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Questions For A Poker Coach

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Jun 20, 2018


The town where I live does a Kentucky Derby party every year to benefit a local charity. Everyone who attends dresses up, wears fancy hats, eats too much, drinks a few too many mint juleps, and watches the horses run around a track. You can buy raffle tickets to place in a drawing if your horse wins and they have a silent auction throughout the day. I love silent auctions and I decided to offer my services as a poker coach as an item to bid on.

Usually, I have had some idea of what type of poker player my students were when I took them on. Often, I’ve played with them at some point and they’ve heard that I do coaching or they reach out to me through Card Player because they’ve read my articles. This establishes some baseline that lets me know that they are someone who has played or read quite a bit about poker and is coming to me to let me know they are looking to get better. I’m not sure that’s true about the winner of this auction as the person who won it let me know that they were purchasing it for their significant other as a surprise.

I’m not sure if this person has played much serious poker or if they’re a regular home game player looking to learn a little more before they venture into games they might have been intimidated by in the past. The good thing is that it doesn’t really matter where they are in their poker studies, I should be able to help them as long as they’re not already better than me. In fact, I’ve borrowed a little tool from someone I used to do seminars with and it’s helped me immensely in figuring out where to start with my new students. Before the first session with a new student, I always send them a questionnaire to gauge their knowledge level. I’ll include the questions here and why I ask them.

1. How often do you play poker?

This question is important to gauge my prospective student’s seriousness about the game. If they play 20 hours a week or 20 hours a month, it makes a difference in how I approach the sessions. Someone who is playing 20 hours a week I expect to have a more studious approach than someone who is playing 20 hours a month. Sure, I’d like to get the 20 hours a month person to adopt a more studious approach, but I’ll probably ease them into that.

2. What are you hoping to get out of coaching?

I want to know if my students are interested in playing for a living, beating their friends in their home game, or just hoping to find the confidence to play in a casino for the first time. There are many valid reasons for trying to find a poker coach and I’d like to know what my students expect out of me.

3. On a board of 10Spade Suit 9Spade Suit 6Diamond Suit 2Club Suit your opponent has gone all-in and you have ASpade Suit 3Spade Suit. They accidentally exposed their hand and it is 10Diamond Suit 9Diamond Suit. How many cards in the deck give you the best hand and what percentage chance of winning does that equate to?

This question gives me an insight into what sort of understanding my prospective students have when it comes to reading the board and knowing what cards improve their hand. This is an especially helpful question when I’m dealing with someone who I’ve never played with so I can understand what baseline level of card knowledge they have.

4. There is $100 in the pot and your opponent bets $100, what odds are you getting to call? What percentage chance of winning do you need to have for your call to be profitable?

This is a more advanced version of the previous question. We are past counting outs and on to figuring out how counting outs and determining your chances of winning equates to making profitable plays.

5. You have just sat down for the first hand of a tournament that is a big buy-in for you, though still within your bankroll. Everyone at the table goes all-in in front of you and the action is on you in the big blind and you look down to see pocket aces. Since it’s the first hand, everyone has the same stack size, what do you do?

Now we’re taking those previous questions and putting them together in an extreme situation. Does my prospective student understand that aces is going to be the favorite in the field in this situation? Do they know that even though they will lose a majority of the time, it is incredibly profitable to call? Do they know that sometimes it’s necessary to take a small percentage chance situation when the odds they are getting make that decision profitable? Are they willing to look past the fact that they’ll be out of the tournament if they call and lose in order to make the decision that is correct in the situation? All of these things are important to know before we start working together so I know what mindset I can expect from my student.

So, with a few simple questions, and sometimes I’ll add more if I know some specific things about my prospective student, I can learn quite a bit about what my student is interested in and what they will and I should expect from coaching sessions. It increases the value of our sessions and gives me a starting point from which to navigate. Having a solid foundation and a clear endpoint makes the sessions more productive and valuable for my students and easier to plan for myself. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG