In Part 1 of this series I discussed my feelings on what responsibility sponsored poker pros have to the community at large, and in this installment I’ll look at when poker players should disassociate from an online poker site, which basically boils down to an argument of “when there is smoke there is fire” vs. “hard evidence.”
When Should They Cut and Run
Moving on to the question of, when should players cut and run? In my estimation the only time a sponsored poker pro should walk away from a sponsorship is when the wheels have completely come off and there is hard evidence proving the site is up to no good or being completely mismanaged (like in the case of UB). Rumor and conjecture are great, and can lead to people uncovering real problems (I applaud the investigative process on poker forums), it’s still premature to suggest that every sponsored player should abandon ship at the first signs of a storm. Lock Poker, which is front and center in the current brouhaha that is the genesis of this article, has a lot of explaining to do regarding recent decisions and policy changes, but should the community’s conclusions determine what the sponsored players at the site do?
Let’s face facts; this isn’t the first “witch-hunt” the poker community has taken on. Many players and sites have had their names besmirched (while many others were proven guilty) by the over-cautious poker community after the Super-User scandals. And still other cheats and scam-sites have gone unnoticed until it was too late. Sometimes these witch-hunts turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, so sponsored pros who quit after being called on to quit could very well contribute to the site’s downfall.
Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that these poker sites are basically operating in violation of US law. Personally I don’t trust any US poker site, and I’m skeptical of virtually every online poker room where we have seen everything from poker bots to collusion packs fly under security’s radar. I’ve never understood why people leave significant amounts of money at online poker sites (which is a different amount for everyone and can range from $100 to $1,000,000 depending on your situation) and I’ve been warning people of this for years. I will only leave an amount of money that allows me to play the games I want to, nothing more, and nothing less. If I lose every nickel I have had in my online poker accounts since about 2009 I can just move on with life, and I’ve never had a problem with not being able to play; there is simply no reason to leave life-altering sums online.
It’s striking that many of the same people who feel poker should be the ultimate game of survival of the fittest also feel that the fish that they feed on should be warned of potentially shady sites. For me it’s the ultimate “Straw Man” argument. They scoff at the notion of having to “reveal” themselves as pros, and have no problem using every advantage to beat these players, from HUD’s to tracking sites. And their reason is simple; it’s every man for himself in poker; you gotta protect yourself!
My feeling is that this same personal responsibility should be applied to these fish when they choose a site –It’s strange that the same people who want to bleed the fish dry of every last big blind are suddenly trying to protect them. I’m sorry, if their choice boils down to, “should I join the site where Mike Mizrachi plays or the one where Daniel Negreanu plays,” does it really matter what site they choose? This would be like choosing a car not by make or model but by color.
If prospective players are not doing their due diligence on poker sites to find the safest one (if that is a concern of theirs) then that is hardly the problem of players who are representing a site in good faith. If Mike Mizrachi, Chris Moorman, or Annette Obrestad feel Lock Poker is relatively safe why should we crucify them for not looking deeper or asking “hard” questions? And if we are being honest with ourselves, these people that are swayed by such superficial factors as sponsored players are not players depositing thousands of dollars.
Thanks to Haley Hintze’s recent article on 4Flush.com I’ve been pondering precisely what sponsored poker players owe the poker community, what their affiliation with a specific site (failed or troubled) should do to their reputation, and what they should do when they find themselves in a situation where the site they represent is facing fire from the community.
This is a fairly divisive issue, as some in the poker community feel that by attaching your name to a brand you are essentially vouching for that product, while others feel sponsored poker players are more detached from the situation inside the company and have little personal responsibility to the poker community. So who has it right? Is it the “you’re judged by the company you keep” crowd, or is it the “buyer-beware” camp?
In her article, Haley poses the following question right in the title: “When should site-sponsored pros cut and run?” This is a really good question, and one I will tackle in Part 2 of this article series, but in my opinion this isn’t really the core question in this debate. The core question we need to ask is, “What responsibility do sponsored pros have to the community?”
There is a major problem with this question though, since we are talking about an incredibly new market, poker sponsorships, and don’t really have a Standard Operating Procedure to follow. Because of the “newness” of poker sponsorships, and the even rarer instances where players find themselves representing a flailing site, I’ve chosen to make the comparison between this issue and athletes/celebrities and their sponsorship deals.
