How to find a poker coach:
With the rise of online poker, the poker coaching industry has also taken off. Prior to the internet, hiring a poker coach often involved being physically present with a pro, sweating long live sessions, taking notes, and discussing the session and strategy after the fact. It was a huge inconvenience and a huge time commitment, and who knew how effective it would be, or if you could even trust that your coach was actually a real and significant winner at the game. With the advent of online poker, many of these barriers were blown away, making convenient and effective poker coaching a real possibility. The internet allows people to connect from all across the globe in real time, video chat, and even screen share, making the entire world your market for choosing a coach. In addition, online poker is much faster than live, and combined with multi-tabling and statistic tracking software, makes it possible to view exponentially more hands with your coach. But possibly the most significant advantage is that tracking software programs allow you to ascertain if a potential coach truly is a winner, at what game and what stake level, and at which networks. While these are not fool-proof, of course, they are more reliable than just taking someone’s word for it!
Poker Coach Accountability
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing your coach is whether he is actually a significant winner at the game you are hoping to improve. Many players’ online results are made public through third-party data collection websites. If you can find your coach’s results on one of these sites, you can be fairly confident in the information, as that data is collected independently of your coach and has almost definitely not been manipulated to make your coach falsely appear a winner. It is usually a good idea to choose a coach from a reputable coaching website, like this one, because you can assume they have already undergone a rigorous screening process to ensure that they are legitimate. Another advantage to finding a coach through an online instructional site is that you know he has coaching experience, is probably a pretty-well spoken individual, and is capable of communicating information in a clear and useful way. Also, you can usually give the coaches a “test-drive” by watching some of their online content, and seeing if their way of thinking and communicating speaks to you.
You can also request that your prospective coach send you recent graphs of his results from his own database. Make sure there is a large enough sample size included in the graph. I would want to see consistent results over 100,000 hands to make sure that the graph is accounting for run-good and run-bad, rather than him showing me the results from that one week last year when he ran like god! Be sure also that the results are from the specific game you want help with. Just because he is a fantastic limit hold’em player doesn’t mean that he can crush pot-limit Omaha as well. While a mastery of one game can certainly help understanding another, I would rather learn from someone who is already an expert at my particular game.
Keep in mind that quality of play varies greatly from stake level to level. The best high-stakes player in the world might not be the best coach for you if you are looking to start winning at $.10/.20, because the super agro style that is necessary for success at $25/50 may get you into trouble at the micro-level games. Not only that, but he probably charges a high fee that wouldn’t make sense for a beginning low-level player to pay. From our list, for example, Bill Seymour charges $200/hour due to his years of experience and extensive knowledge and success in many different poker games. On the other hand, there are very successful online professionals who make a real living multi-tabling and destroying the micro-stakes games, and charge much less for very valuable lessons. Clint Losch, for example, charges his students only $50/week for help understanding the math involved in SNG tournaments. Someone like this would probably be a fantastic coach for a beginning or lower-level student; possibly more effective, in fact, than the “world’s greatest poker player.” To find the most effective (and cost-efficient) coach, I would recommend looking for someone who is a big-time winner at your specific stake level, and has demonstrated success at least one or two levels higher than you as well. That way you know they have advanced skill, yet their expertise is still applicable at your stake level.
Communication is Critical
Almost as important as actually being a winner at the game, is for a coach to be able to communicate how to be a winner at the game. There are plenty of great poker players out there who are long-term significant winners, but simply aren’t capable of putting into words just how they win. An example of this type of player is someone who would watch you call down to the river with top pair jacks and say, “See, you should be folding there.” When you reply asking why, he might say something like, “Because you need to fold top pair in big pots.” That advice is usually accurate, and can probably save you a lot of money if you have a tendency to call a lot of money away with just a pair, however it won’t get you anywhere in terms of understanding why your top pair is no good, or how to avoid getting yourself in that situation in the first place.
