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Grit: The Key to Being a Poker Success

Grit is the Key to Poker Success

Given the choice, would you rather be a naturally gifted poker player or an Average Abe who has to work really hard at the game? Which do you think correlates better with long-term success in the game?

Before I reveal the answer, let me offer this caveat. There are many factors that are important to success like curiosity, passion, emotional intelligence, and more. Right now I want to focus on one specific aspect of personality that is associated with poker success and that trait is called grit.

According to Angela Duckworth, a leading researcher on the concept, grit can be best described as the perseverance and passion for long-term goals. The gritty person simply refuses to give up and will not be outworked.

In the poker world there is an emphasis on natural talent. We admire those mathematical geniuses who seem to grasp difficult concepts with ease. And if you consider yourself average, you may have the belief that attaining success in poker is not in the cards for you.

Luckily, this could not be further from the truth.

To be clear, we all show up to the table with different levels of inherent ability. There is no doubt that some players are mathematically gifted while others have psychological gifts. But it is also true that even if you are missing the maths gene, you can make a huge amount of progress if you work hard enough. The good news for all aspiring poker players is that most of what you need to learn about the game is not so complex that only a few can learn it.

What matters most is your willingness to put in the work. This is where Average Abe has the advantage. There are two sides to this coin. First, over a number of studies participants who rated highest in grit also showed less natural talent and ability. Second, those who possess a great deal of natural talent tend to not work as hard. Being gifted is no guarantee of success and in the end may actually hurt you.

As far back as 1869, Francis Galton — cousin of Charles Darwin — published one of the first scientific works on giftedness and achievement. Using qualitative methods, he studied the biographies of eminent men that included musicians, athletes, and judges to find out what it takes to become a true outlier.

Galton concluded that you need three things in order to achieve: talent, passion, and the capacity for hard labour. Darwin read Galton’s work and agreed with his assessment, but made the comment that he did not see himself as particularly smart! I would suggest that Darwin made up for any lack in natural ability with passion and work ethic.

The recipe for becoming a poker master is simple. You must stick with your interest and be willing to work diligently for years and years. You should become the epitome of grit. To determine if you are on course to become an outlier who experiences genuine poker success, answer the following:

  • How passionate are you about poker?
  • How long are you willing to work on your game?
  • Do you have the passion to sustain the stamina needed to become a real outlier?

If you are an average player with a high level of determination and a great work ethic, you are in a much better position to succeed than the most naturally gifted player who doesn’t like to work.

Photo: John Bruckman,

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker with Jonathan Little, available in paperback, audio, and e-book formats via D&B Poker as well as through the PokerNews Book Section. Follow her on Twitter @DrTriciaCardner.

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