Responsibility to the Community
So let me pose the following questions: Prior to becoming a partial-owner, did Michael Jordan have a responsibility to explain the incredibly high markup of his sneakers? Or that they are for all intents and purposes no different than most other brand name sneakers? Was he responsible for the factory conditions where the shoes are manufactured? How about for the misleading ads that essentially claimed “It’s gotta be the shoes?” Should Glen Beck be run out of town for hawking over-priced “collectible” gold coins? What about the countless celebrities who sell everything from cereals to electronics in Japan (likely with little understanding of what they are selling other than the conversion rate of Yen to USD)?
The answer is not really. While celebrities and athletes should research a potential sponsor, it’s hard to fault them for the day-to-day operations and executive decisions of the company itself. It’s not as if they are receiving internal memos and sitting in on meetings. This is even truer when they joined the company prior to any issues coming to light.
So realistically, what do sponsored poker players “owe” the community? They owe the community two things, that they entered into the deal in good faith and that they have no hard evidence of cheating or insolvency on the part of the site they represent. There is a difference between believing something and proving something, and in cases where people’s livelihoods are on the line we should expect them to want to see real evidence of malicious wrongdoing (not conjecture) before we hold them responsible.
For instance, there were plenty of people speaking up about the impending housing bubble before 2008, but we don’t hold real-estate agents responsible for the price-drop of our homes, and we didn’t ask them to stop selling houses or not deal with certain banks.
Closer to home, we can look at the Full Tilt Poker saga in the wake of Black Friday. In this case very few people held Red Pros or even minority owners responsible for the company’s shoddy management. On the flipside was Ultimate Bet, whose poker pros stayed with the company before, during and after one of the worst scandals in poker history. Amazingly, Phil Hellmuth and company emerged from UB sponsorships with their reputations pretty much intact, sans Joe Sebok (who joined UB after the scandal), and for a variety of reasons, Annie Duke.
In the post-UIGEA poker world (yes, I’m going back all the way to 2006 here) Player-to-Player transfers have become one of the fastest, easiest, ways to move funds between US-facing poker rooms and facilitate withdrawals. However, after Black Friday, P2P transfers have also caused numerous problems for some online poker rooms, which has led to several major poker networks banning the practice, the latest being iPoker which has suspended P2P transfers according to forum users at 2+2.
It’s unclear if the suspension of transfers is merely a technical issue at iPoker (they do have a massive software upgrade in the pipeline) or if this will be the new normal for the network moving forward. What is clear is that a number of online poker rooms/networks have started moving in this direction, and regulated markets seem to be addressing P2P transfers and explicitly banning them in some instances –as was the case in the proposed Massachusetts legislation that expressly banned P2P transfers. The concern by regulated markets likely stems from the potential for money laundering and other crimes, or allowing players to exceed daily/weekly deposit limits.
Other poker networks that have ceased offering P2P transfers include Merge Gaming, which suspended P2P transfers last October, and Revolution Gaming, which recently put a halt to the practice.
Before UIGEA passed, players in the US could use payment processors like Neteller or PayPal, and move many around in a matter of minutes. After the legislation was enacted these companies left the market (some on their own volition, and others like Neteller having to deal with the DOJ) and deposit and withdrawal times for US players grew longer and longer.
Out of necessity, players started using P2P transfers for many transactions, and even though it appeared sites weren’t keen on the practice (you’ll have a hard time finding any concrete data on play-through requirements for P2P transfers) they were allowed as it was one of the only ways US players could stay in action. Unfortunately, the system also had its problems, and was abused by players in some cases.
Since online poker came online some people have tried to use their online poker accounts much like a bank: Making payments for services or lost prop-bets and all kinds of financial dealings. More recently, as withdrawal times have grinded to a halt at places like Lock Poker, a market has sprung-up where player will buy your online poker money at a reduced rate, essentially treating online poker accounts like a stock.
While this is unlikely to be the case at iPoker (my guess is that it’s a technical issue associated with the looming software upgrade), which is a non-US provider, P2P transfers seems to be something we should be keeping our eye on moving forward.
