Looking for a coach? (long, rambling, but not advertising!)
Sup peeps. It's been too long since I've written a long, rambling poker-ish post, but the recent Jason Ho scandal
(definitely worth a read because (a) it's entertaining and horrifying at the same time and (b) it provides some important background as to why I'm posting this thread) has sort of prompted me to get thinking.
(Note: This thread isn't about the Jason Ho thing. Make a new thread if you want to talk in depth about that, thxs)
Coaching is becoming increasingly popular nowadays. There are an abundance of coaching sites, and an abundance of individuals who are happy to provide one-to-one coaching to students. This isn't a post about how much I disagree with coaching, or how worthless I think it is - if the right person finds the right coach it is certainly worthwhile, but finding the right coach is akin to navigating a maze filled with traps around every corner.
Occasionally we get people requesting a coaching forum here at Cardschat, and the idea always gets shot down. There are numerous reasons for this, the first and most obvious being that the modstaff simply don't want to deal with the fallout of any alleged scams that might (read: will) occur. But there are other reasons I have for voicing my own personal opposition to it, which I will get into as a part of my ramblings about what to look for in a coach.
So, what should you be looking for when looking for a coach? After a little deliberation I decided to make this into a numbered list as opposed to a wall of text.
1) Look for a person who you either personally know well enough to trust, or a person who you do not personally know at all. NOT an 'internet acquaintance'.
The first part of this seems blindingly obvious. Of course, in an ideal world everyone would have a close personal friend who is incredibly super-good at poker and willing to coach them at a large discount (or even for free ^^). The benefits of having a coach who you know and trust are obvious - as well as being less likely to be scammed in any way you are more likely to respect the opinions of your coach and enjoy spending time with them - which all contributes to a healthy coaching experience.
The second part is a little less clear-cut. Why would you choose someone you don't know at all over someone who you at least have a nice chat with on a messageboard with every now and then? The simple answer is the false sense of security that getting involved with an internet acquaintance can give people. Now if you're a hard-nosed person who has trouble trusting anyone you can probably look away now, but everyone else should take note. It sounds silly, but it is increasingly easy to get suckered into getting scammed by someone who is an 'internet acquaintance'. Feelings of doubt can give way to feelings of "oh but he's cool on the forums, it's probably just me being silly" with surprising ease. This is another one of the reasons I oppose a coaching section on CC - we're a pretty close-knit bunch of people but at the end of the day we are mostly 'internet acquaintances', and internet acquaintances make for the most potentially dangerous coaching relationships, generally speaking, because guess what - people lie a lot on the internet.
Getting coaching from someone you have no personal involvement can lead to you forming more critical opinions on both the value of their coaching and their personality, which are important in both avoiding potential scams and getting the most from your learning experience.
2) Research your prospective coach
Yeah, so Stox should have vetted Jason Ho far more strictly, and coaching sites generally do a good job of doing this, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do your own research. All it took was a little digging on Jason Ho before you disovered that he was recently made bankrupt and admitted financial misconduct that led to his bankruptcy (this misconduct including accruing >£30k in gambling debts). For someone who claims to have recently been >$1m up at poker, this is at best a little odd and at worst completely alarming, and either way would lead you away from choosing him as a prospective coach.
If they've posted graphs, take care when looking at them. Any sample of less than 500k hands is pretty much meaningless - variance dictates that it's not all that statistically improbable that a breakeven player could win at 3bb/100 over 100k hands, then lose at 3bb/100 over the next 100k. Guess which graph they're going to post to impress everyone with? Obviously with the abundance of sites like PTR there's no excuse now for not researching a players screennames at least.
Of course the best way to get a handle on how effective and trustworthy a coach is is from word of mouth. If someone you know and trust has been or is being coached, ask them about their experience. Check forums for comments on a coach (but be wary that some rogues might create multiaccounts just to praise themselves, of course).
3) Only pay for one or two lessons to start with
Seems obvious, but at least one of the guys in the Jason Ho thread said he paid for 5 lessons to start and 10 lessons more because of some super-special offer that he was offered. I don't know how common a practice making "buy 10 lessons get x lessons/a bonus prize/something free" offers are, but I would assert that any coach offering them to new students is either (a) a rogue or (b) not worth having as a coach because they simply don't understand why it is in a student's best interests to start by buying only one or two lessons. The simple reasoning for only buying a lesson or two to start being...
4) If at any time you have any doubts about your coach, walk away.
Now you see why buying 15 lessons right off the bat might not be a great idea. If after lesson 1 or 2 you have doubts about either your coach's ability or mindset or anything else, you can just walk away with ease. While trustworthy coaches will of course provide the relevant refund should you decide to walk away after 2 lessons if you've bought 10, not everyone is trustworthy, and often if you have doubts about a coach they may not be trustworthy, hence the coaches that you are most likely to walk away from are those who are least likely in general to give you a refund for untaken lessons.
There's another reason behind this. All the stories in the Jason Ho thread have a common distinguishing factor - student pays for coaching, student gets coaching, student has doubts about something, student then proceeds to give Jason money for staking/more lessons/'training camps' and is then for some reason surprised when the staking money disappears/the training camp is worthless/whatever. If you sever when you first have doubts, you simply protect yourself from potentially getting scammed out of a lot of money.
Doubt doesn't have to just be about thinking your coach might be shady. One thing I absolutely recommend is that you get a coach who you get along with. If you find your coaching sessions filled with awkward silences and find yourself noticing these awkward silences and worrying about them, even if your coach is giving you excellent advice you may not be taking it in - and it will invariably save you money in the long run getting a coach who you get along with and hence have less trouble paying attention to (and hence will probably need only half the lessons you would have needed to get the same result from the 'awkward silence' coach).
5) A coach who is sympathetic to your style, and doesn't try to build Rome in a day.
Let's say you're nitting it up at FR NLHE playing 8/5/x - the last thing you want is a coach whose first words are "right, let's hit up the 6-max PLO tables - I'll teach you a killer LAG style that will crush the game". A truly good coach will alter his lessons depending on his student - he might encourage the FR nit to loosen up a little at first before moving on to 6-max NLHE and so on. Don't be alarmed if for your first lesson a coach just wants to watch you play for a while - in fact I'd go so far as to say that any coach who doesn't spend the majority of your first lesson (if not more) just watching you play and either before or after asking you questions about what you want from your coaching program, both short and long-term isn't worth having. You want a coach who is sympathetic to both your style and your aims - if you don't have aspirations beyond 5/10, don't listen to a coach who says he'll get you crushing 25/50 in 6 months. It doesn't matter if your coach crushes $10000000000000NL for 10bb/100 or something, if he doesn't coach in a manner that engages you and is in tune with your aims then you probably won't learn much.
6) Ask your coach why they coach.
Simply put, there are many coaches who actually charge more in hourly rate than they make playing poker. Signing up with such a coach is clearly absurd. There are some coaches however who are more than happy to take an hour or two off from the stress and the grind but still have some sort of monetary incentive. Understanding what motivates your coach to coach is just as important as your coach understanding what motivates you to play in cultivating an effective coach-student relationship. Plus, anyone who says they coach for "satisfaction" or suchlike is probably a bullshitter.
7) Never ever ever ever stake a coach.
I'm sorry but anyone who claims to have an income stream from poker and also has an income stream from coaching yet still for some reason needs to get staked is at best reckless with money and at worst a scamming d-bag (hi Jason). Personally I'd sever immediately with a coach who even suggested that I stake him, but I guess that might be just my overly careful nature.
Hoping this was more interesting for you to read than it was for me to type!