Many players believe that private coaching is the best possible form of poker education. While we are able to learn a lot on our own using many different tools like coaching videos, articles, hand reviews, database reviews etc. none of those tools can offer us the - often invaluable - external feedback.
Our own perspective can only get us so far and our ability to look objectively at our own game can be impaired by many different factors like long losing/break even stretches. That's why supplementing your poker education with regular private coaching sessions is a great idea.
Choose a Good Poker Coach
- Previous work - If the coach that you're interested in is a member of a reputable poker site that offer strategy content to its users you can almost always trust his abilities. This applies only to sites that verify their coaches, but most good ones do. As an added bonus, if you're a member of certain coaching sites you can usually watch some strategy videos or read strategy articles made by that coach which can further reinforce your decision to hire him. If you don't want to look far, here's the list of coaches creating content for PokerVIP.
- Word of mouth or positive feedback - Experienced coaches leave behind a trailer of students who can provide you with valuable feedback. While you shouldn't automatically disregard people that are new to the coaching game, successful students are one of the best reasons for hiring a coach. The ability to make others into better poker players trumps everything else.
- Results - While the ability to actually win at poker is obviously really important graphs are notoriously overvalued. Here's the thing, many poker players with serious experience can show you 100k or even 200k hands when they were winning at a very fast rate. They can also show you 100k or 200k long downswings or break even stretches. Variance works both ways and it's much higher than you'd think. This is way estimating the level of competence of a potential coach based only on some arbitrary number of hands is not the best idea.
Good looking graphs of your coach should have an impact on your decision to hire him, but it shouldn't be a dominant factor. Just because a certain player has a red line going up at a 45-degree angle doesn't mean he'll be able to explain how to achieve the same result or worse yet, he'll try to help you replicate his playstyle even though this would be suboptimal at your stakes. Just because a certain player was once winning at a 10bb/100 rate for 200k hands doesn't mean that 10bb/100 is his actual win rate.
- Cost - Coaching can get pricey. Some players are willing to forgo a percentage of their hourly winrate because coaching money is variance free, but it's almost impossible to get a deal that makes sense from a bankroll management standpoint if you're playing micro stakes. Unless you're unwilling to invest some of your disposable income from other sources to buy a coaching session, you should stick with more cost-effective ways of improving your poker game like coaching videos, articles and strategy forums. If you're playing slightly higher limits, you probably shouldn't book a coaching session if it would cost you more than 2BI at your limit with 1BI being preferable.
Choose an Optimal Form of Poker Coaching
- Sweat sessions - This is probably the most popular and most overused form of coaching. While it makes a lot of sense for your first coaching session or if you want to check the quality of your game because of the uncertainty caused by the long downswing, live play sweat sessions aren't very efficient when it comes to improving specific aspects of your game.
Lastly, sweat sessions are really high variance when it comes to the knowledge you're able to gain from them since you can't really control the frequency of interesting spots that can occur in any given 45-90 minute period. If you're not sure what you should focus on and you want to establish a baseline with your coach, by all means go for a sweat session. If that's not the case, there are better options to choose from.
- Video reviews - Perfect substitute for a sweat session with only one major disadvantage - analysing a video that you previously recorded can't really tell you as much about how you behave under pressure as live play. That being said, you can easily trash a video containing no interesting spots and make another one before you're ready for a coaching session. You can rewind or stop the video, you can even cut it (though you might do yourself a huge disservice by cutting out embarrassing mistakes or even spots that seem uninteresting to you but might actually turn out to be crucial in the eyes of someone more experienced than you). This form of coaching will be the best choice for many players. PokerVIP actually offer free video coaching reviews to their members, take a look at this thread for more information on that.
- Hand reviews - If you know a lot about your game or you've worked with your coach for a while, it might be a good idea to take a look at some specific spots. Reviewing specific hands will be one of the most efficient ways of dealing with well defined leaks, but this form of coaching can easily turn into the episode of "look at how bad I'm running recently!" so it's not really recommended if for some reason you're unable to choose the correct hands for review. You can, however, combine this form of coaching with sweat session by marking the hands you want to review with your coach after you finish the session.
- Database analysis - Not every coach is proficient at working with tracking software, but many favor this form of coaching because numbers (adjusted for variance) are much better at describing certain student's game than his or her preconceived notions or even a 60-minute long session review. Specific filters can tell the coach a lot about your game without the need of posting even a single big blind at the table. You can learn which hands are unprofitable for you in certain positions, how good your barreling strategy is, how to adjust your defending ranges etc... Database analysis might be your best bet if you have no idea what's wrong with the way you play since it's much more reliable than the previously mentioned and often overused sweat session.
Record Your Poker Coaching Session
As for the recording software that you can use there're a lot of options to choose from and you can find a lot of guides and tutorials on how to record your desktop on YouTube. If you have no idea where to start, try a simple program called CamStudio.
Consider a Long Term Deal
You should be respectful and don't abuse the time that your coach is willing to give you between your coaching sessions, but at the same time many coaches simply enjoy helping others especially because it can result in a positive feedback which in turn increases their long term profits. It's a delicate balancing act, be mindful of the boundaries, but at the same time be wary of people that aren't willing to give you even a minute of the time that you haven't paid for.
Trust Your Poker Coach
"The client is always right" is so ingrained in our western minds that we rarely question its merit. This sentence is the reason why most coaches will adjust to your request even though they might know it's not optimal. Because of that it's often a good idea to let your coach make decisions. Since you already invested a considerable amount of time to find someone with greater experience and higher understanding of the game than you currently possess it makes all the sense in the world to trust him and let him make the decisions concerning your poker education.
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