This week the pending deal that would have seen PokerStars take over control of the struggling Atlantic Club Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey was allowed to expire. The now-dead deal leaves the Atlantic Club to pursue online gambling in New Jersey on their own, and leaves PokerStars with just one more current remaining option to reenter the US online poker market, Delaware.
In December of 2012, The Rational Group (the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker) entered into a tentative agreement to buy the Atlantic Club Casino for a reported price-tag of $50 million –It should be noted that on Wednesday NJ gaming journalist John Brennan listed this number as $11 million. The deal came before online poker legislation was officially passed in New Jersey, and hinged on Governor Chris Christie signing the bill, which he did in February of 2013. Once the bill was passed the deal with PokerStars was sent on to New Jersey regulators, but not before the American Gaming Association (AGA) on behalf of a number of American casino interests (including Caesars Entertainment) got involved in the debate.
Early on during the review process the AGA sent New Jersey regulators a letter describing PokerStars as a “business built on deceit, chicanery, and the systematic flouting of U.S. law,” adding that, “Any action allowing PokerStars to be licensed would send a damaging message to the world of gaming, and to the world beyond gaming, that companies that engage in chronic lawbreaking are welcome in the licensed gaming business.”
The AGA’s protests prompted PokerStars to issue their own statement, calling the longtime gaming advocates “self-interested partisans,” that were “picking a public fight.”
So now PokerStars is essentially back at square-one in the US. Nevada introduced a “Bad Actor” clause that will keep the site from being licensed in that state; and New Jersey requirements would require PokerStars to be operating and licensed a casino physically within the state’s borders to seek an online gaming license. PokerStars final hope rests with Delaware, the forgotten state that has passed online poker. PokerStars was one of 17 companies that applied for the right to run Delaware’s online gaming, but no decision has yet been made, and PokerStars is not considered to be one of the frontrunners.
According to award-winning journalist John Brennan of the Meadowlands Matters blog, the COO of the Atlantic Club stated that, “our purchase agreement with PokerStars has been terminated. The Atlantic Club remains committed to the aggressive pursuit of the opportunities presented by online gambling.”
In an update to Brennan’s original story two key New Jersey lawmakers both issued statements about the deal falling apart, Ralph Caputo, a former casino executive, and Raymond Lesniak, the state senator who authored the online poker bill that was signed into law this year. You can read John Brennan’s full report on the now defunct deal here: http://blog.northjersey.com/meadowlandsmatters/5682/breaking-pokerstars-deal-to-buy-atlantic-club-has-been-scrapped/
Ok, we’ve now come to the final installment of this four-part series on poker coaching and this time around I’ll take a look at some of the red flags you should be on the lookout for when you hire a poker coach.
What to Expect From a Poker Coach
Before you even pay for a session or join an online poker training site you should have a very firm idea of what you are expecting to receive for your time and money. If you’re hiring a coach for a one-on-one session you should explain your goals right from the get-go, so both you and the poker coach what you are expecting to get –and the coach can then agree that your goals are attainable or he can explain why you are being unrealistic.
As I stated in Part 3 of this series, the first thing you should expect is for your coach to be on time and be completely focused no you during the session. Remember, you are paying this person to show you what it takes to be a professional, and if their idea of being professional is showing up late with lame excuses or texting during your session you obviously have found someone who is not “professional” themselves, so how could they ever teach you to think and act like one?
Additionally, your coaching sessions should leave you thinking, “Wow, I never thought of that before!” If your coach is drilling you with “this is what I do here,” and similar statements, you may want to reassess who you’ve chosen to guide you in the poker world. Your coach should be correcting mistakes and imparting knowledge, but they should also be doing so in a way that is both interesting and leaves you thirsty for more.
- Looking for heaps of money up front
- Unwilling to provide results or testimonials
- Missed appointments or late for appointments
- Showing up for a session drunk, high, or tired
- Doesn’t pay full attention to the sessions
- Answers questions with talking points
- Has trouble explaining their thought processes
- Doesn’t listen to your concerns
What to expect form an online training site
Poker Training Sites don’t have to live up to the lofty expectations of a coach charging hundreds of dollars per session, but you should expect a certain level of professionalism from them nonetheless.
