Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hiring the Right Poker Coach: Here is What to Look For

Hiring a poker coach
Poker coaching has taken off in recent years with online and live players offering their expertise to less experienced people who are struggling to find their way in the game. Should you look for a coach though?

Well in my opinion hiring a coach is about the most effective thing that you can do for your poker game. This is provided that you hire the right one though. And that is what this article will be about.

While I don't coach anymore, I have personally worked with close to 100 students in the past. I can't say that I turned all of them into crushers. That is impossible anyways. I believe that most of them saw improvements in their game at the micros though.

I can certainly say that from my experience of having hired several coaches myself that this method of learning has provided some of the biggest breakthroughs for my own game.

The reason why coaching is so effective is because it is all about YOU. No book or training video will ever focus specifically on your game. They can only give you general advice.

A good coach can dig deep into your specific strengths and weaknesses though and find ways for you to improve. They can also simply bring an outside perspective which can be re-assuring on it's own when dealing with the madness that this game can dish out sometimes.

So in short, yes I think that hiring a coach is a good idea but there are some caveats as always.


Coaching is Not Cheap


While hiring a poker coach is the most effective way to improve your game it is also the most expensive. Most poker coaches charge at least $50 an hour and many charge far more than this.

A poker book by comparison typically costs $20-$40. And a monthly subscription to a video training site is often around the same price.

So for a typical NL10 grinder the cost of hiring a coach might be prohibitive. Their entire bankroll might only be $200 and therefore the cheapest poker coach will cost them 1/4 of it for a single session.

So this is why I actually tend to advise people who play at NL10 or below to perhaps look into books, training sites or even free resources like forums or Youtube first (My Youtube channel). Oftentimes the issues that they are having are more of the fundamental variety anyways which is what these other resources tend to cover well.

But as I mentioned before, coaching is also by far the most effective way to get better so I would not want to dissuade someone at these stakes from hiring one especially if they want to improve really fast and the money isn't an issue for them.


Coaching is Expensive for a Reason


But I also want to make one thing clear here.

Some people these days seem to think that a lot of these coaches charging $100+ per hour are ripoff artists or washed up regs who can't win anymore. This is ignorant on many levels.

Let's discuss a few of the reasons first why poker coaching is so expensive in comparison to books and training sites.


1. Time

I can tell you that when I used to coach I would regularly spend as much as 2 hours working with the student for every 1 hour that I was paid.

This includes the initial emailing back and forth, setting up coaching session times, dealing with any tech problems on the Skype call. Then in the actual coaching session itself I would often go into over-time.

But wait, we are still not done yet!

After this I would write up a pdf report from the notes that I had taken during the session and email it to the student. Often they would email me with even more off-the-clock followup questions or hand histories in the days or weeks to come.

In a few cases (because I was not satisfied with the results of a specific student) I even offered them a free coaching session in the future so that we could drill the points that we had discussed even more.

This is what real coaches do and this is what poker coaching actually involves.

Now not every coach over-delivers to this extent but most will go out of their way to help the student succeed. After all, the coach has all the incentive to do this anyways because happy students means good feedback and therefore more students.

But the bottom line is that the poker coach who is charging $100 an hour is very rarely making this actual figure. Since I was charging far less than $100 an hour during all of my time as a poker coach my actual hourly was not very high at all.


2. Expert Advice

The other thing that you are paying for when hiring a coach is the advice of an expert. People with a high degree of knowledge in any field charge a large amount for their time and it is no different in poker.

When you hear people complaining about poker coaches charging a couple hundred dollars an hour to impart world class poker knowledge you really have to wonder how often these people actually get outside into the real world. Top business consultants charge 10 times this amount.

Expert advice costs money. And typically the higher the price that the coach is charging the higher their skill level (and therefore the potential payoff to you).


But These Coaches Can't Even Beat the Games Anymore!


Another point that some detractors of poker coaching like to make is that they are all washed up regs who can't beat the games anymore. This might be true in a few cases but I don't think it is in the large majority.

Most coaches that I know continue to grind away at the tables as their main source of income. They decided to take up coaching on the side because after years and years of grinding it out at the tables burnout can start to set in. This was certainly the case with me.

