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Rafa Nadal

Rafa Nadal

If you were to break down the characteristics that are truly needed to become a top player in any high-stakes skill game, heart would be very close to the top of all of them. The ability to keep having the guts to not only continue, but play in an aggressive and dynamic way regardless of circumstance unites pretty much every top player from Phil Ivey right through to Rafa Nadal.

I'm a big fan of heart. The players I truly fear are the ones who I know have a lot of guts. They don't spew that hard after bad beats, they don't take their eye off the ball much, they quit when they need to, and they just have this unrelenting self belief that keeps them firing away at (mostly) the right times. They stumble - just like everyone does at some point - but they very rarely fall, and that is an attribute that very few people can truly claim in a game as brutal and complex as poker.

This often sounds an alien concept if you discuss it with members of the public unfamiliar with gambling (or even high level sport for that matter), but the guts and heart it actually takes to keep picking yourself up after every miss and awful run of luck is the true attribute of champions. Everybody wins well - that's the easy part.

Take a game like for example. Golf is littered with players who are unbelievable until it really counts - at which point their game falls apart. In the case of golf, this just means some embarrassing moments in front of the cameras, some general criticism and perhaps a small reduction in the millions in sponsorship and general revenue. In poker however, this can be the difference between a winning year or not, or even just keeping your bankroll full stop.

Poker is littered with tremendous talents who just lacked the heart to keep it together at the table when the pressure really started to get big. This can take the form of just not playing their regular game as the stakes increase, but it can equally take the form of refusing to quit certain games or stakes - something which often takes tremendous guts in itself. It is arguably the hardest thing to teach an aspiring player, but it is one of the true hallmarks of all the greats, and poker is often as much about what is inside your rib cage as it is about what is in your skull.

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