Do I need a poker coach? Am I at the right spot in my game development to get coaching? How do I find a coach? How does coaching work, exactly? These questions and more are answered in this week’s episode by James “SplitSuit” Sweeney, a man uniquely qualified to opine on coaching, as he’s had over 500 students over the years.

Featuring: Shaw & Sweeney

There’s a lot that goes into whether or not you need a poker coach. One camp says, “I like poker, I want to learn how to play better.” The other side says, “I love poker, I taught myself. Why would I ever pay someone to teach me?”

If you think you never need a coach, you’re incorrect, says Sweeney. However, if you think you need a coach right away, that is probably also incorrect.

It’s all about ROI. Can you get a good return on investment on coaching? Often times, at $1/$2 and other low-stakes games, getting a coach to learn the basics is not necessary. A book and a few videos can cover those bases. Many of these resources are free (and found here at Red Chip Poker in the form of our podcasts, articles and forums), and even the paid ones are going to be more cost-effective if you’re a beginner. Sweeney’s Quick Plays on YouTube are a great place to start:

As you can see, paying a coach to learn a basic concept like bankroll management would probably be a waste, because there are many free resources to get different perspectives on how to approach things strategically. Get pot odds, EV formulas, etc. out of the way with free resources and use coaches for higher-level concepts.

Ego and Poker Coaching

There are many kinds of coaching, but typically it’s a 1-on-1 working relationship where the coach is reviewing your hands and talking to you about the leaks you know of, and finding ones you may not realize you have. Your game will be fully broken down and constructively criticized. Coming into coaching with a big ego doesn’t work. A coach is literally getting paid to show you where your game is imperfect.

Sweeney’s big a-ha moment came when he was surrounded by incredibly logical poker players when he was first getting started as a poker professional in college. Discussing strategy with poker buddies and being honest about leaks, as opposed to having ego cloud logic.

Time and Money Investment

Coaching ranges massively in rate and time commitment. Some coaches charge $50, some charge $500 and up. You want to ask yourself about ROI when considering the cost of hiring a coach. Don’t think that rate is related to quality. Sometimes great coaches are underpriced, sometimes mediocre coaches charge too much.

Your time commitment is up to you. In fact, it’s not uncommon to take a single coaching session and then go on to work on your game. While many choose an ongoing coaching relationship, it’s actually quite commonplace to use a coach more as a consultant, stepping in to analyze your game in a single session and then setting you on your way.

Best Poker Coaching

The best poker coach is going to not just be a great player, but also a great teacher. There are many different teaching styles, so you need to make sure you find someone you mesh with. You may be more or less of a software person, you might prefer in-person coaching or the over-the-internet variety.

Sweeney uses a survey for prospective students to filter out students that are not motivated to study as much as will be required to improve. If they’re not familiar with poker strategy fundaments, and if they’re not going to be able to get an ROI because they aren’t going to put in the time, Sweeney will pass.

Sweeney himself has received everything from daily 3-hour coaching (wow), to only being coached once per year. He recommends tailoring your schedule more toward how much time you are studying and playing. If you’re more of a recreational player, getting coached once, twice, or three times a year can make a huge impact on your profit while still delivering ROI despite the small number of hours played. If you’re a serious grinder, weekly coaching and daily study is probably closer to the ideal.

Preparing for Poker Coaching

Any good coach should tell you what’s going to happen in the first session. Typically, you get to know each other, get some questions answered, and talk about some hands and spots to see where you’re at. You shouldn’t have to bring too much to the table, or the coach will have told you what to bring. If for some reason you find a coach that doesn’t specify this, bring 5 hands to discuss and you’ll have plenty to talk about.

A lot of people look at a single coach and say, “I want you to be my poker coach.” But Sweeney points out how getting coaching from multiple people yields huge dividends in understanding strategy from multiple perspectives. Don’t limit yourself to one coach, but of course don’t go overboard and overlap a bunch of coaches at once. There’s a lot of value in getting an alternative point of view.

Over 70% of the player pool are losers. They are not getting coaching. The edge is obvious. Finding the right coach and knowing when to look for them (when you can get ROI) is the name of the game.

Training videos are a great way for you to vet coaches and find one that speaks to the challenges specific to your game.

Don’t think you need coaching? Sweeney challenges you to book one session with a coach you respect and give it a try before you continue as a lone wolf. What if they’re right? What if they do find leaks and over time save you thousands of dollars from your loss rate? If the answer is yes, a lot of people are going to be surprised at the ROI they’re going to get by hiring a coach.

Showing 3 comments
  • Arturs

    Good discussion but I’m still kind of wondering how to go about actually finding a coach, what are the best places to look. Also in person versus online coaching. Is one much more valuable then the other?


    • Kar Yung Tom

      I think one of the best places is right here. Many of coaches here offer 1-on-1 coaching.