I receive a lot of emails and read a lot of forum posts asking how to get the most out of heads up sng coaching. Personal situations and solutions tend to vary a lot, but being fully aware of your options and new ideas should drastically improve the value you receive from coaching.
The most important thing you can do to make sure you get the most out of heads up sng coaching, or any other heads up sng training tool, is to have a good work ethic. Even the best coaches will not provide good value to a player that does not take the time to utilize the information provided to them. Conversely, a great student that studies hard and asks good questions can often make what is usually a marginally valued coach a great value for them.
This does not mean a coach plays no part in the value that a student gets from their coaching. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Look at it like you would in purchasing meat from a store. You want to find the best value in a steak that you are purchasing, but how you cook it when you get home will also have a large impact on the overall quality of the meal. No matter how good the steak, if you burn it you will not enjoy it. And no matter how good of a chef you are, if you're cooking spoiled meat, it's not going to come out well. With coaching, not only is it important to find the right coach, but it's also important to utilize everything that the coach has to offer you.
A lot of students skip this step, and can pay heavily for doing so. It is important to research coaches before making a purchase. I would suggest not only looking at the stats of a coach you may be interested in, but looking more at the feedback that other students have given the coach. Furthermore, if the coach makes videos on a training website, or posts on a poker forum, these are absolutely necessary to check out before any purchase as they can really give you an accurate sense of how a coach thinks and articulates his thoughts about the game. Just be careful of coaches that offer coaching for many game types. If the coach offer heads up sng coaching, for example, along with tournament and 6-max cash game coaching, yet he only has extensive experience in 6-max cash, it is much less likely that his heads up sng coaching is of value to you.
People also sometimes focus on the wrong sorts of data when researching a coach. I see forum posts all the time that focus solely on a coach's stats. While stats are a great indicator of a player's overall skill at profiting from playing poker, there is a very big difference between playing well and teaching well. I could cite many fields that you can more clearly see this exemplified in; golf, baseball, basketball and other sports, as well as non physical activities such as writing or making music. In many of those fields, a lot of the people that the performing talent heavily relies on to keep them at the top of their field have not had major success in the talent side of the business. I think a large part of the reason why is because there are often vast differences between teaching and performing. While an out of shape or elderly person is not going to perform at the top of any sport, they may have the knowledge to help others in top athletic shape. But in the non physical fields, you'll see very highly regarded book or publication editors that self-admittedly are not top writers themselves. This is because writing something like a book not only requires a skill in the technical aspects of writing (which an editor is presumably strong in), but it also requires developing an idea and taking the time to focus and consistently put an idea into words on paper. You can have an editor with the best eye for what will sell, with a great deal of technique and fundamental writing skill, but without the creativity to come up with an idea themselves, and without the motivation and emotional tolerance to get that idea on paper, they will not succeed as a writer.
To more directly see why playing statistics alone are not worth much in selecting a coach, you have to look at what makes a great poker player and compare that to the attributes of a great poker coach.
What makes a great poker player?
- Understanding how your opponent thinks.
- Understanding how to react profitably to your opponent's strategy.
- Controlling your emotions so that you can make the best decisions without distraction or negative influence.
- The motivation and focus to constantly play and grow and to consistently play at your best.
Now the first two are definitely required for a great poker coach. But the latter two? Not as much. To be a great coach, the person will likely have had to put in a lot of time to playing the game and they will certainly need to be able to recognize in others when emotions are impacting decision making. But they may not be the best at controlling their own emotions while playing, or consistently putting the time into the game to be a top player statistically.
On the other hand, a player with great stats does not always make a great coach. There are professionals in all fields that are great at what they do, but have trouble explaining or articulating what it is that makes them so successful. Furthermore, they may not be great at deciphering which of their skills are most valued, even if they are aware of the sum of their parts, so to speak. This is because teaching and articulating is a much different skill to have than performing.
So it is important that you do not judge coaches solely based on stats. Now if a player is claiming to be something that they are not, than that is a different story. And brings me to...