Of course most pro poker players have a fantastic understanding of the math of the game, hand reading skills, live or online tells, statistics, and years of experience in different situations. And of course you want your poker coach to have all of these skills. But what truly makes a poker player great is an intangible quality- they seem to just get it. If you’ve ever watched the pros play on a high stakes TV show, or watched the final table of the WSOP, you will have seen them make some pretty unbelievable folds and calls. You often find yourself wondering, “How the heck do they know??” But they just do. That’s the quality I’m talking about: they just get it. The best coach in my opinion is one who just gets it, and is able to communicate the thought process they use to get there. If you hear your coach frequently replying, “You just do,” or “That’s just the most +EV play in this spot,” without any further clarification, that is a big warning sign that he either doesn’t truly get the game, or is incapable of communicating his thought process to you. Either way, it makes for an ineffective coach.
Many poker players have a bit of an arrogant streak in them. In fact, confidence (yes, confidence, not arrogance!) is almost a prerequisite for a successful poker player. Pulling off successful bluffs is a crucial part of the game, and takes a lot of guts! Therefore, it is important to keep your own confidence (or arrogance!) at bay when taking a lesson from a coach. If he is truly a winner, he indubitably has something he can offer you that can help your game. Don’t waste either of your time by being unreceptive or arguing every point he makes. Debating and discussing is one thing, but if you are resisting everything he says, he is not going to want to continue coaching you, and you are not going to gain anything from what he says. This may be a sign that your communication styles don’t mesh well, and you should look for a coach elsewhere. But in the meantime, be respectful and try to take what you can from the lesson. On the other side of the coin, if he is demeaning or disrespectful to you, please look elsewhere. Showing someone your hand histories and sharing your thought process (or lack of!) can make you feel vulnerable and insecure, and the last thing you want is a coach that makes you feel like an idiot.
Making It Worth Your While
Private coaching can be expensive, so in order to get the most out of your coaching it is important that you take it seriously and approach it like an academic endeavor. In university, attending class is the easy part. Only taking good notes and studying on your own time will enable you to ace the final. The same is true with your poker lessons. Take careful notes, and even record the entire session so that you can go back and review after it is over. Poker is incredibly complex, and every single hand is different in some way. There are a million bits of information to consider on every play, and it is easy to miss something. Your coach, if he is good, is sharing loads of information on every hand you discuss, and it can be impossible to internalize everything the first time over. Make sure you actually understand the concepts before you move on, and don’t be afraid to ask for repetition or clarification. After all, you are the one paying him!
Poker Coaching Techniques
The most effective coaching techniques in my opinion are reviewing hand histories and sweating sessions together. Hand histories are fantastic because your coach can go as slow as necessary through the hand, analysing and discussing all the minutia, making sure you understand fully before moving along. He can also use this extra time to discuss his HUD and which stats he uses most to help make decisions, as well as any general poker strategy or concepts you seem to be weak on. The downside to hand histories is that you usually only go over the “big hands,” where a large pot was either won or lost. As boring as it may feel, make sure that your coach goes over the small pots too. The big pots often play themselves, as in, you would have won or lost them almost regardless of how you played. The small pots, however, are where the small inflections in winrates really happen, and can make an absolutely massive impact on your overall winrate. That is where the benefit of sweating sessions comes it. It may seem slower and more “boring,” but it is where you can really see how your coach extracts extra money from his opponents, which opportunities are appropriate or not for stealing, 3-betting, 4-betting, continuation betting, or just folding unexpectedly. Those seemingly insignificant moments really can make all the difference in your winrate.
Choosing a coach is ultimately a personal decision. Ask for personal recommendations, or watch some instructional videos online, and be wary of scams. If you are unsure about a coach, request that he lets you try one or two lessons before committing to any kind of a package deal. Once you start with someone, keep an open mind and take your lessons seriously in order to get the most out of it. If you find that his teaching style works for you, rock on, work hard, and enjoy watching your win-rate climb!