Should you pay for sit-and-go poker coaching?

Mark Stuart explains how personal coaching can change your game and represent great value for money

The most effective method for improving your game is to get personal coaching. The problem with that, of course, is it’s often quite costly. Indeed, to get a regular coach you could be looking at hundreds of dollars a month.

But that doesn’t mean you should knock the idea on the head. There are more options emerging all the time for players who have the skills but not the cash. One option which is becoming very popular is to pay for a coaching session or two that is conducted online. This keeps the cost down to an affordable level, can be done quickly and easily with a couple of free pieces of software, and can help raise your game very quickly.

If money is really tight, another option is to look into taking a coaching/staking deal where you are given money to play and receive regular advice from your ‘mentor’. In return you hand over a percentage of your profits (usually around 50%) for a certain amount of time or money.

Whatever route you decide to take, though, the most important thing is that you get the right coach for your game. I wanted to find out how effective and easy the coaching process could be, and seeing as I’ve had some success at six-max sit-and-gos in the past, I thought I’d hire someone who could help me improve further.

6max Sit’n’Go coaching is run by two career sit-and-go players – Marcos ‘PezRez’ Perez and Al ‘md261’ McClenahan – both of whom have six-figure profits on PokerStars. I gave them a ring and Perez said he would be delighted to work with me, training me on optimal push/fold play, ICM and bubble strategy, reviewing my hand histories and tailoring further sessions to my needs. Here’s how it went…

First session

In preparation for our first session I had to download Skype and TeamViewer. Both programs are free and quick to set up. In case you haven’t used it before TeamViewer allows you to see someone else’s computer desktop screen and vice versa, and is an incredibly useful tool for sweat sessions and training such as this.

I’d already sent Perez four tournament hand histories so he could get a feel for my game in advance, and find out what leaks I have. The first session involved him going through push/fold strategy when close to or on the bubble. He discussed three different ‘pushing tables’ for the ‘all-in or fold’ endgame stage, breaking down what hand ranges and how many big blinds you can profitably shove and call all-in with.

Straight away I realised just how exploitable my strategy was. The pushing tables give very accurate guidelines (which I stuck to the wall next to my computer as an immediate reference) and it was very apparent that I was pushing far too wide in some spots and playing too tight in others.

The most revelatory piece of advice came in the hand reviews, though. Perez imported my hand histories into Universal Hand Replayer and went through them at the end of the first session. It quickly became apparent that my biggest leak was missing out on lots of stealing opportunities and failing to pick up pots when no one was showing any aggression. In six-max games, as Perez made clear, you can’t afford to do that. One brilliant tip he gave me was not to fold my small blind in an unraised pot, even if I have a hand like J-4 or 6-8o.

His argument is that you should simply limp in, as you are getting odds of 3-to-1, and then, presuming the big blind has checked preflop, take a min-bet stab at the pot. I was immediately amazed at how effective the strategy is. Before long I was taking down lots more pots and keeping my stack in good shape for the later stages.

Second session

I was already aware of ICM (the Independent Chip Model) and how the number of chips you have can be measured in terms of your $ equity in the tournament, but the second lesson was still another eye-opener, particularly in how ICM affects your bubble decision-making. Through a series of big-stack, medium-stack and short-stack scenarios, Perez demonstrated how your strategy should change significantly based on which situation you are in. It was incredible to see that in some medium-stack situations when shoved on by the big stack, folding Q-Q and A-K is easy in terms of your tournament equity, and how when you’re the big stack you can often profitably shove any two cards into the short stack virtually every time.

We finished up with another hand history review session where Perez quickly noticed that my play had improved drastically from our first session. I was now making far better shoves and folds, was stealing pots when no one had anything and was opening with a wider range in late position. I was also encouraged to think and play creatively in some spots, and when flopping hands like big draws, make sure I get the last bet in. This means you can win the pot in two ways – either by getting a better hand to fold a substantial amount of the time, or by hitting one of your many outs when you get called.

Finishing touches

If you’re serious about sit-and-go play you can have a tailored training session, too, where you explore niche points of the game. In my case I wanted to know how to set up and use a HUD (heads-up display), and make use of programs like Table Ninja (an intuitive way of controlling the action via hotkeys and the mouse) and SitNGo Wizard (which you can use to analyse your sessions after and see where you made right or wrong shoves and folds). These were all covered in my third training session, where he also reiterated my major leaks, and how I should continue to pay attention to them in order to profit.

Of course, the proof as they say is in the pudding, and although the sample size of games played since my training is very small I can say without doubt that the way I think about the game, my decision-making and knowledge of how to exploit other players have all improved enormously.

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