The Three M’s:
Mastering the Math
Manipulating the Meta Game
Managing the Mental Game
Mastering the math means acquiring a complete and functioning knowledge of the theory and mathematics of poker.
Manipulating the meta game means implementing an exploitive approach to a varied number of styles, personalities, and profiles – with the ultimate goal of extracting edges and value from an opponent’s mistakes. In practice this involves target marketing, image creation, and winning the leveling war.
Managing the mental game means accepting the nuances and the realities of poker; it means recognizing your propensity to become your own worst enemy; it requires the insight to identify the internal voices that impair your decision making and it requires developing the techniques that will manage potential cognitive disorders at the exact moment a decision is demanded. Ultimately this will mean less frequent and less severe issues with tilt and more “in the zone decisions”.
Part I: My Coaching Structure
I believe there exists three major ingredients in becoming a successful poker player.
- The Structural Knowledge In tournaments, this involves knowing the different stages of a tournament: pot odds analysis, game theory, bluffing concepts and knowing the different styles of play. It also involves adjusting gears and numerous other “knowledge-based” skills. We begin each “student” with a series of sessions devoted to these skills. Many of the same skills are also crucial to cash game success.
- The People Knowledge Profiling your opponent, by the number of hands they play, hand preference, gender, nationality, reasons for playing and a common language with a coach are the goals of these “people skills.”
- The Knowledge of Self Playing your best requires much more than knowing how to play and knowing about your opponents’ tendencies. It requires knowing why you feel and behave the way you do. It requires overcoming emotions, bad beats and slumps. It demands self-awareness, reflection and overcoming the propensity to rationalize. Self-knowledge requires knowing the child, the parent and the rational adult. It requires understanding the yearning for justice, the focus to think functionally and it demands that you form habits and set goals.
Part II: Requirements of a Good Coach
Good coaches have three common characteristics.
- A good coach must have the poker knowledge necessary to teach the concepts outlined above. Having the knowledge and the ability to teach said knowledge are not the same. Great players often have knowledge even a coach cannot comprehend. They frequently function at a level they cannot explain. Knowing what a “student” understands, however, almost always eludes them. In football, golf, basketball, tennis, baseball and poker, the great coaches are the good players who can impart knowledge.
- A good coach must value his players’ success above his own. If a coach allows his ego and pride to place his personal poker success above the satisfaction he gains from a player’s success — he will surely fail.
- A good coach has the unique ability to extract from his player the best they have; the wisdom to encourage through the truth and the integrity to candidly advise the limitations. Many times in a player-coach relationship, the coach must sternly warn of the need to take a break, get back on the bicycle and/or make painful changes.
Part III: My Coaching Philosophy
Coaches usually have specific expertise. Some have a formula – think Tom McEvoy. Some specialize – think Barry Tannenbaum. Some work by seminars. Some are Internet specialists.
My niche is that I am willing to pry into the psyche of the player and try to uncover those elements of his history that make him prone to mistakes. I explore the family history to search for scars, including a search for alcohol-related issues. I quiz the prospective player about their high school life with the goal of determining if that experience brought them through puberty with feelings of self-confidence or rejection. Athletics, dating habits, academic achievements and popularity are explored. Marriages, divorces and broken relationships are also investigated. All of this information is confidential. The totality is discussed with a goal of determining the probability of success – at poker. The coaching direction is dictated by this information and transitions to a focus on which games to play. The decision to play limit or no limit, cash or tournament poker is intimately tied to this biographical and psychological profile.
The first session is devoted to this information gathering system and ends with the recommendation that the poker candidate define very clearly their poker goals and begin to create a vision of those goals in relation to life goals. During each future structured session, I will be searching for clues to the candidate’s “worst poker enemy” to continuously improve their skill level. We will study game theory, profiling techniques, tells, small ball, bluffing, pot control and more. But all of these subjects are relegated second to the primary goal of helping the player find the psychological strength, self-awareness and discipline to play their best.
Uncovering deep and often hidden scars regarding an alcoholic parent, an unrequited love, failure in a prior career, dysfunctional relationships and anger control problems are common. Since these scars exist for a huge percentage of the general population, it should come as no surprise that these issues must be addressed by sports coaches, life coaches and poker coaches. It should also surprise no one that these issues impede success in a poker career. I have elected to implement a system that reveals the scars early in the process. Every candidate is advised that I will be searching for anything that will impede their poker progress.
When the player and I jointly come to an awareness of the issues that limit their ability to play their best, we will begin to adjust the coaching direction. We seek to take advantage of strengths, correct mistakes that come from weaknesses and focus on a system for detecting when emotional issues will lead to mistakes. My coaching has a defined and limited objective – assist poker players in the crucial tasks of becoming self-aware and capable of understanding why they are their own “worst poker enemy.” I never attempt to fix relationships or cure emotional disturbances. I have often advised players that without the complete support of family, their poker career is doomed. I have occasionally advised psychotherapy but my efforts are related to the goal of helping them play their best.