Reputation, Honesty and Trust
I've already mentioned the importance of researching a coach and one of the main components in doing so is student feedback. But just having good feedback may not be enough for you. In order to be able to fully trust that a coach is giving you the correct information on a regular basis, making sure that they are honest and reputable is necessary. Some of that can be done with student feedback, but while the top coaches rarely have negative feedback, the marginal ones sometimes don't have much negative feedback either. They may be good at taking care of unhappy students with free lessons or refunds in exchange for staying quiet. They may also only ask students that they know are fully satisfied to post public feedback, making them look better than they otherwise would. These aren't necessary wrong things for a coach to do, but it makes their student feedback less valuable for the purpose of researching a coach.
So what else can we do to ensure that a coach is honest and reputable? If they are on a training site, see how that training site promotes them. If the training site claims they've made $500,000 dollars from poker, try to verify that from sites that show player statistics. Sharkscope, playerscope, pokerprolabs and playertableratings are just some of these types of sites that track player's stats. Make sure that you know how accurate these sites are as well, as some of them only track a low % of hands or games and can often be so incorrect that they show a winning player as a losing player (or vice versa). These sites also often allow a person to block their stats from public view. In those cases, you should ask the training site for proof that this player is as big of a winner as the training site claims they are. You can also as the coach for verification, via poker tracker or holdem manager type programs that will track the coach's success for them. Just be weary of this option, I haven't heard of it happening often, but with little effort a coach can manipulate those statistics. They may not outright change their stats, but by eliminating that sample where they "ran bad," it can have a huge impact on how successful their stats look. Make sure that you also look at specific buyin levels. If a coach regularly plays $200 buyin games with success, but lost $20,000 taking a shot against a weak player, or even took an unsuccessful shot at the $500 level, this should not really impact you as a student if you're playing at a lower level than $200.
Another good way to be sure that your coach is trustworthy is to ask some of their peers. If a coach is playing the $230 heads up sngs on PokerStars, look around for some other regular players that would know who that coach is. Ask them if they wouldn't mind sharing their opinion of that coach's game, or more importantly ask them if they have ever had any negative experience with this coach or heard of any others that have. If a coach is involved in some questionable deals with staking or prop bets or anything having to do with money or ethics, that's a good indicator that this coach may not be trustworthy.
And finally, talk to the coach before you make a purchase. Don't spend hours talking to the coach before you receive any coaching, this is a good way to indirectly raise a coach's rates. If they find they are talking to students 1-2 hours before every session for free, they will likely raise their rates or stop talking to students so often, neither of which is beneficial to you or the community at large. Make sure you know what you want to ask the coach in advance if you are going to be chatting with them live. If it's an email, just directly ask what you need to, you do not want to write a book for the coach to go through. You'll get a much worse reply on average if you write 2,000 words, as opposed to 200, because a majority of the 2,000 words will be unnecessary and potentially turn the coach off, or require them to spend more time deciphering your large email.
What sort of questions should you ask a coach? If you're having trouble in a certain area of the game, the end game, for example, you should ask the coach "what experience do you have in teaching the end game? Have you had any prior students with poor end games develop much stronger end games as a result of your coaching?" If you don't understand anything in a coach's advertisement or forum post, it would be a good time to ask that as well. You don't need to give your full background story including every poker game you've ever tried and every person you've ever talked to in the game. It is, however, good to let the coach know what stakes you play, your success or failures and any other coaching that you've had. As a coach, if somebody tells me they were coached by another husng coach, odds are that I know that coach and I may message them to ask if they have any insight to the student's game. Even if I do not do that in advance, if I find the student is struggling in a certain area, I may then contact the former coach and talk briefly about what he did or did not teach the student. Not only does sometimes benefit the student, but it sometimes benefits the coach if he missed something that I now see, of if I missed something that he saw. So letting a coach know who has previously coached you can actually have a subtle, but clearly positive impact not only on the quality of coaching that you receive, but the growth and improvement of multiple coaches.
Choosing the Correct Coaching Options
Coaches can offer a wide array of coaching options for a student. For heads up sngs, these often include two main forms: Sweats and Hand Histories. Both of these forms will have many different variations, resulting in a lot of decisions for the student.
Sweats are when a coach typically watches a student play poker online. Skype or Ventrillo is often used with a microphone to communicate back and forth. Teamviewer or Mikigo are programs that are often used so that the coach can view the player's computer screen, which allows them to see their hole cards.