Your time at online poker training site should begin with a free trial of some sort. I have a simple rule for online training sites: No free trial, no membership. Additionally, an online training sites active roster (the people who are actually making videos) should match the people they are advertising as coaches on the homepage. It’s great that you had one of the best poker players of all-time as a coach back in 2008, but the game changes so rapidly that the strategies used by the best players in 2008 could be LOSING strategies in today’s poker world.
- No Free Trial offer
- Spotty content schedule or a lack of an upload schedule altogether
- Spotty audio/video that speaks to a lack of quality control
- Hard to find results for their coaches
- Marketed coaches are active
We are now up to Part 3 in this series and it’s time to take a look at some of the questions you should be asking before hiring a poker coach, and what you should be looking for in your coach.
What to Look for in a Poker Coach
No offense to younger poker coaches who might be crushing the game, but there is a certain value that should be placed on experience. A good poker coach will have seen it all, and experienced many high’s and low’s in their career, be it poker related or personal. If you are a younger/newer coach you need to understand that your lack of experience is a detriment and you should be able to answer any concerns on this front and layout precisely why you are the coach they should hire.
That being said, a younger poker coach who is not as worldly as an experienced player is fine for online poker coaching or to plug leaks in your game, but if you are looking for a coach/mentor I’d definitely go with a player that has more experience… and by experience I don’t mean the person has to be 60 years-old, just someone who has been around the block once or twice, travelled the poker circuit for a few years, or been ensconced in the poker world for a half-decade or more.
- Results & Testimonials
This pretty much goes without saying, but your poker coach should have trackable, provable, results, both as a poker player and as a teacher of the game. If the person is just getting into coaching and doesn’t have references and testimonials they should at least provide links to any forum posts or other writings they have done and should be able to verbalize why they are equipped to be your poker coach.
Testimonials are also a huge asset, and any coach worth his salt should have multiple testimonials.
- Free trial
I’m a big stickler for standing by your product, and there is no better way to say “I’m worth the money I’m charging” than to offer a free consultation or even an abbreviated session. If a person isn’t willing to offer some type of free consultation it could simply mean that they are super-busy and don’t have the time, but it could also mean that they don’t really believe in what they are selling, or are unsure about their ability to coach you, and want the money up front.
- A Good Communicator
This is extremely overlooked in poker coaching; your coach has to be able to verbalize their thoughts in a clear concise way. This is not only a matter of the person being taught absorbing the coaching, but it’s also cost-effective. Think of it this way, a coach that has to explain things with 200 words instead of 100, or explain the same concept six different ways before you grasp it, is wasting half the session (which could be hundreds of dollars), which means less information passed from teacher to student.
A good poker coach should be able to put themself in your shoes and see things from your point of view. If your coach is having trouble figuring out why you are not improving, or where your sticking points are you may want to find a new one.
- Punctual, accommodating, and true to their word
Another quality you should demand in a poker coach is that they live up to their word and make good on their pledges to you. A poker coach should be on time and ready to start the session, every single time. They should also be prepared and stay engaged throughout the session, avoiding phone calls and other distractions.
- Positive attitude and pride in their work
A poker coach should also be energetic and positive during your sessions. When you are paying a premium hourly rate for someone’s services they should be happy to be there. Furthermore, a poker coach should also be proud of the progress you are making, willing to share it publicly (if you agree that this is ok of course), since your progress is a reflection on their own skills as a poker coach.
In Part 1 of this series I discussed the basics of poker coaching, focusing on the history of poker coaching as well as what precisely a poker coach is. In this installment I’ll layout the different methods players can choose from when they decide to hire a poker coach or receive coaching.
Types of Poker Coaching
- Live 1-on-1 Coaching
Live 1-on-1 coaching is probably the most useful, but it is also usually the most expensive. With face-to-face coaching you’re going to get the most out of your sessions. These sessions generally involve hand history reviews, theoretical and strategic discussions, and sometimes sweat sessions or heads-up matches.
- Internet/Phone 1-on-1 Coaching
Similar to face-to-face coaching, 1-on-1 coaching via Skype or over the phone will also give you a lot of bang for your buck as you have the coach’s undivided attention (as far as you know). The MO for these sessions usually involves a flip-flopping between sweat sessions and review sessions.
