02/03/2012

Poker coaches are not the Holy Grail

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I guess that this article may upset a few people but that wouldn’t be the first time would it? This week I want to talk about poker coaches and coaching sites and the effect of them when it comes to making people money. If you want to improve your poker game then you learn from people better or more knowledgeable than yourself... that is a given! However what is certainly not a given is in how you interpret the knowledge given to you and then implement it. By the way I am referring to the very best poker coaches here so as to avoid any ambiguity.

In my experience then the path to a deep professional understanding of just what it takes to be successful long term as a poker pro simply cannot be passed on by spending some sessions with a poker coach irrespective of how good they are. Notice there that I said “long term” and to my mind long term means starting the bidding at 5 years. I don’t care how many hands you have played in a year multi-tabling, the online environment changes so rapidly that even a million hands is not enough if condensed into only a year or two of actual time.

If poker coaching was the path to success then more players would be making money playing online... period. Firstly I am not knocking any coach and so let’s dispense with that thought here and now. I am simply discussing the process of coaching and highlighting the fact that it is pretty far away from being the Holy Grail many people think it is. The thought pattern goes like this... don’t want to put the work in... short cut the process... find the best in the business and find out what they do!

Nothing wrong with this approach and for one simple reason... this is basically because it is the best avenue on offer at the moment. There are so many hidden problems lurking just underneath the surface that I really don’t know where to start. Firstly each coach will have their own style, they are hardly likely to teach someone else’s style are they when they have been so successful with their own? So you are learning their style of play? So what is wrong with that if it makes money for them?

Well a motor racing driver could go around a race track at 150mph and it be almost totally safe but he would be remiss trying to teach an unskilled driver to do it. The analogy may not be sound...who knows... but what I do know is that each style of play has a level of variance attached to it. Let us look at a hypothetical list of earn rates here on a per hour basis and we can use a sliding scale all the way from $10/hr up to $100/hour and we can place them in blocks of ten for simplicity. For arguments sake then let us assume that we are playing the same level here.

Your edge in any field of gambling is closely linked to variance. The more that you want to earn then the more variance that you will need to accept. Some people say that variance is your biggest friend in poker...they are partly right because without it there would be no winning players and probably no game at all. Some people argue that variance is your biggest enemy because it can literally mentally tear your apart and prevent you from fulfilling your potential as a player... and these people are partly right also. The fact of the matter is that variance is your biggest friend and your biggest enemy in equal measure and is a real Jekyll and Hyde.

So getting back to the sliding scale of earn rates that we looked at then we can also use a sliding scale when it comes to being able to mentally accept variance. It is very unlikely that you and any poker coach that you team up with will have the same attitude to risk. But remember that someone is trying to impart knowledge onto someone who has already fully evolved as a human being and nearly all of what they bring to the table has already been pre-programmed from earlier life.

So it is quite possible that you may not even be able to psychologically accept the variance that is inherent in the style of play being taught to you. I strongly recommend to anyone to read books on financial trading because of their close similarities with online poker. In one of my books there is the true story of Victor Sperandeo, one of the most well-known and famous traders in the world and the author of Trader Vic: Methods of a Wall Street Master. In another book called The New Market Wizards Sperandeo related the story of the time that he took 38 trainees under his wing... this by the way is a guy who has made untold millions trading stocks and shares.

He taught them his trading systems and methods to the letter until they knew what he knew... five made money out of thirty eight and it is even difficult to know what the remaining five did long term. But Sperandeo quoted a lack of emotional discipline as the key failing of the people who didn’t succeed. This is the problem with following other peoples methods... they are not your methods and because they are not your methods then when the going gets tough and you are relied upon to depend on the information given to you then it fails simply because you are doubting what has been taught to you and this is because of negative variance which ultimately messes with your mind.

If a style that has been taught to you carries with it a 30-40 buy-in downswing possibility then what if you cannot mentally accept it? Also when it comes to coaching sites, we have the additional problem that the information is too easily disseminated to all and information when presented in this way to the masses loses its power thus making the techniques inevitably dated sooner or later. Making money long term in online poker requires constant and frequent reinvention of knowledge and techniques and this unfortunately is where the problem is because there are no short cuts out there at this time to solve this problem and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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