Hand history reviews are usually done by a player sending the coach a .txt file containing a match that they previously played. The coach then usually reviews this hand history on their own time, putting comments throughout the match as he sees fit, and sends the hand history back to the student. Many coaches also allow a follow up email with any questions or clarifications about the review, at no additional charge.
In addition to those main two options, there are sometimes other options:
- Leakfinder videos; where a student makes a video for a coach and the coach records himself watching and reviewing this video.
- Theory sessions; where a coach, via microphone or messenger program (less often by email) talks about a specific topic of the game with a student.
- Video purchase; where a student purchases a private video, sometimes tailored specifically towards the student's needs, from the coach.
- Group coaching; where a coach uses one of the above methods with multiple students at once, usually at a discount to the student.
Each of these options has positives and negatives. However, I believe that initially, there is some blanket advice for most newer or lower stakes players. Previously successful mid stakes or higher stakes players can decide if this advice pertains to them or not.
Start with a hand history review. Just one is fine. These are often very inexpensive compared to the other options, while at the same time they give you great insight to how helpful a coach can be. The hand history option is usually priced by the length of the match, which is measured by the amount of hands it contains.
One mistake I find students often make, is that they assume if they pay for a hand history that costs X dollars and can be up to 100 total hands, they think that it is always better to include a hand history with 99 hands in it than one with 60 hands in it. Not only does this subtract from the student's focus in other aspects that pertain to the quality of the hand history, but the length means very little in relation to the value that you will receive from the review. Often times longer hand histories come from opponents that are passive, or limp a lot, and those are usually not the types of opponents that students have the most trouble with. Most students have the most trouble against hyper aggressive opponents, or extremely loose players, which often result in big pots being played and the length of the match being shorter.
Instead of focusing on the length of the match, focus on a hand history against an opponent that put you in spots where you were not sure you made the correct decisions, spots that made you less comfortable and confident. You want a hand history where you weren't sure how to adjust, or where you weren't sure why you adjusted in certain ways. A good coach can take into consideration reads accumulated and actions taken by your opponent and tell you where you should be adjusting and why, not to mention the proper adjustment.
More experienced players may decide to give a coach a hand history where they felt they played perfectly in, which has the benefit of turning you onto unknown leaks or areas of the game that you did not see a viable alternative option when you were playing the match.
So what happens after you receive a hand history review?
Utilizing the Information
Once you receive a hand history review, you should set aside some time and really read through it. It may help to print the review out if you study better reading on paper than online. Either way, make sure to mark down any questions that you have. Once you work through the hand history, go back over any questions you have and see if you can answer them yourself. If not, send the coach a quick email with your questions. Once you're completely clear and understand the information you have received, you need to work on applying it to your game in real time.
After your first hand history review, you'll have a much better idea of how to pick out the correct hand histories for your own benefit, and you can start to think after every game "was this a hand history worth reviewing?"
Additionally, I would suggest creating a separate .txt file on your desktop and just copy and paste hands that you have questions about both during and after your games. You may start to see a pattern to the questions that you have, and you can then bring up some of these hands in a sweat session with the coach, or a general theory session if all of your questions have to do with a particular aspect of the game, such as mid blind play.
Taking Advantage of Other Learning Tools
Hiring a coach to help you learn and improve does not mean that you should not do anything else to help your game. You should actually be doing more, so that you can get the most value out of your coach.
Utilize poker forums, post hands in them and pay attention to the replies. Look for veteran or highly regarded posters and pay even more attention to their replies. Ask questions to posters in a polite way if you don't understand their perspective. Almost as important, don't take offense to rude people or get into any non-friendly arguments with people. It's just a waste of time and it's taking time away from helping you improve your game. The only satisfaction that you should need is the satisfaction that the poster who was so rude to you will still be at the same skill level of skill 6 months from now, while you'll have grown tremendously as a player. You should not even need that much satisfaction.
Other than poker forums, you can also find poker peers. Find a player that is also dedicated to learning and improving their game and work with them. Watch each other play, talk theory, go over hands and so on. If you start to find you have some similar questions that you cannot figure out, perhaps this is a good time to talk about getting some group coaching to save yourselves some money. If two people have similar questions, it doesn't make sense for them to pay a coach $100 each to answer them for an hour, when they can probably pay as little as $50 each (though it is not always pro rated) to get the same questions answered at the same time. You may also benefit from one player asking a question you had not thought of.