- Group Sessions
Group sessions are where a coach will meet with you and several other players and have some type of roundtable discussion or Q&A session. Unlike 1-on-1 coaching you’ll have to share the coach during these sessions, and some of the discussion may not be pertinent to you.
- Poker Training Boot Camps
Another form of poker coaching is where players register for poker boot camps. These sessions are usually a day or two days, and involve lectures from several different speakers, followed by a Q&A session of some sort.
- Poker Coaching Websites
The final option for players in search of poker coaching (especially players on limited budgets) is to join an online poker training site. Poker training sites offer their customers videos and other content designed to improve their game. This type of coaching is not as individualized, but most sites also offer forums and other live sessions where players can ask more specific questions.
What Kind of Coaching Do You Need?
There will be two main factors that go into your decision making process when you decide that you want to further your poker education and pay for some poker coaching of some sort. The first consideration is money: More precisely, how much money you want to invest in a poker coach. The second factor will be your current skill level: After all, if you haven’t even read a poker book than paying $1,000/hour for Phil Galfond to teach you the basics of position and blind-stealing is probably not a wise investment.
Obviously if you have about $200 to spend on poker coaching than a live one-on-one session with Phil Galfond isn’t an option, but you still have to decide if you think two sessions with an untested poker coach (who charges $100/session) is a better option than registering for a WPT Boot Camp or subscribing to a poker training site for six-months.
The deciding factor should be what precisely you are trying to get out of your poker coaching session (which I’ll talk about more in Part 3) and whether it’s something that can only be ironed out by a solid winning player giving you two hours of one-on-one coaching, or if the more cookie cutter approach of a poker training site will suffice.
Your Current Skill Level
Once you’ve narrowed down your options based on money you should look at your current skill level. New and/or losing players would be better off with more volume like poker training sites or boot camps than one or two sessions with a coach. For instance, there is no sense hiring a calculus professor to tutor you in long division; it’s unnecessary, it will cost you far more money, and the professor is going to be disinterested to boot!
Stay tuned for Part 3 where I’ll discuss what to look for in a poker coach.
When I first came up through the poker ranks the idea of hiring someone to teach you to play poker was… hmmm, how should I put this… novel? While there were most certainly people teaching other people to play poker, it was far from a job title, and on the whole things simply were not done this way before the poker boom. But during the poker boom this all changed, with so many new, young, players flocking to the poker tables there was an untapped market for skilled poker players to go beyond just writing a book and offering their services as a poker mentor of sorts and the world of poker coaching (along with the job description) was born.
In this series I’ll layout everything you need to know about poker coaching beginning with what precisely a poker coach is. In Part 2, I’ll talk about the different kinds of poker coaching that are available; in Part 3 I’ll go over what you should look for in poker coach; and in Part 4 the emphasis will be on what you should expect from your poker coach.
In today’s poker world, with competition and information at an all-time high, poker coaching is practically a must if you have any aspirations of making a go at living the life of a professional poker player. That being said, the quality of poker coaching has needed to keep pace with the rise in general skill level. Effective poker coaches are fewer and farther between than they were in 2006 for the simple reason that the games are far tougher to beat.
I’ve dabbled in coaching myself, mostly helping friends and acquaintances get their feet wet in the poker world, but I also have some real-world experience as a personal trainer (which is merely the exercise version of a poker coach) as well as having the opportunity to work with a professional consultant who taught me many things regarding the client experience and meeting and exceeding those expectations.
In this series I’ll try to layout everything you need to know to get the most bang-for-your-buck when you hire a poker coach, and hopefully any poker coaches who read this column will learn a thing or two about improving their own service and understand what is expected of them.
What is a Poker Coach?
A poker coach is the equivalent of a business consultant; think Restaurant Impossible, Salon Takeover, Bar Rescue, or Hotel Impossible. Their “job” is to turn around your poker game, beginning with the biggest problems, and if possible ironing out all of the little kinks in your game. Another important part of their job is to find problems you don’t even know about. They are basically players who have accomplished what it is you are looking to accomplish in the poker world; theoretically allowing them to walk you through the in’s and the out’s of the game, and avoid the usual pitfalls.
Beyond that a poker coach can also be a mentor, someone who can not only help you grow as a poker player but as a person capable of surviving in what is perhaps one of the most cutthroat professions you can choose.
