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I'm Back

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Apr 12, '11


Hi Everybody,

I apologize for not writing a blog since early November. I had an auto accident in late October, and the physical therapy and paperwork took an outrageous amount of time. There is also a new demand on my time: I’ve gone back into the teaching and coaching business.

Before I started writing about poker, teaching industrial psychology – in classes and one-on-one coaching – was my primary occupation. I worked in 28 countries on all six continents for the world’s largest corporations such as IBM, Mobil, GM, Chase Manhattan, and many others. The annual sales of my personal clients greatly exceeded a trillion dollars.

I loved the work, but got sick of traveling. After several years without business travel, I’m recommitting myself to teaching, but only in the U.S. The firm that translated all four of my poker books into Portuguese invited me to teach a seminar in Brazil, but I declined. Brazil is extraordinarily beautiful, but it’s too far away.

My Colleagues

I’m collaborating with three excellent teachers.
Chris Wallace, Adam Stemple and I did a seminar at the Peppermill Casino in Reno on March 12-13. We had a quite a success and expect to conduct seminars in other locations. For information about them, check
Jan Siroky and I plan to conduct seminars in Las Vegas at a major casino. He’s negotiating with two now, and we are not sure where we will end up.

All three of them are working pros, and I’m purely a psychologist. In fact, I may be the only well-known poker writer who has publicly admitted that I’m not a poker expert. I rarely write about strategy because many people can do it better, including, of course, Chris, Adam, and Jan.

They are not just strategists. They couldn’t survive as pros without understanding psychology, and on some psychological subjects they surpass me. For example,
• Chris is much better at reading people’s eyes and faces, while I’m stronger at reading hand signals.
• Jan knows much more about tournament psychology because he’s a tournament pro, while I rarely play in them.
• Adam, Chris, and Jan know much more about no-limit psychology because they play it all the time, while I prefer limit.
• All three have a much better “feel” for players than I do.

That statement may surprise you. You may think that a psychologist would have great feel, but most well-trained psychologists don’t have it.

All the great grad schools teach students: Don’t rely on feel. In fact, if you’re a grad student at Berkeley (my school), Harvard, or any other top school and rely on feel, you’d never get a Ph.D. You must emphasize careful, objective analysis.

We get the same lesson that every physician is taught: Don’t jump to conclusions! If a psychologist or doctor makes a quick judgment, he will tend to ignore contradictory evidence and overemphasize supporting evidence. A doctor should never make a treatment plan before looking at lab tests and X-rays and doing a thorough exam, and the same principle applies to psychologists.

So I provide the psychological theory, and my three colleagues provide the practical, experience-based strategic help. We make great teams because we concentrate on what we do best. And our students get instruction that nobody else is offering.

Our Seminars’ Uniqueness

They are different from the competition in three major (and many minor) ways:

1. First, we offer the only seminars that are taught by a team with both working pros and a real psychologist.

I said “real” to separate myself from people who claim to be psychologists because they’ve got a good feel for people. That’s like saying you’re a physician because you know a few home remedies.

2. Second, our seminars and coaching are highly customized.

We don’t believe that “one size fits all.” We modify each seminar and coaching session to fit the clients’ needs. For example, Chris and Adam used the first session of our Reno seminar to determine what this particular group of students wanted to learn. Then we revised our plans.

Jan spends a great deal of time talking to his clients before beginning to teach them.

I rely heavily on questionnaires in my books, articles, blog, seminars, and coaching. In fact, my next few blogs will use questionnaires similar to the ones used in Reno. I also talk to people on the phone or face to face before deciding whether to accept them as clients.

I turn down most requests for coaching because I’m not the right coach. Every well-trained, ethical professional turns down clients. It’s pounded into us in school: know and work within your limitations.

For example, your family doctor doesn’t think, “I don’t know much about brain surgery, but I’ll take a shot.” He refers you to a neurosurgeon.

I do the same thing all the time. In fact, my book, Your Best Poker Friend, contains an appendix, “Recommended Coaches.” It encourages readers to check out several coaches to find one who fits their unique needs. If I’m not the best one for them, they should retain someone else.

3. Our seminars are ONLY for carefully selected clients.

The most popular seminars are called “boot camps.” By definition a boot camp is basic training.

We don’t provide basic training. If you want to learn how to select good starting hands or develop any other basic skills, you should go to a boot camp.

We work only with serious, experienced players who want to get much better. They are not recreational players. If you’re playing for fun, don’t waste your money with us.

