A couple of weeks ago I posted a link to a 2+2 post I ran across that I thought was particularly interesting. Dan Mezick, the author of the 2+2 post, emailed me and we struck up a bit of a conversation. Turns out he’s the big man over at PokerCoaching.com and offered to have one of his coaches give me an hour or two of complimentary coaching.
Being the no free lunch kind of guy that I am, I accepted but offered to write up a review if I found the experience to be worthy of letting others know about (there’s a big hint to folks out there who have *quality* products or services that could use a little press in the poker community). Just to clarify though, the review is exactly what my impressions are; good or bad. There was no promise of a positive review nor would I ever offer such a guarantee. Of course, if the review were particularly negative I would offer Dan the courtesy of either responding here on my site or simply not posting anything (if you can?t say something nice . . . ). Bottom line is that I’m not going to pull any punches and I want to make sure all background data is fully disclosed.
Ok, all that mumbo-jumbo is out of the way so let’s dive into the review.
First off, I became interested in coaching about six months ago. I’ve read all the standard books and I’m certainly a winning player at the levels I play at but I know there are things other than my bankroll that are keeping me from playing in the $4000/$8000 game at Commerce against Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen. Some of the holes in my game are what I consider mechanical. They’re simply gaps in my level of experience that could use some plugging. The mechanical leaks are relatively minor and I notice that the more I play the better I become at addressing them. Other holes have to do with the psychology of the game. I have trouble against certain types of opponents or in certain types of situations. Those holes become glaringly apparent during NL ring and NL tournament play.
I had first run across Dan’s business while I was doing some research into coaches. I had heard some good things about his service and Dan?s posts on 2+2 were usually pretty solid. It was a close call but I ended up hooking up with Bob Ciaffone instead. The interesting thing I discovered from this experience is how different Bob and Dan’s services are. And the beauty of it is that being different doesn’t make one any better or worse than the other. It’s like asking whether you like to play on Party or UB. People who like UB are going to defend UB and people who like Party are going to defend Party and both groups are right because it’s a subjective judgment. I’ll point out some of the differences during the course of the review but my goal isn’t to rank the two against each other. I’m just trying to point out that not all coaching is the same.
My session with PokerCoaching.com started when one of Dan’s coaches, Bill Seymour called me while I was in the middle of a NL game at Commerce Sat. night. We chatted a bit and set up a time to speak on Sunday.
I wasn’t really familiar with Bill but a little research seems to indicate he’s bad ass at the card table. He’s got a slew of tournament wins to his name and, according to Bill, back in the day, he spent time helping some talented newcomers named Ivey and Negreanu improve their game (Negreanu does mention and quote Bill in a PokerPages article and in CardPlayer Daniel talks about a hand where he missed getting knocked out against Bill only by hitting a 3 outer after misreading Bill’s hand and getting himself all in).
When he called, we exchanged some chit chat and then Bill launched into some of his big picture messages he wanted to get across in this session. In a nutshell, Bill’s style is very aggressive poker and he views the game in terms of exploiting the weaknesses of your opponents. If they’re passive, keep putting them to a decision by betting and raising. If they’re super aggressive, lay low and lure them into traps. Now, that advice might sound pretty basic (and it is) but my goal isn’t to teach you everything Bill taught me. I’m simply trying to set the stage for what the session was focused on. Believe me, there were many gems of wisdom in his detailed discussion of those topics and much of it I haven’t seen covered elsewhere.
After the intro we logged into Party/Empire and he had me enter a $5 SNG while he sat on the rails and watched. The first thing he told me was that for the first few orbits, unless I got a Group A hand, that I was folding. Instead of mixing it up with marginal hands in the early rounds we spent the first few orbits analyzing the other players. “See that guy, right there? He just called an all-in raise with K2 off suit. We’re not going to try stealing any blinds from him.” “Now did you see how that guy played his hand? What do you think that says about him? Write that down in your player notes.”