It is nice to be able help some people out with the expertise that you have developed during all of those years and at the same time make some variance free money. It doesn't mean that they can't win at poker anymore.

The truth is that most coaches run the spectrum from reasonably competent small winners to big-time crushers. Therefore, they are better than 90% of other people out there.

Here is something that is also true:

You do not need to be the world's greatest at (insert anything here) in order to teach it. Somebody else just needs to find value in it.

It might seem surprising to some but many of the best poker coaches out there are actually not the top winners. And many of the top winners actually don't make very good coaches. I will get into this some more in a second.


What to Look for in a Poker Coach


So what should you actually look for when hiring a poker coach? Well again, there is some controversy here as well, surprised?

You will have some people who claim that the coach must have a huge winning (and current) track record of success at the tables. But this argument quickly falls in on itself because if someone were a massive crusher with a huge hourly then why would they want to waste their time coaching for a pittance in comparison?

Then you have another camp who says that being an effective communicator is the most important thing. The coach has to be able to find the specific issues that are holding you back and explain them to you in a clear way. They also need to be able to ask the right questions during the session in order to bring out those "aha moments" where you suddenly get it.

I think as usual the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Should the coach be a winning player over a large sample size? Yes, clearly. However, do they need to be the world's biggest crusher and the elite of the elite? No of course not. That is silly.

Often those people are actually the worst communicators because so much of what they do is instinctual now and they never even think about why they actually do it.

I know that I struggled with this a lot when I first started coaching. I typically learned what works and what doesn't at the micros a long time ago and it is just totally obvious to me now. I soon learned two things though:
  • It is not always so obvious to my students
  • I needed to find a way to explain it to them because this is what I was being paid to do
This goes for listening as well. A good coach should not deliver a one hour sermon to you. Effective coaching is a two-way street of communication. The coach should impart clear advice on what the best course of action is.

However, they also need to know when to ask the student the right questions and let them explain their thought process in order to bring out those aha moments and correct faulty ways of thinking.


So the bottom line is this:

The coach that you hire should have some proven results in the game. This means a positive win rate over a large sample (several hundred thousand hands minimum) at the stakes that you play or higher.

But they should also be a good communicator. It doesn't matter how good the coach is technically, if they can't explain to you why a certain play is better than another in simple language that you understand then there isn't much point. The same goes for interpreting data in PT or HEM.

Most coaches will be happy to chat with you on Skype for a few minutes at no cost before starting any coaching arrangement. You can get an idea of their personality and ability to communicate during this time. You could also look at any past videos, blog posts or forum posts of theirs for more insight on their ability to articulate their thoughts about the game.


Coaching Format


The last thing that I want to discuss are the various ways of conducting a coaching session. Everybody learns differently. You should figure out which way is best for you and let your coach know this as well.


1. The Live Sweat

The live sweat session typically involves the student playing on a couple of tables and discussing the hands with the coach in real time. This is usually done via Skype audio call and using the screen sharing option.

This is the classic style of online poker coaching and 40% of my sessions with students in the past were done in this way.

The good thing about this style of coaching is that it allows the coach and the student to discuss a lot of the typical nuts and bolts type situations. The downside is that there might not be any interesting hands that pop up and the discussion doesn't really have a clear focus either.


2. The Database Review

The database review is how I did another 40% of previous sessions with my students. This would involve me looking at a wide selection of their stats in Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager. I would always start with an analysis of their general stats (VPIP, PFR, AF, 3Bet%, Flop CBet%, ATS etc.).

After this I would discuss their positional data with them and look for potential problems. For example if I saw that they were losing more than they should from the small blind then we might make this the main focus of the rest of the session.

I would instruct the student on how to filter for all hands played from the small blind that reached a certain pot size and we would then analyze them one by one in order to find the common leaks.

The pro of this style of coaching session is that the coach can find very specific weaknesses in the student's game and make clear recommendations on how to fix them. The con is that it is very time intensive and can take many, many sessions to address each area of weakness.


3. The Video Review

I did a video review for about 20% of my coaching sessions in the past. This involves having the student record a 45 minute video of themselves playing and uploading it to me via a free file sharing service like Dropbox.com.