Ditto if you’re not willing to work hard on your game. Many clients are already pros or semi-pros, and the others are mostly wannabes. They come to our seminars knowing that they will have to work. Here’s an excerpt from my pre-workshop assignment.

“We all want the seminar to increase your profits. If you enjoy the seminar, think you learned a lot, but don’t change the way you think and act and – more importantly – don’t win more money, we will just waste your time and money.

“Please note that I did not guarantee that these sessions would improve anything. Your results depend primarily upon how hard you work.”

I hope that blunt warning scares away everybody who is looking for a relaxed, enjoyable time. If a player isn’t motivated to work hard, we don’t want him as a client.

That warning should also scare away naïve people who believe BS claims. I’ve already written a blog on that subject. Anybody who guarantees results is almost certainly a charlatan.

Honest professionals admit that results are not guaranteed and that negative side effects can occur. For example, before operating, most surgeons insist that you read and sign a statement that you know that success is not guaranteed and that specific side effects – sometimes including death – can occur.

In addition to being honest professionals, we’re teachers, not entertainers. Everything we do is based on the most important teaching principle: What the student does is much more important than what the teacher does.

Thousands of studies prove that principle, but most teachers focus on themselves:
• Which points should I make?
• Which examples should I give?
• Which stories should I tell?
• Which pictures should I show?

They don’t ask the critical question: What are the students doing? If they looked, they would see that the students are just sitting there passively. They can’t learn much that way.

Why don’t teachers help students to learn more actively?
• They don’t understand learning theory.
• It’s hard work to design and conduct active learning exercises. It’s much easier and more pleasant just to talk.

After reading one of my books, a friend said, “Most readers won’t do all the work you recommend.”

He’s right, but most poker players are losers. And the biggest reason they lose is that they won’t pay their dues. If you really want to be one of the few winners, you must work.

Unfortunately, most people who claim they want to improve themselves think the improvement process should be easy and enjoyable.

Our educational system and culture constantly reinforce that delusion. For example, many students get much higher grades than they deserve, and books, magazines, radio, and television claim that you can quickly and easily lose weight, develop sixpack abs, learn Spanish, get rich by stock trading or real estate flipping, and so on.

Poker authorities often suggest that you can easily make unrealistically large gains in your skills and results. People naturally expect that they can quickly “move their game to the next level.” They are almost always disappointed.

So what do they do? They go shopping for another quick and easy solution. They hope that another book or seminar or coach will suddenly give them the results they “deserve.” Some people have done it again and again, hoping that this time will be different.

What Do Our Clients Say?

We’ll be posting their complete reviews of the Reno seminar at Here are some brief excerpts.

“The seminar far exceeded my expectations… I felt like I was an active participant and not just somebody taking notes never to be read later. You guys did an excellent job, and you know your stuff. [You] are playing to a serious poker audience [at] an advanced or graduate level.”

“I certainly learned more than I did at the WPT Boot Ccamp I attended back in 2007 (relative to my experience at the time) and still learned far more than I would have if I had attended a WPT Boot Camp now…

“[It] was an outstanding experience overall. What you can gain from a Poker Pros Seminar really depends on what you put into it… the student must treat this seminar just like a college-course and be receptive to the process of active learning. If you put out the effort to take notes and digest the wealth of information provided, I think you will find an immediate +EV improvement to your game.

“And, you will continue to see this improvement as time goes on when you refer back to your notes to perform a ‘check-up’ on the skills you have developed. In addition, Fox, Hatfield and Dr. Schoonmaker create an environment where everyone is on an even playing field—when each instructor isn’t presenting a topic lecture, they are sitting there in the seminar right next to students trying to learn as much as they can from the other instructors to help improve their own poker skills.

“I don’t think you can find an environment that is more down-to-earth, technically interesting and just plain FUN to learn more about poker and rapidly improve your own skills at the game.”

That’s enough for now. I’ve given an overview of our goals and general approach and told you what a few clients think. Future blogs will use our seminar materials to help you to analyze yourself, exploit your strengths, and reduce your weaknesses.

If you have a question, please add it in any comment section, or e-mail me Before emailing, please check my first blog, “What is poker psychology coaching?”

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


over 10 years ago

Welcome back. Enjoy your blogs. Sorry to hear about your accident and hope everything's going well now.


over 10 years ago

Welcome back. Hoping your accident does not interfere or lessen your contributions to poker.

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