not affect their ego or self-esteem.

4. Calling Too Much

Amateurs are curious and call too much, either to see the flop, the next card, or on the end. Pros call only with a plan for the hand or as part of an overall tournament strategy. And they don’t pay off big bets, especially on the turn or the river.

5. Cards Vs. Chip Stacks

Amateurs tend to give too much weight to the cards. Pros give more weight to chip stack sizes. As Tommy Angelo explains, “Consciously or unconsciously, matters of stack size are where I look first and last…. I used to think cards first, and then stack size. Now it’s the other way around.”

Because they have strong situational awareness and play the chip stacks more than their cards, pros can fold strong hands and win with weak ones.

6. Folding

Amateurs typically don’t fold enough. They hate to fold strong draws or what they think is the best hand. Pros can easily fold strong draws and what may be the best hand.

What amateur, for example, can fold KK in a multi-way tournament pot with lots of action before the flop? Pros can do it. For example, when faced with an UTG raise, a big re-raise, and an all-in re-raise for all their chips in a 4-handed pot. They know when tournament survival makes more sense than trying to accumulate chips by just playing the strength of their hand.

Phil Hellmuth reportedly folded a straight flush draw on the flop in the WSOP Main Event. While a slight favorite to win the hand, he declined to gamble for most of his chips, relying instead on his overall skill edge in the tournament. It was a strategic fold.

7. Different Reliance On Reads And Intuition

Most amateurs know all about reads, but often give them too much weight. Pros know their reads can easily be unreliable, especially when they haven’t seen their opponents play enough hands. But pros can also fold or pull the trigger based on intuitive gut feeling when consciously unsure of their reads. With less experience to finely hone their subconscious minds, amateurs are usually less intuitive than pros.

8. Physical Tells Vs. Betting Patterns

Amateurs often put too much weight on physical tells and body language. Pros know that betting patterns are usually more insightful and reliable. For Ed Miller, “Physical tells aren’t the most important.” He relies far more on his opponents’ betting patterns to “decode their play.” In particular, Miller says that “It’s hard to overstate how important bet-sizing tells can be.”

Compared to amateurs, pros are much better at knowing how and when to rely on betting patterns. While amateurs often think that the way someone plays 3 or 4 hands is a pattern, pros know better. They’re looking for well-established patterns over many hands.

9. Bluffing

Many amateurs seem to think that poker is mainly about bluffing. But not the pros. Todd Brunson says that “Bluffing may be the most overrated play in poker.” Pros bluff in small pots, but rarely in big ones. David Williams makes “small buffs and small bets, but when I put a significant percentage of my stack in, I pretty much have the goods.” Pros make more money – and accumulate more tournament chips – by betting for value with the best hand than by bluffing.

Amateurs hate to be bluffed, but most pros aren’t seriously bothered by it. If an opponent has position on them or a much bigger stack, they expect to be bluffed and let it happen. For example, in PLO where superior position is king, pros widely accept that the big stacks have the right to take the pot with a bluff. They won’t get fancy by challenging a routine bet by a player with position, especially when he also has a bigger chip stack. It doesn’t make any sense.

10. Dealing With Variance

Amateurs have a hard time dealing with variance and usually don’t keep records of it. Pros know variance is a crucial part of the game, keep records to track it, and adjust for it as part of an overall strategy. This includes mitigating variance by controlling pot sizes. And their records tell them how much variance they can stand at various stakes given their bankrolls and tolerance for risk.

Preston Oade ( wrote “The Art and Science of Poker Tournament Selection,” a Kindle book available on Amazon. Playing mostly online, he has been rated by OPR in the top 1.2 percent worldwide. His published live tournament wins are $195,394. A retired lawyer, he has successfully argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.