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Head Games: Put Me In Coach, I'm Read To Play Today

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Oct 31, 2012


The Pros: David Randall, Eric Lynch, and Casey Jarzabek

Craig Tapscott: How has being a coach for players at different skill levels improved and/or disrupted your own game?

David Randall: I would say that it has helped my game by forcing me to scrutinize all the details in every spot. Many times I have seen a student do something that is unconventional and it ends up being something I include in my arsenal. From the perspective of fundamentals it is great. At the same time, it has certainly hurt my game by making me a lot more robotic in my decision making and taking the feel out of the game. While I may know fundamentally what someone’s range is in a given spot, a lot of times raw instinct is what allows you to hone in on what their exact cards are; when you have to tangibly explain the thought process of everything you do it can certainly hinder your efforts. Overall, I would say it has slightly helped me, but has not had a huge impact on my game one way or the other.
Eric Lynch: Working with players of various skill levels is actually really helpful in that I get to learn how a lot of different types of players think, and these are the types of players I’ll be facing at the table. I’ve probably learned way more from coaching than from any other avenue in poker, as students are constantly showing me new ways that amateurs and less experienced players think about the game, and these are things I can exploit at the table. The only downside I personally have with coaching is that it often involves a rigid schedule, and one of my favorite things about being a professional poker player is the flexibility it offers me schedule wise with my life.

Casey Jarzabek: Let me say being a coach has been a very rewarding experience. It’s gratifying for me to see someone have some real success after putting in the time and effort to learn the different strategies of the game. Teaching has helped me in various ways, first and foremost being able to see hands from a different perspective. A common mistake of mine for a while was always thinking that my opponent was thinking the same way I was. This obviously is not the case. Taking lines against certain opponents won’t work when they don’t realize that their hand is basically a bluff catcher. For example, there are some players that will not fold A-A no matter how many streets you check-raise or apply pressure, because they don’t realize their hand has minimal showdown value. So talking to people of a lesser skill has actually helped me to better understand the mind set of people on a lower skill level. I guess the biggest disruption to my game being a coach is people taking what I teach and applying it against me. For example, the donk lead out; if I’m the preflop aggressor and I get flatted and then postflop my opponent leads into me. I have taught for years that this is always a spot to be raising big. Because my theory is if they flop some sort of monster they most certainly expect me to continuation bet. Therefore, their best option is the check-raise if they are trying to inflate the pot. However, I have had some students take advantage of this, donk betting into me with monsters knowing I will bloat the pot with a raise. So there is some metagame involved with being a coach for sure. But that only makes it more fun.

Craig Tapscott: After working with so many players over the last few years, what are the most common mistakes, concepts, or situations that you see players struggle with again and again?

David Randall: The number one flaw I see in tournament players is the thought processes they have postflop. I could go on for hours about the different thought process flaws. Next would have to be preflop sizing of three-bets. Many times I see players bet-sizing too big or too small. They do not put much thought into what the purpose of the three-bet is. Do I want them to fold preflop? Do I want them to flat so I can usually win it with a flop bet when they miss their marginal hand? Do I want them to spazz and four-bet me because I have it? These are some of the questions we should be asking ourselves when deciding what to make our sizing. The last thing would have to be the mental state that I have seen people grind in. The best players can catapult themselves into downswings by playing when they have other things on their mind. Stress with money, relationships, friends, and family are examples of things that make it very difficult to play well. This manifests in the form of anxiety that causes us to mistake the meaning of plays that players make. It can also make an aggressive player gamble too much and in extreme cases make a very good player play a negative EV style. Players that manage themselves correctly when they have outside stresses have an infinitely better chance of continuing to advance their careers.

Eric Lynch: The biggest mistake by far players make is calling far too often. People often look at poker as kind of a hierarchical decision tree, so if people have a hand they feel is too good to fold, but not good enough to raise with, then they feel they should call. In reality though most of the time players would be better off folding or raising than calling. Decisive action is almost always best in poker, and calling is a form of indecision many times. Also a big mistake I see players make is not ever giving themselves permission to make a play without the best hand. What I mean by that, specifically in tournaments, is that players are often afraid to pull the trigger with poor hands in situations where they should be willing to make plays with any two cards because the situation warrants it. Many players know that they should often be moving in with any two cards on the button when it’s folded to them with less than 10 big blinds, but many will also look down at their cards and sheepishly fold if they see 4-2 offsuit. Unfortunately, as humans we’re conditioned to want approval from our peers, and moving in with 4-2 offsuit and getting caught by someone with a better hand and perhaps looking foolish at the table can be a strong deterrent from making the correct play. Giving yourself permission to get it in with bad cards when the situation warrants it is something many students struggle with.

Casey Jarzabek: One of the most common mistakes I see students make is in bet sizing. Sizing is paramount in the tournament world; making sizing mistakes even early in tourneys just compounds issues. For example, if I’m constantly three-betting too big that means in contested pots I have to continuation bet bigger then I would if I had used the correct sizing preflop. This is fine if you’re winning most pots. However, I teach a rather loose-aggressive style so there will be times in the tourney where my steals and re-steals are just not working. So it’s paramount that when this is happening my sizing is correct and therefore not killing my stack and ability to make moves. Another common mistake I see a lot of students make is deciding if they should be betting for value or checking for showdown. What separates some of the best players in the game is the ability to extract thin value when others wouldn’t. The ability to walk the fine line between showdown value and value is something that only comes with time and experience but is also something that people should be working on at all times. ♠

David Randall is a sought after coach at Pocketfives Training and has coached over 60 players privately. He has over $2,500,000 in online and live tournament career cashes combined.

Eric Lynch teaches at the World Poker Tour’s boot camp. He has co-written three poker books, “Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time” Volumes 1, 2, & 3. He is the poker room manager at

Casey Jarzabek is the lead instructor at as well as a Lock Poker Elite member. He has over $6,000,000 in online tournament cashes.



9 years ago

nice read guys.. very beneficial...