Will a Poker Coach Transform You into the Next Phil Ivey?

To improve your skills at poker, consider hiring a poker coach. Poker coaching can pinpoint your weaknesses and give you the exact professional advice you need to take control at the table. Read this facinating article by James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and also our previous article on the subject - Should You Hire a Poker Coach?

poker coaching


Will a Poker Coach Transform You into the Next Phil Ivey?

James SplitSuit SweeneyPosted by James “SplitSuit” Sweeney, March 1, 2015

There are many ways to get better at poker. You can read books, watch videos, use software, etc. Another option is to consider getting a coach. Poker coaching may seem like an odd concept at first glance...who needs coaching to learn how to bluff and value bet? As it turns out, there are many coaches and even more students interested in improving their game.

Poker coaching is typically done in a one-on-one setting, often time online using tools like Skype and Mikogo, and sessions last for about an hour. Students ask questions, coaches provide answers, and together they work to find the student's weaknesses, fix those weaknesses, and strengthen other elements of their poker games along the way. The most common kinds of coaching sessions are:

Sweat sessions: Where a coach watches a student play and learns more about the student's real-time thought process. This is a great way for a coach to find leaks and see how a student adjusts to real-world situations.

Hand history reviews: A coach and student go through hands together. Students can mark and save interesting hands in software like PokerTracker 4, and the coach offers advice on lines, asks follow-up questions, and more.

Database reviews: A coach can go through a student's database to find statistical leaks and also find hands/weaknesses that they can discuss and fix together.

Poker coaching is usually the most expensive form of poker education since books and videos are typically much cheaper...but getting a coach can easily be one of the more rewarding things for serious students. In this article we're going to discuss if coaching is right for you, how to go about getting the right coach, and getting the most value per session.


Should I get a poker coach?

At this point you may be wondering if poker coaching is right for you. To answer that, let's analyze some of the crucial elements to consider before getting a coach.

Pricing: There are plenty of options when it comes to learning poker, ranging from free YouTube videos to expensive ebooks, and everything in between. Coaching is usually one of the most expensive options when it comes to improving your poker game. Ranging from $20/hr to $500+/hr, coaching costs can add up quickly. Micro-small stakes students will usually see price tags under $100/hr, but mid-stakes students should be prepared to pay more for a quality coach.

A high price tag doesn't necessarily imply quality though. There is no set price that a coach must charge at each limit, and coaches are free to set their prices however high they want. What matters most is that you get the best ROI for your dollars spent on a coach...but more on that in a moment.

Your Poker Goals: Before you even begin researching which coach is right for you, make sure you fully understand your own poker goals. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

1.  Do I have most of the fundamentals down?

2.  Could I increase my own study hours and avoid paying a coach?

3.  Would coaching offer a worthwhile ROI for me?

Honestly, taking coaching before you fully understand the fundamentals of the game is a great way to spend too much for too little. If you are still working on pot odds, basic poker math, and basic hand reading skills...find a book, video, or article that you can review until the fundamentals fully sink in. Coaches are best used to optimize elements of your game, not to try and learn fundamental concepts from scratch.

On a similar note, could you realistically increase the number of hours you study to avoid paying a coach? Remember, coaching is expensive and you should always try to learn strategies and improve your game on your own time first. That could include books/videos, but it could also include extra hours per week studying hand histories and participating in poker forums. If you could just study more and save your cash, heavily consider that option first.

Question 3 is vital since too few people consider the ROI of coaching. If you play 10hrs/month of $1/$2 and have no ambitions of making poker a career (or at least a lucrative hobby), paying someone $200/hr doesn't make much sense. It would be too tough to make a worthwhile ROI from your $200/session investment.

Typically you should consider a coach when poker could provide worthwhile side-income or if playing professionally is an option on the horizon. If you're just playing once or twice a week, coaching just won't offer a proper ROI in most cases. That being said, also consider opportunity cost when paying a coach. If it would take you 15hrs to read about, and fully digest, a specific concept that a coach could teach you in 1hr...paying a coach could easily be worthwhile. Just be honest with yourself when it comes to your goals, how quickly you could learn something on your own, and what kind of ROI a coach can really offer you.


What should I expect after taking coaching?

So you've decided getting a coach is right for you, awesome! Below I'll show you how to go about getting the right coach, but first let's make sure your expectations are realistic. First and foremost, coaching is NOT a magic pill. Nobody takes a single coaching session, instantly masters every element of poker, and becomes Phil Ivey overnight. Nobody.

Poker is a game that focuses on the long run. In a single hand we may make the correct decision and lose, but overtime we'll get results if we keep making the right decisions. Poker coaching doesn't guarantee short term results, but when coupled with solo-study it helps you make better decisions in the long run so that you win more money more often.