What type of poker coach you need is dependent on your own goals and what you are hoping to get out of the coaching –which I’ll go over in more depth later on in Part 3 of this series, but next up on the docket in Part 2 of this series I’ll take a look at the different kinds of poker coaching available.
In Part 1 of this series I discussed the current state of poker and where in my opinion the poker world had gone wrong. In Part 2 of this series I spoke about poker losing its social characteristics and how young poker players’ attitudes towards their opponents can drive potential players away. In this the final part of this series I will touch on two more factors that are hurting poker’s chances for continued popularity over the long-run.
Poker is becoming “solved”
The single largest detriment that computers have brought to poker is raw data. Players no longer have to build a lifetime experience to see if their theories are right or wrong, they have all of this information conveniently at the their fingertips.
Poker will never be truly “solved” but the vast majority of situations are now solvable for skilled players and with more and more skilled players disseminating this information, more and more players are able to access it. So what we are left with is a game where players pass money back and forth and only scant crumbs of profit to be made at the margins.
The stakes are too damn high
Much like the comic-gold of the “The Rent is Too Damn High” Gubernatorial campaign of Jimmy McMillan, poker is undergoing its own out of control spending spree, and I simply have to declare, “The Stakes are Too Damn High!”
My problem is; what happened to middle limit games? It seems now that people are only interested in grinding low-stakes games or playing in high-stakes games. $10/$20 and $20/$40 limit games used to be staples in casinos, now they have been replaced by $1/$2 NLHE and a ridiculous amount of $4/$8 games (sometimes $3/$6 or $8/$16 depending on where you are). These are the live poker examples but this also holds true online.
You might be asking, why is this an issue? Casual players are looking for these games, and if all the players are playing too high for them, or too low for them to bother, so they spend their money elsewhere. The $10/$20 and $20/$40 stakes allowed casual poker players to feel like big shots for a night, sitting in a $4/$8 game doesn’t accomplish the same thing.
I equate it to when a person takes a pay-cut but doesn’t change their lifestyle habits; what we have are poker players who are so used to playing high-stakes games during the poker boom –when there were so many new players that these middle stakes games were receiving a constant influx of new players transitioning from the low-stakes tables—and now they simply can’t bring themselves to move back down now that the poker economy has cooled off.
In Part 1 of this series I laid out the argument that poker was on the decline in the Internet era. Now I will give you the specifics as I see them for why this decline is taking place and what we can do as poker players to turn it around.
Poker is no longer a social game
The social aspect of poker was what kept unskilled players happy and content. These players used to think they were just gambling (and simply unlucky some of the time) and confirmation bias misled them as to their actual results compared to other players.
Once poker players started donning hoodies and headphones, and showing up at the poker room riffling chips and with quirky chip protectors the casual poker player quickly realized something wasn’t right, and perhaps they were lambs amongst the wolves.
This has gotten to the point that I see people listening to their iPod during $25 basement tournaments because this is what they are led to believe helps you concentrate and pass the boring time in between hands. It’s going to take a concerted effort from poker players to tear down this notion, not because it’s false (saying absolutely nothing and listening to music probably does help concentrate and give away as little information as possible) but the problem is it hurts the game long-term because it drives away precisely the types of players we want in the game –casual players looking for a fun way to spend their money for the night!
Players misrepresent their winnings
This goes along with my first point above: Poker “Pros” haven’t done themselves any favors by portraying their “Balla” lifestyles. Whether real or exaggerated, when regular people see teenagers and 20-somethings throwing away hundreds and thousands of dollars it’s not something they want to contribute to. No working class person wants to go to a casino and lose $1,000 in a poker game to a bunch of kids who laugh and joke about how bad you played and then go blow it in a nightclub.
It’s different when the opponent taking their money looks and acts like Phil Galfond, Matt Glantz or even Daniel Negreanu. If the experience they are going to have at the poker tables is one of headphones and post-game jeers the blackjack tables suddenly look far more appealing than the poker tables.
What we have right now are far too many “kids” running around in a naive way, not really comprehending that their current actions are hurting their long-term bottom line. You don’t have to placate or sympathize with your opponents, but you should at least respect for sitting down in the game.
In Part 3 of this series I will continue on, presenting two other examples for why the poker bubble has popped and what we can do to fix it.