People sometimes ask whether certain poker players just "have what it takes" and others don't. In at least one way, the answer is yes. I have consistently seen one personality trait among great players that weak players lack: boldness. Playing without fear, neither of money nor of losing, is a hallmark of many dominant players in the poker world.

Some of my colleagues recently discussed a hand in which a superior player threw away his advantage by worrying about the money at risk.

With a little more than $1,000 in play in a $2/$5 no-limit hold 'em game, the stakes were higher than usual for our hero, as typical buy-ins ranged from $350 to $500. He was dealt 9s 8s in early position and elected to call, after which a loose and mediocre opponent, sitting with more than $1,000 himself, raised to $20 from middle position. Two other opponents called from the button and the small blind, both weak players. Our hero also called, and four people saw a flop of Js 5h 6s.

The preflop raiser was the first to decide to bet, tossing out $80, nearly the size of the pot. After the button folded, the small blind called.


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Holding 9s 8s here gave my colleague some different options. His flush draw and inside straight draw added up to about a 45 percent chance of making a monster hand by the end. With no hand yet but a good chance of making one, he could reasonably take either a passive or aggressive approach. He decided to just call and see a turn.

Three players remained, and the pot had grown to $325 when the 10c landed. Again, the original aggressor was the first to bet, and he made another strong one: $300. The small blind folded, and our hero felt that it was time to leverage the power of his draws and become aggressive. He went all in for about $900, leaving his opponent with a decision to call for $600 more. After some agonized groaning, he made the call, complaining that he just couldn't fold, and tabled Ad Ah. The Kc on the river changed nothing, and our hero had lost more than $1,000 in the end.

This was a reasonable play, one that could seldom lose big in the long run.

Unfortunately, just being reasonable does not make a strategy optimal. Ideally, our hero wanted to win before showdown. But he did a poor job of persuading his opponent to fold. By waiting until the turn to take the initiative, he made two major mistakes: He let his opponent get in deep enough to feel committed, and he didn't convincingly represent a strong hand.

If he had raised the flop and continued betting on the turn and river, his opponent may well have believed our hero was strong and just given up. More important, our hero would have played his hand fearlessly, making himself harder to read and giving himself a stronger presence at the table.

In the end, bold plays -- and bold players -- win the most money.

Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com.