Today, in the the latest in our series of poker interviews, we talk to Joel Wald about poker coaching. Joel is the founder of PTO Poker, which offers personalized poker coaching for players who are looking to make better decisions and become the best versions of themselves, both on and off the felt. At PTO Poker, you’ll learn a player theory optimal philosophy that will optimize your poker abilities and maximize success against your player pool. Joel shares his thoughts on poker coaching: why you need it, how to get it, and what to expect.
What is Poker Coaching?
If a player signs up for poker coaching, what should he expect? Walk us through the process.
Most students that sign up for coaching start by booking a free zoom consultation call. This call allows the student to tell the coach their poker goals and areas they are currently struggling with. The coach can then design a curriculum that meets their exact needs and schedule the sessions. Most coaching packages contain additional features, like text and email support. These allow a student to communicate with a coach in between sessions. Students that take advantage of this feature typically learn the most and get the best value for their money.
During the scheduled sessions, the focus is often on some combination of hand review, mental game tips, bankroll management, poker technology, developing a great routine, database review, and other strategy elements. A good coach will identify which areas are most important for their student to focus on. They will also be spontaneous and open to new questions and priorities from their student. Students can expect homework assignments in between sessions to reinforce their learning. They should also re-watch their session recordings for any content that they did not initially grasp. If a student just signs up for one session, the hour will be more focused on hand review to give the coach a general sense of the student’s thought process .
How long is a typical coaching session and how often do they occur?
Coaching sessions are typically an hour over Zoom. Most students choose to meet once per week so they have time to study and implement the concepts they learn. This also gives them time to gather new hands and questions to discuss for their next session. Scheduling is flexible, and students can choose to meet more or less frequently than this. Scheduling will also depend upon whether a student has elected hourly coaching or has purchased a customizable, monthly package.
What do you ask a player to do between coaching sessions for homework?
This will vary depending on the concepts the student is working on as well as the student’s bandwidth. The most common assignments are to record the details of at least three hands they played in the past week . They note the players, positions, bet sizes, stack sizes, and community cards involved. Sometimes, take-home quizzes are given to help plug certain leaks. Other times, a video or a book is assigned to supplement the coaching session. Students track their results for each session to ensure they are playing within their means and at the right stake.
How does poker coaching work if the player only plays live poker?
Not much changes. Students need to take good notes because they don’t have an online site capturing the hands for them. I supply a template that makes it easy to capture notes of hands that they find interesting or challenging, and which they’d like to discuss. Live poker players can also set up an online account for extra practice, even if they primarily play live.
Why Do I Need Poker Coaching?
When should a player seek Poker Coaching vs. one of the many other poker training options out there?
Poker coaching will nearly always be the fastest and most effective way to learn poker, assuming the coach is qualified. Poker coaching can be customized to a student’s exact needs, unlike a training site or a book, which has a broader audience in mind and covers many things that a student may already know (or not need to know right now). Good poker coaching is also holistic and aims to help a student with money management, emotional management, and developing a great routine .
Other training resources are more focused on strategy. Strategy, however, is just a small portion of the skillset needed to be a successful player. With poker coaching the feedback is immediate. A coach can spot a leak or a logical fallacy of the student’s which could easily persist with other training resources that do not provide immediate feedback. Lastly, some students just need someone to hold them accountable to do the work. This is much like a personal trainer who holds someone accountable to do their workouts. It is a lot harder to play a trashy hand if the student knows they will need to share the hand with their coach.
Students can consider familiarizing themselves with the basics of poker before pursuing coaching. Even then, the initial learning stages can be accelerated by pursuing coaching right away. This also helps prevent the development of any bad habits. The only downside of poker coaching is the cost. Assuming it is within the student’s budget and poker is a priority for them, there is no better way to quickly accomplish poker goals.
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How does getting poker coaching help students in ways that using a training site or reading books can not?
It is customized for a student’s exact needs, and it has a holistic focus that extends beyond just strategy. Good poker coaching helps a student develop critical skills like money management, emotional regulation, proper study-habits, and healthy lifestyle choices while training sites and books are typically more one-dimensional.
Coaching also holds players accountable to do the work and play their best game. The feedback is also much more immediate. For example, a student may misinterpret a concept from a training site or book and think they have mastered it. A coach can provide much quicker feedback on new concepts. The back-and-forth dialogue and the ability to ask questions at any time help facilitate learning more effectively.
How quickly can a player typically expect to progress with good coaching?
This is highly dependent on the student’s learning process as well as how much work they do between sessions. It is also important to understand that there is variance involved in poker. Short-term results may not immediately reflect the improvements made through coaching. With that said, among my students that did their homework and came prepared to their sessions, nearly all of them were happy with their progress once their data samples were large enough to overcome initial variance. And many students reported feeling more confident with their poker thought processes and overall approach after just 2-3 sessions.
How Can I Find Good Poker Coaching?
How can players find coaches?
Many of the best training sites also offer private coaching in addition to their digital content. Some poker forums like 2+2 have entire sections devoted to finding coaches. And a simple Google search for poker coaching will bring up websites of coaches. Many coaches offer free consultation calls, and these are a great opportunity to make sure the coach is right for you.
How can a player determine who the right coach for him/her is? What factors make a good fit between coach and student?
The right coach will have already mastered the stake that the student is trying to beat. Ideally the coach is at least a 7BB/hour winner (or 7BB/100 winner for online players) at the stake that is one or two levels above the student’s current game. But the coach’s accomplishments as a player are not everything. They should also be a skilled communicator, have prior coaching experience, and be easy to connect with. Students should feel out whether a coach is able to customize a curriculum to their exact needs. Ultimately, a good coach truly cares about their students. A student should assess whether they think their coach will be supportive, accessible, and fun to work with.
What makes a good poker student? What types of people are likely to gain from the experience and who may struggle?
A good poker student is someone who questions everything and is always looking to improve. They have the self-awareness to know what they do not know, and the humility to ask for help. They also practice good bankroll management habits, which give them the longevity that is needed to pick up all the strategy nuances of poker over time. Good students are also good record-keepers in terms of their session results and hands played. This enables them to analyze them after the session is over. The willingness to put in work away from the table, and even outside of scheduled coaching sessions, is a key differentiator for good poker students.
Students who struggle do not manage their money well, and are not putting in the work away from the table. Ego is a killer in poker, and players that think they know everything are closed off to vital sources of new information. This arrests development and cannot be overcome in a game as dynamic as poker where strategies shift every year.
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