Don't think of poker coaching like getting a coach for coding. When you get coached by a coder you could build a program right after the lesson. Think of poker coaching like getting golf lessons. After one lesson you won't be Tiger Woods, but with constant work and the guidance of your coach you'll be on your way to being a much strong player. And remember, in poker you don't need to be the best player that ever lived...you just need to be the best player at your table.

After coaching, you should expect to have a better grasp on important concepts. You should expect to know where you are leaking and have a starting point to fix those leaks. You should also expect to work hard in between sessions. Coaching is only a fraction of your off-table work and study. Use what your coach taught you to explore hands and concepts in more depth, and develop extra questions to bring up in your next coaching session.


The process of getting a coaching

So you've read everything so far and still like the idea of getting a poker coach. Now it's time to actually find one! Here is what you should do:

Research: You could just google “poker coach for [my stake]” and pick the first entry...but realistically you'll want to do some research first. Find a few coaches that seem like they'd be a good fit for your playstyle, skills, and budget. There are a number of poker coach directories on the web, and these would be good places to start looking for coaches that specialize in your format and offer coaching for your stakes:

* TwoPlusTwo Coaching Forum: Cash Games

* TwoPlusTwo Coaching Forum: Tournaments

* BookAPokerPro

Once you've found a couple of coaches that seem like they'd be a good fit for you, go check their credentials. Most coaches have websites and offer their results and testimonials from other students. Many coaches also create videos for popular training sites, YouTube, and/or their own site...so make sure to watch those and make sure you can follow it. If you can't follow their videos, chances are they aren't going to be the right coach for you since videos are a great representation of their communication style and ability to teach specific concepts.

A coach's results are just one piece of the puzzle, but don't automatically assume that great results mean they are a great teacher. Just because a player is very strong at the tables doesn't always mean that they will be able to teach their strategy well. Or maybe they teach advanced things very well, but don't teach the basics as well. Consider a coach's results within the context of their entire offering. Sure you don't want to hire a losing player, but you don't need to hire a coach who crushes 400NL to better your game at 25NL. That being said, if he crushes 400NL and only charges $25/hr, hire him right away!

Here are some things to look for and avoid:

* DO make sure they have results

* DO look for student testimonials

* DO look for coaching materials (articles, videos, etc.) that they've released in the past

* DON'T hire someone who has no results/testimonials

* DON'T hire someone solely because they have a pretty graph

* DON'T hire someone who you can't follow/understand well

* DON'T hire someone who appears scammy. If your scam-alarm goes off, move on

Research is your first line of defense when hiring a coach. Go find their results, go find coaching materials they've released in the past, articles they've written, etc. Once you're confident you've found a coach who is right for you and within your budget, it's time to reach out to them.

Reaching out: Some coaches have applications or request information first, others just say “email me for more information.” Either way, find their contact information and email them explaining that you are interested in coaching. If they have an application, fill it out. If they don't have an application, give the coach some information about where you are in poker, what you are playing, what you need work on, etc.

Good coaches will use this information to help you. For instance, I sometimes get applications from students who really just want to work on one specific concept and I'll point them to a free video/article that would give them the information they need rather than have them spend money on a coaching session. The more honest you are during this process the quicker you and the coach will figure out if you are a good fit.

Also take this opportunity to hammer out things like what you'll cover in the first session or two, if there are multi-session discounts, availability, etc. You don't want surprises coming up later, so ask all your pre-coaching questions here rather than waiting until the first session. If you have a question, ask it. That's what coaches are for!

Once you decide this is the right fit for you, it's time to schedule a session. Set one up, show up, and have some fun. But first read below to make sure you get the most value from your sessions...

Do you need a poker coach when playing online poker tournaments? Here's why you should play with us.


Getting the most from a coaching session

To ensure you get the most value for your time and money, you'll want to take the following tips to heart:

Come with a plan: Don't ever show up to a coaching session without a plan, or at least some semblance of an idea of what you want to cover. Between coaching sessions you want to write down questions that you come up with, mark up hands that you have questions on, and consider specific parts of your game which are weak. Even for your first session you want to come prepared with a list of questions and things you need immediate answers for. I can't stress how important this is and how much better the coaching experience will be for you.

Poker coaching isn't like taking a college-level class. In a classroom there is a curriculum and professors come prepared with full lesson plans. Poker, on the other hand, isn't so rigid. There is no week 1-week 18 lesson plan that will guarantee success. You may need tons of work in one area and almost none in another. Use the time in between sessions to learn more about yourself, discover weaknesses in your game, and prepare to work on that in your next session.

Ask questions: Poker coaching doesn't work very well in lecture format where the coach just lectures at you and you take notes. Poker coaching works best when it's an on-going conversation where you both are asking questions, drilling down to the core of concepts, and finding new areas of your game to explore along the way. The only way to do this is to ask questions.

Now coming with a plan and preformed questions is awesome, but asking questions during a session is key to getting the most from a coach. If the coach explains why he'd make a certain play in a hand and you don't fully understand it, ask for a reason. If he gives his reason and you are still confused, ask again. Ask a million different ways until you gain the full grasp you need!

