Learning, Coaching, & Relearning

In all my endeavors I have been a good but imperfect teacher, and so far, my experience in poker coaching is bearing this out. Most of my students have reacted favorably to their work with me, and many are seeing positive changes in their thinking and on the felt. The exceptions are interesting and worth reviewing. Further, I’ve been reminded that, like anyone, there is always more to learn and that I have a long way to go in both my own play and in developing my own theories.

Several of the strengths of my personal poker approach, both strategic and pedagogical, are apparent. For instance, because I don’t guess at hand selection or use the suggestions of others, but derive all ranges from game conditions, centering on stack size and positional analysis, we can easily cut the fat out of much play and save players from a plenitude of preflop errors. Further, this knowledge, or even just the beginnings of it, helps them to deviate both more soundly and quickly, in whatever direction they need to go. In general, most struggling players are simply playing too many hands, whether because of their own preference or in trying to implement another’s static range ideas. A repercussion of this is that they do not account for their deliberate errors with counteractions, which is perhaps not surprising news to many of you- but it is to them because they often already feel constrained or feel social pressure to “open up” as an answer to their problems.

I value this direct and logical approach, and they will learn to even more so, because they can make their own analysis more easily now, knowing that they have followed or broken from a sound strategic preflop pawnwall and bear the responsibility for managing and evaluating their deliberate or semi-deliberate errors. Or to put it another way, enjoying the liberty of an extremely high VPIP is one that is best earned.

Another strength of my approach is the ability to zero in on the individual games each player is in. In fact, this aspect is very interesting to me, because it turns out that the players who find me are in all sorts of situations, from poker heavy casino cultures to private games to small communities where you see the same faces, day in day out. Because I advise always starting from game conditions rather than imposing one’s action on the table, my students are in general finding a sensical way forward. I see the signs of this most clearly in improved analysis of their own poker hand histories, across the board, and an ability and willingness to point out their errors before I do.

A weakness of my teaching so far has been an inability, in a few cases (more than I anticipated, really), to grasp what it was the student needed exactly. While I pride myself on interpreting and understanding people, in the cases that I do not, I really don’t like my backup approach. With one student, I became pedantic and not Socratic, trying to fill a void. This was a mistake.

I also turned away several students based on their game type, not fully grasping how helpful I could have been, and assuming their online games are so specific that I might not be able to help. This turns out to be an error, as not only have I been reviewing and critiquing some online play, but having upped my online hours I find that my competence in all game types is apparent. Still, RCP offers such great coaching options for microstakes players that I have given out referrals in many cases, as I can’t help but know I am really at my best and most authoritative at the live games. All in all, live poker is often more complicated but less rigorous than its nephew, a distinction that is powerful knowledge once you grasp the full meaning, and allows us to take down our prejudices about one or the other.

This last point leads to an interesting and always contentious one. Students deserve to know you are in the games and beating them, but have to temper that with the fact that being a poker educator (not that I am all the way there, not in the least) takes a tremendous amount of time and also is a path often borne out of having met with a certain fatigue with the game, whether temporary or sustained. In their enthusiasm, players often forget that poker is an exhausting performance when done carefully and well. It is built into our very natures to want to pass on knowledge, even if it is of the past, once we reach that fatigue point, and not necessarily before that time. I am in the spot of playing for a living and now teaching as well, but in a way, I am sure I would be even more successful in passing on knowledge if I did not need (and want) many hours at the table. I desire to always be there for my students but because poker is war, I am often more exhausted than I care to admit or anticipated. Hopefully the rhythms of my life will continue to work for everyone under my guidance, and renewed attention to my health will aid all my endeavors.

Several of my students have been or are extremely competent players who are in some senses, more experienced and likely better technical players, overall, than myself. However, when I took the time two years ago to start to understand poker at a profound, almost philosophical level, asking myself questions so basic that even excellent pros I know have passed over them, I see that I gathered a certain special reservoir of perspective which carries both my poker career and my teaching forward, even into situations I thought it would or could not.

As for my own play these days, I think what I miss at the table now are often details of execution (especially now that I feel older and see unhappy evidence of it). My commentary, such as on a prospective poker video or over the phone, can get a little sloppy as I try to simultaneously be succinct and general, but underneath I have an idea for almost all game types and levels. It’s filling in some of the cracks and focusing, not laying the pavement, which I need to work on for myself. The positive experience of helping other players has given me, more than once, of finding a coach for myself, and seeing where that will take me: an exciting idea.

Everyone who works or has worked with me has potential as a player. I am struck by all their differences, the degree of which truly surprised me, and how in a game where players are worried about what is “correct,” it is satisfying to see that there is always an alternative perspective on even the most simple things. Life shapes a poker player as much as strategic study, and as a poker teacher, I get to see this in a new, repeated, and fascinating way.

To wrap up this update, I want to speak to my methodology. I don’t charge by the hour, as I believe low stakes players need mentors more than consultants. Therefore, in the majority of cases, what I do is charge a flat rate for a month of ongoing consultation, mostly through email, homework assignments, and a few Skype calls. Some players I don’t even see or talk to, yet these have been among the most successful collaborations.

I allot each student a certain amount of time per week, and this allows us to really dive into our issue or problem together, as they coach-pdon’t have to worry about missing out on a follow-up and can reflect at their leisure. In some cases I am spending too much time on a particular student, and I need to correct this, not just for myself – but for them as well. To be their own coach and poker manager, they need to come to their own conclusions and work without my constant supervision. This will also help me take on more students, as my model is intended to allow me to work with many at once, perhaps more than other coaches normally handle.

There’s a form on my coaching page if you are interested in finding out more, or of course, any number of ways of getting in touch, such as through Twitter, email, and the RC forums.

Good luck on the felt and thanks to everyone, most of all to my students and to Red Chip’s founders, who have helped me reach this interesting point in my poker career.

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