To me there seems a lot of noise coming from the poker community about coaching best practices. Particularly about what makes a coach valuable to someone. How is this value judged? Is getting a coach +EV? And who would be the right match for my needs?

Common approaches to coaching these days seems to have become standardized in a very short amount of time, primarily because the internet makes access to coaches so much easier now. There are hand history reviews, sweat sessions, traditional classroom like teaching methods for concepts and theory, and obviously video lessons through many training sites. Lots of these things we can do ourselves. Almost all coaches offer these methods as ways of improving our games, so we all look at these methods and think "Where can I best spend my time among all this?", "Where do I start?". There really is a lot to consider.

I want to distill that information into something more refined and useful. Along with the main question are deeper, related questions like...

  • How could your teacher differentiate themself from the crowd?

  • What areas of expertise/ability would you need them to have? Why?

  • What methods get solid fast results, and why?

  • What does your coach have to show before you can trust what they're teaching you?

  • Why is it just "One Tiiimmmme"? Why not twice? O_o

So, thinking big, if you could hire any coach at all, what would make for the most rewarding experience?

If you have any life experiences of a great (or bad!) poker coach, it would be very valuable to hear about what you learnt from it. Also, think of the times you've had a breakthrough just by yourself. What were you doing when inspiration struck?

I'm speaking mainly from the background of someone who almost exclusively plays and a small but reasonable amount of .


  • damn this is a good question :) ... Commented Feb 18, 2012 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


The absolute most important thing is for the coach to have relatively recent experience solidly beating the game you are interested in learning at the level you are learning and one or two levels beyond it. If you're struggling at $0.25/$0.50 games, someone who plays the $500/$1000 games will not be the best coach for you to learn from, as much of their game is not applicable to the players you face.

The next most important thing is communication skills and style. To be of use to you, a coach must be able to clearly communicate thought processes to you. It is much better to have a coach whose poker experience seems less impressive but can actually pass their knowledge on to you (as long as they still meet point one) than to have a coach who destroys the game but can't adequately teach you the reasons they make the plays they make.

Everyone will benefit most if you have some idea of what parts of your game you would like to see improved through coaching. If you can identify such an area, then address it with the coach you are considering signing up with. Ask if that is a strong area for them and look for sessions based on that area. Several years ago, I had tournament coaching from Eric "Rizen" Lynch. I went into that coaching with a general knowledge of MTT play - I'd read the only Harrington book out at the time and had several hundred tournaments under my belt. I also had thousands of SNGs under my belt with a huge win-rate, meaning that final table play was already an area I excelled at. Thus the primary areas I needed assistance with were middle-MTT concepts, large-field bubble play, and big-stack adjustments. In just a few weeks, the number of final tables I made doubled as a result of these targeted sessions. Had I not known where to focus, there would have been a much longer period of figuring out where I was and covering concepts that I already knew.

I have always found sweat sessions (where I'm watching the coach play OR the coach is watching me play) to be the most beneficial type of coaching. That's doubly true in the tournament arena, since you can easily enough only do sweating over the parts of the game you need to improve.

On the other hand, if you are at a complete loss as to what you might need improvement on, having a coach review a fairly large block of hands may be the best way to approach the first session. This way they can find leaks which can become the subject of targeted sessions later on.

  • +1. Nice answer JB. I figured you'd be someone who'd be able to answer this. :)
    – Toby Booth
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 20:46

Taking poker out of the equation there are two main things good to focus on.

  • Experience of the coach / Success of their trainees. Who has been coached by this person. Have those people seen a good improvement as a result of the coaching. Did they have good or at least satisfying experiences. Just because someone is fantastic at what they do; this doesn't mean that they'll be able to communicate it.

  • How well do they mesh with you. A good coach doesn't need to think like you or work like you do; but they need to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and make you better at what you do. Further; they must be able to work with you in a way that you work well with. While some may like heavy handed coaches; others might like more cerebral ones.

Start with a few sessions before long term commitment.

The "Wipe On, Wipe Off" method of teaching only works in situations where you don't mind that you have no idea if your getting anything out of the coaching.

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