The old adage, “patience is a virtue,” pays off at the poker table.

Phil Ivey, the 28-year-old poker phenomenon who has won millions of dollars over his professional career, is one of the most respected players on the tournament circuit. Unlike some of the more flamboyant young poker brats who hog camera time with annoying antics and assault their opponents with full-blown temper tantrums when they lose a hand, Ivey is the epitome of class – and patience.

Watch Ivey play in televised games, and you’ll immediately see that he exemplifies calm. Hard to read (an image he has mastered), he seldom reacts to bad beats with anything other than a roll of the eyes or subtle shake of the head. Often referred to as the Tiger Woods of Poker because hes one of few African-American players to make it to the top tier, Ivey is virtually unflappable. Hes a methodical student of the game, his knack for reading other players is uncanny, and hes known for being fearless on the felt. His poker resume is impressive: He won his first World Series event at the ripe old age of 23. Since then, he has earned four more World Series bracelets, among other significant victories.

One of the secrets to Iveys success is his willingness to be patient when playing. He likes to gather tells and quietly mesh into the rhythm of a game before making any sudden moves. That said, Ivey can be as aggressive as they come. This season alone, he placed third at the World Poker Challenge in Reno ($163,908 prize), sixth at the World Poker Tours World Championship in Las Vegas ($377,420), and sixth at the Borgata Poker Open in Atlantic City ($105,700). Over the last three seasons on the WPT alone, he has taken home roughly $1.27 million at high-stakes competitions. And on June 28, he won the $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the 2005 World Series of Poker, carting home another $635,603, in addition to his fifth WSOP bracelet.

Ivey has gone on the record in many interviews, advising amateur players to develop patience when they play – regardless of whether youre in a home game, playing online (he plays about 10 hours a week on Full Tilt Poker), or visiting a brick-and-mortar casino. Hes a strong proponent of playing for the love of the game – not just for the money – and he has frequently informed interviewers that its critical for new players to take their time and never rush.

Let it come, and don’t try and go too fast, he stated in a recent interview. Basically, just take your time.

Unfortunately, most players – particularly those gambling with play money at free online sites – cannot restrain themselves from jumping into every hand, even if their cards can safely be characterized as unplayable. They go all-in at the most inappropriate times, hoping to win a monster pot to make up for all of their prior losses. And if they do happen to win through bluffing or sheer luck on the river, they receive negative reinforcement that perpetuates this strategically unsound approach to the game.

Most players simply play too many hands. Its extremely frustrating to play against people who will continually bet with any hand: 7-2, 8-3 and the like. These are not good starting hands, and impatient players need to fold them. The secret to becoming good – and I mean consistently good – is to develop enough discipline and patience to fold when you have a crappy hand. Yes, you’ll have to sit around while other players battle it out, and this can be dull for the short-attention-span crowd. But if you play on a free site, you still need to work on perfecting your game, which means mucking bad hands and treating your play money as though its the real thing: cash that comes out of your own pocket.

As Ivey echoed in a recent interview, certain hands are playable, certain hands are unplayable, and others can be playable in one situation, but not another. You want to have a hand before reaching for your chips.

Next time you sit down to play, look at your cards carefully, and be honest with yourself: Would you bet $50 or $100 of your own money before the flop when you hold a 7-2? Odds are you’d fold – and the same thing should happen at a play money table.

From a psychological perspective, you can teach yourself to become a more patient player. Just as you would stretch your muscles before engaging in rigorous exercise to avoid strains and sprains, you can give yourself a patience tune-up before you sit down to play.

Think of a person who you think is patient – and be that person, advises Kathy Gantz, MSW, a New York City-based psychotherapist. Do what that person does, and then you’ll have what you want.

Gantz recommends practising an exercise called the 10-Second Grip before sitting down to play: Cross your arms in front of you, or grab and squeeze the armrests of your chair, tensing your upper and lower arms, she says. Tense your stomach and leg muscles, as well. Hold this position for about 10 seconds, while you continue to breathe.

Its also helpful, she notes, to think of a safe place within yourself – somewhere you can shift into whenever you get impatient. And just by placing your thumb and forefinger together, while taking a deep breath, can give your body the signal to relax. Your mind then becomes clear, and this can be a haven of comfort in times of impatience.”