World Series of Poker Europe

Challenge James - Coaching

James Atkin

Many poker players have a thirst to increase their knowledge in poker, and improve how they play. The methods players have used to do this have quickly evolved over the last few years.

Previously this practice was limited to print. From the Education of a Poker Player by Herbert O. Yardley, first published in 1957, through to Harrington on Hold ‘em, published in 2004, reading poker books was the only real source of information for improving your game.

However, the emergence of online poker at the turn of the millennium saw a more interactive side of things become possible, with online forums becoming a hub for players to discuss hands and become more knowledgeable about the game. This trend continued with the inception of poker training sites, such as CardRunners, which was founded in 2005. Training videos allowed you to watch the best players at work, and showed their methods and insight into the game.

Since then things have taken almost a natural progression, and one-on-one coaching has become the latest craze for improving your game. In some ways it combines the elements of books, forums and training videos into one.

Challenge James - Coaching 101

A few months ago I decided to take up some coaching. Although I was doing well in the games I was playing, I was aware that it is always possible to become a little better, and was looking to become more efficient with my play by ‘plugging my leaks’. I’ve learned from my mistake of thinking I was “the don” 3 or 4 years ago because at one point I was doing so well in the games, but didn’t take any time out to better myself. However well you are beating the games, even any small increase on your win-rate or ROI can only be deemed as a good thing.

I signed up with Collin Moshman's coaching service which has a “no win, no fee” approach to coaching. Having a coach that has a vested interest in your winning in the games is almost comforting, for once you aren’t the only person that is really bothered about you winning money! It is also good for motivation, as sometimes just getting behind the computer and grinding can be difficult, but achievable volume targets are a good way of keeping you earning money.

What I have noticed that however well you are playing, and even if you are crushing the games, you still make a reasonable amount of mistakes here and there. Being forced to analyse your own game in a session with your coach, rather than copping out and foregoing this step, is a great advantage. Sometimes volume at the tables can seem more important than time spent going over hands, but if you are making any mistake repeatedly, then this time spent away from the tables can be very productive.

As a result of my success, very shortly after joining the website, I have started to coach myself, and it has been an interesting experience so far.

I have really been enjoying it. I think a main part of this is it allows me to talk to people, as coaching is done via Skype phone calls. A large problem with being an online poker pro is that most of your time is spent behind the computer, with little interaction with anyone else. Unlike other jobs, you have no real colleagues, and sometimes I think it sucks a little bit not having work-mates. Fortunately I have made some good friends from when I’ve ventured into live poker, but they also live scattered over the country, so it’s often difficult to stay in touch on a regular basis.

It’s also quite cool to speak to people from many different places. I now have students in England, Sweden, Belgium, Holland and Serbia. It’s quite interesting that they all speak awesome English as well (except the ones from England, obviously).

I’m also one of those annoying people who can talk about poker until the cows come home (and the hens, sheep and duck-billed platypuses for that matter). So this gives me an outlet for all my poker talk, and it seems I’m unable to stop myself running over the allotted time for each student, with me rambling on for twice or three times as long as I’m supposed to!

I also think it has been beneficial to my own game. This is because of the large amount of time I spend analysing hand ranges and such. Even though I’m not the ‘hero’ in question, all this theory work can only be good for my own play.

My coaching must be working
My coaching must be working

However, there is a part of me that feels a little disinclined to give out advice which is based on years of my experience in the space of an hour or two. It’s like I’ve written a lengthy book in my head over the course of several years, and some bastard has turned it into a film which people can watch in 90 minutes!

Also, it also makes me worry a little bit about the liquidity of poker. It’s no secret that the game has gotten much more difficult in the last few years. This has been largely attributed to training websites and coaching surely extends on from this. If I coach numerous people into winners, and they go on to coach numerous people into winners, then it’s almost like we’re breeding sharks. Hopefully the fish population is sustainable, or else somewhere down the line we’ll have to find somewhere else to eat our tuna steak.

Still, I have met some nice people across the soundwaves, and already a couple of them are looking into leaving their current profession and turning into pro poker players. Perhaps my next session with those guys should be about the downsides of this bloody job!

And after that I can advise them to lay-down pocket Queens in the big blind when I shove on them from the button.....

James Atkin is a regular in the multi table SNGs on Pokerstars and Full Tilt. Make sure you fold your Queens to him in the big blind.

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