You are paying for a coach to gain as much knowledge about poker as possible, and poker is a game of understanding the “why” behind each play. Ask questions until you understand why the coach would make XYZ play, why he puts a player on a certain range, or why SPR dictates stacking off top pair in a specific spot. A good coach will offer answers that you can grasp and use your questions to direct the conversation towards tangential concepts. This is how you will become a more well-rounded poker player, so don't hesitate to ask questions at any point.

Homework: If you learn better with homework, or want some help structuring your time between sessions, request homework. Coaches are happy to give you some things to focus on and explore between sessions if you ask.


How long should you take coaching for? This is a very personal question and only you can answer it. Many students ask me “how many sessions do I have to take until I can move up?”, and it's impossible to answer it without knowing where a student is at in their game, how quickly they can digest information, how much studying they do between sessions, etc. The question isn't “how many sessions should I take?”, rather “when is the ROI no longer worthwhile for me?”

Maybe you take 2 sessions and get the information you need, gain a better understanding of your own leaks, and are prepared to do the exploration and work on your own. Maybe it takes 4, maybe it takes 10. Maybe it takes 1. We are all different, we all learn differently, and we all work differently on our own. So be honest with yourself when asking how many sessions you need. Just keep basing your answer on the ROI. If you pay $100 for a session, will you gain an ROI on that investment over the long run? If the answer is yes, then it's worthwhile. If the answer is no, then chances are you don't need to continue coaching.

The whole point of getting a coach is to improve your game quickly and maximize your ROI. Keep that in mind when researching coaches, formulating questions, and preparing for sessions...and you'll find the process very rewarding.  If you have any questions about anything in this article, just let me know and I'd be happy to help. And remember, if you aren't having fun, you might be doing it wrong :)

Do you need a poker coach when playing online? Here's why you should play with us.


James SplitSuit SweeneyJames “SplitSuit” Sweeney has been playing poker for 10+ years, coaching for 7+, and has worked with over 500 students. He specializes in NL cash games and has released 100's of free training videos on YouTube. Check out his site at splitsuit.com for free articles, videos, and information about his poker coaching. Read all of James Sweeney's poker articles.


Should You Hire a Poker Coach?

Posted by Charles, July 9, 2013

hire a poker coach

If you take your poker game seriously, you're no doubt always looking for ways to improve your play. You've read the books, you've watched the instructional videos, and you've gobbled up every bit of content you can find about poker on the Internet - but you're still hungry for more ways to improve. What's next?

You may decide that the logical next step is to hire a poker coach. By asking a better player with more experience to share his input, you can glean a lot of insights about how to modify your play and make more money.

Is coaching right for you? Maybe. But working with a coach can be expensive and difficult, so you don't want to dive into the process unless you're absolutely sure. Before you commit to getting a coach, ask yourself a few questions.

Is It Worth the Money?

First things first: Poker coaches tend to be very expensive. Hiring a coach is just like entering a tournament or calling an all-in raise - before you make any move in poker, you need to weigh risk versus reward. Your need for a coach depends on what level you're playing and how much you're winning or losing. It's not uncommon to see a poker coach charge $750 for a series of lessons. If you've got a bankroll full of pennies and you're looking to beat the nickel-ante stud game, the coach isn't worth it. But if you're a middling player at fairly high stakes? Your investment might pay off many-fold in the end.


Do You Have a Coach You Can Trust?

There's no point in hiring a poker coach if it's not someone you trust. Online message boards are littered with guys offering up their services, and many of them boast about their stats to prove their worth. But what if their numbers aren't legit? Or even if they are, maybe the person in question is a much better player than he is a coach. There's no guarantee that the random guy from the web can give you good advice - and if he teaches you poorly, he might actually add leaks to your game.


Can You Handle It Emotionally?

Even if a coach has good advice to impart, sometimes criticism can be difficult to hear. A poker coach's typical strategy is to sit over your shoulder and watch you play hand after hand after hand, just waiting to point out mistakes. No one likes to be told over and over again that they're wrong. Some people find the coaching process to be more frustrating than fun, and they end up fixing their games themselves, analyzing their results in a self-aware manner without coaching.


Have You Exhausted Your Other Options?

For all the above reasons, it's probably best to check out your other options before resorting to hiring a coach for your poker game. For example, there are plenty of poker books out there you can read - they're loaded with advice for how to play certain hands in certain situations. There are also instructional videos on YouTube and other sites you can watch. If you're more analytical, you can try your hand at using software that breaks down each hand statistically, or if you're more conversational, you can go online and chat with others about game strategy.

Hiring a coach might be a brilliant move for your poker career, but it might also be the wrong play. Think it over before you commit.

Do you need a poker coach when playing online? Here's why you should play with us.

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