I would then watch the video and record my thoughts over it in a program like Camtasia. After that I would send it back to them.

The benefit of this style of coaching is that it eliminates the need to meet up at a set time. In the last year or so that I coached I switched completely over to video review for this very reason. I live in Asia now and trying to find a time that works when most of my students are in North America or Europe can be difficult.

The drawback to this style of coaching is that there is no live interaction between the student and the coach. This takes away a big part of the learning process as I explained above.


Mix Live Sweats and Database Reviews

I think that ultimately a mix of live sweat sessions and database reviews is the best way to go and this is what I did with the vast majority of my students. It was always their decision though. You are the one paying. As I said above, figure out which style works best for you and let the coach know.


Final Thoughts


Hiring a poker coach can be a great thing for your game. Most coaches out there will be able to find specific issues that you are having that you would have never found on your own or in a book or training video.

They are not cheap though and therefore it is important to pick the right coach. They should have some proven results in the game but being able to communicate effectively is just as important. I would recommend looking for somebody who is also fairly well known in the poker community and has a history of happy students.

Often there will be feedback on a forum somewhere and you could even private message some of the previous students to ask them a few questions about their experience.

Lastly, if a coach ever comes to you offering their services you should run for the hills. No coach worth their salt would ever do this. Good coaches barely even need to advertise their services let alone solicit. They get word of mouth recommendations or referrals all the time.

While I don't coach anymore, you can pick up a copy of my free poker ebook to learn more about how I crushed the micros for some of the highest winrates in online poker history.


Let me know your thoughts on poker coaching in the comments below. Have you ever hired one? What was your experience like?

Poker coaching

10 comments:

  1. Hi, A former student emailed your post. Great Job. Been coaching for many years.
    I am interested in calling you.
    I currently write a strategy column in Ante-Up.
    BrementMark@gmail.com

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  2. I never worked with a coach, but I soon will. Thank you for your pointers.

    However, something else intrigues me. You said: "Lastly, if a coach ever comes to you offering their services you should run for the hills. No coach worth their salt would ever do this. Good coaches barely even need to advertise their services let alone solicit. They get word of mouth recommendations or referrals all the time." Fair enough. However, how can a winning player who wants to coach make himself heard or even acknowledged?

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    1. Hey Zanardi, by that statement I meant somebody pm'ing you on a forum or emailing you personally. No real coach would ever do something like that. Coaches should definitely advertise their services publicly and there are many ways to go about that.

      For instance, many people who coach are already an instructor at a training site. Usually you can blog about it there or create a forum post.

      You can also blog or create videos on your own (Youtube) to get your name out there. You should definitely at least have a website to direct people to for your rates and methods of coaching.

      Lastly, if you don't have time for any of this then a lot of people simply buy a paid listing on 2+2.

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    2. It makes more sense to me now. Thank you :)

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  3. I just hired a coach and feel I have had mixed success. I would recommend paying for 1 lesson rather than getting a slight discount by buying a package of 5 or so lessons. It's important to find out if the guy has any teaching ability. If you are compatible and he has some teaching talent he will probably give you the discount anyway if you want to continue with him/her. If he doesn't give you the discount anyway I would consider that a red flag.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed on all points. I would always just book one session first as well.

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  4. What do you think about the controversial, BestpokercXXching.com from Gordon Gekko?It sounds pretty good for me as the profit they've made comes from the winning we receive after taking lessons. However, some people claim it's a scam/sales strategy. Really curious about your opinion, thanks a lot.

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  5. I thought about it for like a day and a half. IMO it's totally a scam. First AIR he gets the money until you win a ridiculous amount Second if you play the sample lesson he is a horrible coach and he seems to be trying to discourage you I think it's like a pyramid where he just keeps signing up new suckers Actually if you just stick to this site search You Tube and do 1 or 2 hours a day of practice or study offline Moving above 25NL is a little more complicated Sry if I overstepped but I don't know what your skill level is GL
    jim

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    Replies
    1. 余柏霆 and Quiet Jim,

      I don't really know enough about this site to comment. And I have never heard of a "Gordon Gekko" at the poker tables. As far as I know this is a fake name and he has never released any poker results or even his real name. That would be a major red flag for me.

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