Obviously, trying to get a read on your opponents is something we all strive for but because it’s so central to the strategy of an aggressive player, Bill put particular emphasis on telling you not only what he was thinking but why. I have to admit that he caught many little points that I completely missed. As Bill said to me, “Every player tells you a story. You just have to listen.” Compared to me, Bill’s ears are bionic.
After the table had worked its way down to seven players Bill said it was time to get in there and mix it up. I stole several blinds and stayed in the mix but didn’t really see a hand go past the turn. There were a few instances where Bill smelled my opponent’s weakness and had me throw out a bet or raise where I normally would have just checked a missed flop which resulted in a few bought pots. Pretty soon the table was down to four and I caught AJ on the button. I had $1000 in chips and made it $500 to go. The BB calls $400 more. Flop comes 552 and Bill tells me to push the rest of my stack in there. I do and the BB calls with A5 off suit. An ace comes on the turn pairing me up and filling up my opponent. Oh well, that’s poker :-)
Afterwards Bill and I discussed not just that hand but the entire game and how it fit into what he had told me before we sat down. What I found particularly interesting in my conversation with Bill was his style. While it might be easy for him to just dispense a bunch of advice and be done with it, Bill really tries to engage you and make you think about what he’s telling you.
Overall, I really liked working with Bill. You can read all the poker books in the world but when a seasoned pro is watching over your shoulder and pointing out details you may have missed there’s no way you won’t take away some valuable insights. He’s a likeable guy too. Very personable and seems to be interested in helping you become a better player.
Now, getting back to the Ciaffone comparison; it really is like night and day. Bob flatly states that he won’t watch you play. That’s not a service he offers. With Bob you send him questions or particular hands you want his opinion on and he gives you back a very detailed analysis of what he liked or hated about your play. So if you had to compare the two, I think it comes down to the strengths and weaknesses of the coaching style and not these particular coaches. Both are obviously very accomplished players with a wealth of knowledge but what you take away from Bob giving you some brilliant advice on how you should have played a hand after the fact and Bill sitting over your shoulder giving you play by play, are two completely different things (at least for me). For instance, I think Bob’s style might be better suited to limit games. Analyzing the cards and the odds and making the proper play are the keys to limit success and hand analysis is a very good tool for improving your play. NL puts more emphasis on playing the player and not the cards. You may think you have a good read on a player but having someone sitting over your shoulder for 30 or 40 hands pointing out observations you might have missed can really accelerate improvements in the people reading department. Bottom line, it’s a draw. Pick whichever style best suits your goals and your learning style.
I was struggling to find some negatives so the review didn’t sound suspiciously glowing but to be honest . . . there’s not a whole lot I could find fault in. Really, the key elements in any coaching relationship are:
1. Does the coach have the requisite knowledge to help you improve?
2. Is the coach an effective communicator?
3. Do you interact well with the coach?
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about poker coaching or coaching an NBA team, those fundamental elements define a successful coaching relationship. My personal opinion is that Bill hit all three marks.
What I found really interesting was speaking to Bruce Walker, a former student of Bill’s who has been very successful on the tournament circuit since taking some coaching sessions with Bill. As Bruce began telling me about what weaknesses he had in his game when he sought out help from Bill, I couldn’t help but notice that they were the very same weaknesses that I have identified in my own game. It was almost like talking to someone who had been at the very same juncture in their education as I am at today.
Heck, Bruce would be one heck of a coach too. He gave me what I asked for in regards to relating his experience with Bill as his coach but we ended up having a real quality conversation about poker philosophy. One of the points that he said that really stuck with me was that we know what the right thing to do is, but doing it is hard. We know we shouldn’t go on tilt but we do. We know we shouldn’t play this or that hand, but we do. We know, we know, we know, but we still do it anyway. Find out why you do it anyway and a lot of your problems not just in poker but in life get solved pretty quickly.
And in essence that’s what poker coaching is really about. If you’re going to a poker coach so he can tell you not to play 72 off suit UTG, you’re going for the wrong reason. When you’ve read all the books and you know all the rules of thumb but you’re looking for someone who can help you discover why you don’t do the right thing even when you know better, that’s when a coach can really have an impact on your game.