Additionally, training sites can be a great option for improving your game. Much like coaching, the harder and more efficiently that you work on viewing and deciphering the information that you receive, the more that you will get out of it. Some people get almost nothing out of a training site subscription, while others quickly turn from breakeven results to thousands of dollars in profits. In general, it's a bad purchase for a lazier player and a large value for a hard working player.
- Try out new coaches
If there isn't a clear decision on the best coach for you, narrow your search down to a handful and get a hand history review with one at a time. By the time you've received one from each coach, you'll probably have a much better idea as to which is right for you. Just make sure you don't send the same hand history to each coach, that's almost always going to be overkill and will hurt the value that you are receiving.
Another reason to try out new coaches is to gain different perspectives. In the heads up sng community, I believe there are multiple quality coaches at most price points. Different coaches will have different strengths and different ways of teaching you various skills. Therefore, it can be helpful to try out a few different coaches, even if you are satisfied with a particular coach already.
- Don't rely on a coach
Just because coaching is often a great value, it doesn't mean you have to constantly use them. Some of my most successful students drop by for a hand history review or theory session every few months, rather than every week. At the end of the day, the work you put in at the tables is going to mean the most. Coaching is just there to help you make better decisions when you are playing. If you're not focused and do not play often, you won't have a lot of success even with a great coach helping you.
- If you're not comfortable, don't buy
Nothing is mandatory. It's not mandatory to play on a certain poker room, nor is it mandatory to play at a certain buyin. If you're not comfortable with your poker room or at a buyin level, you won't play there or at that limit. So why should you decide to purchase coaching from a coach that you are not comfortable with? You shouldn't. This goes with many things in life. Just be sure that you understand why you are not comfortable. There is a difference between the uncertainty of trying something new and a true discomfort towards a purchase. Know the difference and make the correct decision.
- Don't overbuy
I see a lot of students just buy huge bulk packages from coaches right away. This might end up ok in many cases, but when it doesn't go well, it sometimes goes very badly. While most reputable coaches offer a pro rated refund for bulk purchases, that alone defeats the discount that you were getting and you have to give somebody a large amount of money then ask for it back. That's not usually something either party enjoys doing.
Try a coach out with smaller purchases, and don't worry about the 10-20% savings that you would receive from a bulk purchase. Only buy in bulk when you are absolutely positive that you want to use all the hours with that specific coach and that you'll benefit from it. Just compare it to grocery shopping. There are grocery stores that specifically sell products in large quantities. This can be positive, because it often saves you money in the long run, making the individual food item (such as a gallon of mustard) a better deal. But would you buy something from these stores if you weren't sure you liked it? Probably not, as it would be a costly mistake to find out that you did not like mustard and you are now left with almost a gallon of it. You would be more likely to stick to your regular grocer when you felt like trying something new. You would purchase a smaller quantity of it before purchasing it in bulk. Do the same for coaching purchases, they are much more expensive than groceries.
- Volume, volume, volume
If you don't play often, you shouldn't be buying coaching often. Don't watch videos and receive coaching for 10 hours a week if you only play 5 hours. The only time that may be smart is if you have a very long term plan, very few hours available in the week and you have a very large bankroll to put towards improving your poker game. That covers a very low percentage of the student market, so if you're reading this you likely are not a person that should be receiving more coaching than playing, or anywhere near that amount of coaching or training relative to playing time.
Playing is the most important aspect of your growth. Not only do you get to experience so many more situations, but you also discover so many new aspects to the game to think about and utilize to your advantage. You also don't make any money without playing, and it's often important for a player's psyche to experience growth in terms of success. This doesn't mean you should be focusing on money made every day, or every week. It means that long term, if you are having more monetary success than you previously had, it is likely good for your confidence and will have a positive impact on your overall success moving forward. And you can't experience monetary growth without putting in playing time.
- Feel free to change it up
You don't have to follow my suggestions all the time, or even ever. Just be aware of why you are not following them. Have a logical reason for everything you do, both in terms of picking a coach, playing poker and with life in general.
Similar to my suggestions on finding a coach, once you have read this article, note down any questions you might have about it. Try to figure the answers out for yourself. If you cannot, I am happy to answer any questions you may have about this article. Any errors are even more appreciated.