Are you learning with the power of a poker mastermind? James “SplitSuit” Sweeney discusses the many merits of regular meet ups with other poker players to talk strategy. Whether led by coaches or players, the perspective and knowledge gained is invaluable.

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Featuring: Shaw & Sweeney

What is a Poker Mastermind?

Put simply, a poker mastermind is a group of players that want to improve. If you’re motivated to study more efficiently and get more value out of the off-table strategy work you do, there’s no better opportunity.

There are many variations on the mastermind concept. Sometimes they are called think tanks, meetups, group coaching, Skype groups, or other terms. But they’re all fundamentally about players who want to improve getting together on a regular basis to talk strategy.

Typically, these groups will meet up at regular times either online or in person. Most of the time these are groups of players who operate at similar stakes or similar skill levels.

The one unifying thread is that all players are serious about improving.

Size varies from three or four people all the way up to 30 or 40. In SplitSuit’s experience, the larger the mastermind gets, the more difficult it is going to be to organize and make a useful contribution.

It’s important to have different points of view when it comes to discussing poker strategy. But having dozens of points of view sometimes gets unmanageable.

A good sweet spot for size might be 5-15 players.

Time-wise, it could be a weekly thing, a daily Skype group, or even a monthly or quarterly in-person meetup.

Weekly is typically the strongest format in SplitSuit’s opinion, because it gives you just enough time to play some hands and gather some areas to study, while keeping last week’s strategic conversation fresh.

How is a Poker Mastermind Structured?

Masterminds are best when they’re somewhat organized and led by one or two players. The structure can be loose and casual, but there should be someone in a position to lead the meetup to some sort of order.

Even if it’s just something simple like, “Today we’re going to talk about 3-bet ranges” or “today we’re going to look at spots where we got check-raised,” having some sort of connective thread to tie the meeting together is often useful.

Keep in mind that a structure is useless unless the people in the mastermind are driven to improve. It’s great to socialize with fans of poker, and masterminds can certainly be fun social occasions. But to get the most value out of a mastermind, take it seriously and use the opportunity of being with your poker peers to do some serious strategic work.

In-Person vs. Online Mastermind

Online masterminds have a tendency to fizzle out after a while, while the live ones tend to be more social. It’s all about who’s running it, what the structure is, etc.

Even if the online environment is easy to pop in and out of, sometimes the Skype log can get so long and unmanageable it’s hard to rejoin the conversation when you’ve been gone for a few days.

Using Slack or a private part of a forum is a way SplitSuit suggests to stay more organized with the strategy chat.

Player Run vs. Coach Run

There can be tremendous amount of value for both kinds of masterminds — player-run and coach-run.

The player-run masterminds are more accessible and free, but at the expense of being less professional and less like actual poker coaching.

Paid, coach-run masterminds have really strong ROI because the coaches typically come to the table with considerable organization and bang-for-buck.

In a game of lone wolves — you can’t call your friend in the middle of a poker hand — when you learn as a group it will build a big edge over players who aren’t doing the same.

Even if you’re a weaker player that can only just hold your head above water, you can still get a ton of value from a mastermind.

Being a better player paired up with weaker players can also give you an edge by understanding what weaker players are doing and what you can do to exploit that.

If you know you want to improve and are ready to jump in, get into a forum or place where you can join the conversation. And always be wary of a mastermind where one player is dominating the conversation. The format only works when the sharing is somewhat democratic.

Learning the Poker Language

There’s a lot of jargon to learn in poker when you’re first starting out, and a mastermind will be tough to understand at first. But a player-led mastermind is a great way to meet poker people and get the jargon down.

You can usually sub-branch out with a few of the players you socialize with best, and getting those more intimate viewpoints outside the mastermind can be critical. This can be a great, fun way to become fluent in the language of poker strategy.

SplitSuit says he wouldn’t be the player he is today without masterminds throughout his life.

How to Find a Poker Mastermind

Visit the forum and talk about what you’re working on, and what you’re looking for in a mastermind. This is your most accessible option. If you can’t find anyone, start organizing the mastermind yourself and start an interest list of like-minded players.

Those in cities and poker hotspots like LA and Las Vegas will have no trouble finding poker masterminds to join up with in real life. Many of us will be looking to join a mastermind online as the easiest way to stay connected with a group of our poker peers.

Some Tips for Beginning a Mastermind

The structure can be anything, but one common feature of many masterminds is the ‘hot seat’. A player will sit down in front of everyone and talk about a few things they’re struggling with or working on, and other people chime in and help that person. You rotate that hot seat that session or maybe every week, and it’s a great way to start a mastermind.

Another common feature of masterminds is hand sharing. People bring in hands that were challenging and get feedback from other players.

And remember, don’t just look at the mistakes. You can lose pots you played well and win pots you paid like crap. So also look at the pots you won.

The other popular way of starting a mastermind is reaching out to a coach as a group of players. Coaches often have group rates and will coach a group for what works out to a reduced fee for each player.

Coaching a group is challenging for the coach but if they’re good, it’s like getting a huge discount on coaching. It’s a win-win across the board.