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Are You Too Quick to Give Your Poker Coach Credit?

 photo preachercasy151: Poker coach and player, specialising in the psychology of decision-making. Sport Psychology Masters. www.christykeenan.com
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Here's the thing: students love to give credit to their coaches, even when it's not deserved. Why? Check out Christy's second Tiltbook blog.

Beware of falsely attributing an upturn in your poker results to a good coach. This one can be extremely tricky, so you have to be on your guard. Here’s a scenario for you:

Mike is a long-term winning reg in the mid-stakes 6-max Sit N Gos. However, in the last couple of months he has been losing a chunk in his normal games, and he is worried that the other regs have figured him out.

On the recommendation of another reg, he contacts a coach to see what can be done to end his slump.

Sure enough, after five expensive coaching sessions, Mike’s results start to improve. Before long, Mike is back to his old win-rate, beating his normal games at a decent clip.

The coaching worked!

Or did it?

The Poker Coaching Conundrum

As a coach, I can assure you that most players seek out my services when they are suffering a bad run of form. They think that it must be addressed urgently, and hiring a coach must be the most efficient way of getting back to form.

I am always very wary of accepting coaching applications from such players. Indeed, I reject a lot more of them than I accept.

The reason is simple – it is immoral for me to take credit for aiding these players’ recoveries. 90% of the time, what they experience is a simple case of regression to the mean.

Poker’s Regression Obsession

Regression to the mean is when things naturally settle back towards their ‘true’ level over time. For example – in poker, an average player who binked a massive tournament win was almost certainly extremely lucky, rather than someone who had developed poker genius overnight.

Before long, they will dribble some of their money back to the poker community as the luck wears off and their typical skill level emerges.

When a football team sacks their manager, it is usually because they have been under-performing relative to their normal standard. The new boss gets appointed, and lo and behold, results start to improve. Miraculous!

Well, not really.

The reality is that the team were likely going through a run of bad luck and fragile confidence – a temporary blip that would rectify itself naturally in time.

Do you see where this is going?

Let’s get back to Mike

Mike’s poor recent run was overwhelmingly likely to correct itself over time – assuming, of course, that the bad luck would not provoke bad decision-making.

The real solution to Mike’s sticky situation is to simply keep doing what he does best: grinding away, until variance rights itself and he regresses towards his typical, impressive level.

classroom

So how best do we avoid getting into this sticky situation?

I always encourage my students to strengthen from a position of strength. That means that they should look to work hardest on their poker homework when things are going well for them. It is during such times that their thinking is at its clearest, and my students are at their most responsive to new ideas.

If they wait until something goes wrong (ie. a downswing) before attempting to appraise their game, then their outlook will be cloudy. They will be tempted to attempt root-and-branch, reactionary surgery when a few tweaks were all that was needed.

My advice to Mike

In future, look to engage the services of a coach when things are going well. Don’t fall into the trap of bolting the barn door after the horse has departed. When things are going badly, it is not the time to clutter up your mind with new concepts and it is very difficult to objectively appraise your game.

And most of all, don’t assume that the upturn in results was down to the genius of the expensive coach! In all probability, in a swingy game like poker, it was a simple case of regression to the mean.

A good coach will be able to say no to applicants who are suffering a temporary blip – or at least, they must be willing to hold their hands up and say that they had little to do with the sudden upswing in the student’s results!

 

What do you think – are you too quick to seek out coaching when you hit a downswing?  Are you the sort of person who wants to pat the coach on the back when you should really be applauding yourself? And most of all, do you truly understand the nature of variance and its sister – regression to the mean?

Let me know in the comments, or drop me a message on Twitter or Skype (just add me – ‘casy151’)

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