Recently we sat down with poker coach and founder of PTO Poker, Joel Wald, to talk about the experience of poker coaching, when to seek out coaching, and what players should expect from a poker coach. This week we interviewed Coach Joel about his own player and coaching journey.
How and when did you start playing poker?
Like many people, I started playing poker during the poker boom right after Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP. Although I played $5 tournaments with friends, I never imagined that poker would grow into anything more than a hobby.
I played casually on and off until graduate school. I was looking for a way to earn income doing something enjoyable that fit around my schedule. One day, I decided to blow off some steam playing in a bar poker league that a friend recommended. Through some force of sheer dumb luck, I won the first tournament that I played in. An unread copy of Harrington on Hold’em which had been sitting on my shelf called to me. I thought I should study poker and see if I could turn my passion into a part-time job. I never could have predicted everything that would follow from that one decision.
What poker games do you tend to play? NLH only or other games as well? What’s your ratio of cash to tournament play?
My main games are currently $5/10 and $10/25 NLHE. I am almost exclusively a cash game player, but am open to the occasional tournament if I like the structure. During the pandemic, I played a ton of $2/4 and $3/6 online NLHE, but many of those clubs have dried up and I now focus on live poker. I have not yet crossed over to the dark side to try PLO for any type of significant money, but maybe that will change in the future.
What made you decide to start coaching poker yourself?
I was looking for a new poker challenge that would be more collaborative than simply playing poker. Coaching others is a great way to improve as a player, because it forces you to clarify your thought process and see things from other perspectives. During the pandemic, I received coaching from a well-known player who later hired me to work for his training site as a coach. That experience opened my eyes to the many ways I could help other players with the same love of the game. I now intend to apply the best of everything I have learned to turn PTO Poker into one of the best coaching companies on the market.
How long have you been coaching?
I have been coaching poker since 2020. At the end of 2022, I transitioned from working for Conscious Poker to launching my own training site, PTO Poker.
How many clients do you typically work with at a time?
Typically, I work with five clients at a time. A couple of them are usually enrolled in my monthly training programs while the others receive hourly coaching. In total, I have worked with over 150 different students, many of whom went on to substantially increase their hourly rates and/or win major tournaments.
What is your coaching style Coach Joel? What are you hoping to achieve with your clients/students?
My coaching style is highly adaptive to the goals and needs of my students. I have worked with a wide range of players spanning from professionals looking to increase their hourly rates to beginners who have just learned the rules of poker. I develop customized coaching plans for each client which meets them where they are and gives them the tools to reach the next level.
Of course, I want to help my students improve their technical strategy and their overall poker thought-process. But my coaching goals are bigger than this. My coaching is holistic, so in addition to strategy, my students improve with money management, emotional management, making better decisions, and taking better care of themselves. Helping students develop the right performance routines that allow them to be healthier, happier, and more successful is what makes coaching a fulfilling job. I truly believe that if used correctly, poker can be a unique vehicle for self-mastery and self-actualization.
How can students verify your credentials as a coach?
Poker is unlike other fields in that you do not receive a license or take an exam for professional certification. Proving legitimacy can be especially challenging for cash game players who make their money in almost complete anonymity. With that said, a few options do exist. First, my hope is that allowing students to ask a wide variety of questions during my free consultation will help them feel comfortable with my knowledge. Second, all my poker income has been reported on my tax returns. My data was also tracked in the online apps that I employed during the pandemic. To verify my coaching experience, I can also easily put prospective students in touch with any of my past students if they’d like to learn what it has been like working with me. Numerous testimonials also exist on my website.
Why would a successful player want to coach others and improve the competition in a zero-sum game like poker?
Sometimes when you love doing something, you can be a little irrational. In my case, the joy of passing on my love and knowledge of the game might be more at this point than the joy I experience from a big winning session. It’s really not that complicated: I coach because I love coaching.
I’m also a realist: Being a coach allows me to improve as a player. By actively solving the problems my students face, I am improving my own process. Coaching is like immersive study time with the added benefit of helping someone else.
Lastly, it cannot be stressed enough that poker is not a closed ecosystem. Poker needs to attract and retain new players to remain a vibrant, thriving game. One of the keys to keeping people playing poker is improving their skills and the satisfaction from this growth. Coaching is a key resource that allows them to do this. We do not want poker to be a game where new players lose, get discouraged, and choose other activities. . I contend that while poker coaching makes the player pool more competitive, it also keeps the game of poker alive.
Coach Joel, what are your thoughts on the expression, “Those that can’t do, teach.”
Binary, black and white statements make for nice soundbites and easy narratives, but can be highly misleading and unhelpful. The reality is that playing poker and teaching poker require vastly different skillsets. While success as a player matters, it’s more important to hire someone for their teaching abilities.
Coaches need to understand student pain-points and anticipate their sources of confusion. Sometimes that is harder for famous, high-stakes crushers to do because they are distanced from the realities facing typical players.
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Why should people pick Coach Joel and PTO Poker over more established poker companies?
The same reason that many people choose to invest their money with boutique firms over large banks/brokerage houses: personalization and customization. Rather than teaching a one-size-fits-all poker curriculum, I develop a program that is uniquely fit for each student.
A lot of coaches and poker training companies are so focused on technical strategy that they neglect teaching some of the most important financial and emotional skills. PTO Poker offers a comprehensive program that helps people with bankroll management, mental game enhancement, and mentorship in addition to technical strategy. The program is effective for different types of learners and those with differing budgets. For some, my PTO Poker 101 (a sequential 30-video digital course designed to turn low stakes players into mid stakes crushers) may be an alternative learning path or a great supplement to private coaching. Ultimately, my goal is to help students build skills that will make them better poker players. As a bonus they will hopefully also serve them in many other areas of their lives.
Do you have any particularly memorable coaching success stories?
Yes! I’ll never forget clicking on a PokerNews article and seeing that a player had won over $86K in a major tournament. I then read the name and realized that it was a student from earlier that year. Another student contacted me to let me know he had won $73K in a tournament. He told me that my coaching had been extremely valuable in achieving that goal. Stories like this are inspiring and provide extra motivation to keep working with more players.
There are quieter success stories too of players improving their hourly cash game rates or successfully moving up in stakes. My favorite success stories are when a student shares that they are managing their money and emotions better because of our work together. Or that they now have an exercise regimen or a meditation practice we developed together. These are the stories that remind me that the entirety of the poker experience is not a zero-sum game.
Contact Coach Joel Wald today at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free 30-minute Zoom call to discuss how PTO Poker can help you achieve your poker goals!