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What is Poker Psychology Coaching?

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Sep 20, '10


Most bloggers report their own actions, thoughts, and feelings. I went here, did this, thought that.

This blog will be built upon your questions and problems. I’ll answer your questions and encourage other people to comment.


I’m not a poker expert. I’m a psychologist who plays for moderate stakes and writes about poker psychology. I rarely give strategic advice because many people can do it better.

My four books on poker psychology are The Psychology of Poker, Your Worst Poker Enemy, Your Best Poker Friend, and Poker Winners Are Different. They have sold over 90,000 copies and been translated into French, German, Italian, Russian, and Portuguese.

I’ve also published about 125 poker psychology articles, including nearly 100 that you can read here at

My Ph.D. is in Industrial Psychology from The University of California, Berkeley. I taught and conducted research at UCLA, Carnegie-Mellon University, and The Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, the world’s oldest Catholic University.

Before writing about poker psychology, I published four books and several articles on other psychological topics. In 2010 David Sklansky and I published DUCY? (“Do You See Why?”)

This blog is similar to one at my Russian publisher’s website. The publisher’s people sent me translations of readers’ questions and then translated my answers. To clarify this Q&A process, read my three Card Player articles, “Questions From Russia.” (5/14/10, 6/11/10, and 7/9/10). This blog should be better because I can read and reply to everyone’s comments.


Most poker authors emphasize strategy; they teach you how you should play. I’ll just teach you how to apply psychology.

Strategy is much more important than psychology. You must learn how to play before focusing on psychology. As I said in The Psychology of Poker, “If Freud had played poker and ignored the odds and strategic principles, he would have gone broke.”

But, if everyone has approximately equal strategic knowledge and skills, the ones who understand and apply psychology better will win. That’s my goal here: to help you to understand and apply psychology.

Poker psychology can be divided into two parts:
1. Understanding and manipulating opponents
2. Understanding and controlling yourself

Nearly everyone is more interested in #1. They want to read opponents’ cards more accurately, understand why opponents make various moves and mistakes, and become more skilled at deceiving and manipulating them.

It’s natural to emphasize #1. Nearly everybody would rather look at other people than at themselves. I’ve written extensively about these subjects and look forward to answering your questions about them.

However, understanding and controlling yourself is much more important. If you don’t, you will take many self-destructive actions. Knowing how to play will not prevent you from doing stupid, harmful things. If you doubt me, just answer two questions:
• What’s the most common and obvious poker mistake?
• Does nearly everyone know it’s a mistake?

It’s unquestionably playing too many hands, and nearly everyone does it despite knowing it’s a mistake. Even if we have memorized those starting hand charts, we occasionally play a little or even a lot worse hand than we should.

Some people believe that it happens only in the smaller, “no fold-em hold’em,” games. They’re wrong. It certainly happens more often in little games, but you can see loose, stupid plays everywhere. As the games get bigger, the mistakes are less extreme, but still stupid and expensive.

Since everyone has repeatedly been told to play fewer hands, repeating this advice won’t solve the problem. If you make this mistake, you should learn how your motives, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings cause you to do something you know is wrong. The same principle applies to many other problems. As Stu Ungar, the world’s greatest player, once said, “At the table, your worst enemy is yourself.”

You can stop being your own worst enemy by actively participating here. If you ask good questions, pay attention to the answers, make careful comments, and read the comments about other players, you’ll improve at both parts of poker psychology. You’ll understand and manipulate opponents better. More importantly, you’ll beat yourself up less often. You’ll gain the most by following a few simple rules.


1. Don’t ask for strategic advice. This blog is only about poker psychology. You can get much better strategic advice from many other people.
2. Don’t take my answers or other people’s comments as personal attacks. You will not like some of my answers, but my job is to help you to see the truth, not to make you feel good.
Unfortunately, some readers may make nasty comments, but even those comments can provide useful information. So be objective. If you become defensive, you won’t learn much (or anything).
3. Don’t abuse other people. If you do, you’ll defeat this blog’s entire purpose. Abuse is always destructive, but it’s particularly damaging in psychological discussions. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t be honest. In fact, many people won’t participate at all.


1. Ask questions about ANY poker psychology issue that matters to you.
2. Be as truthful and thorough as possible. All advisors (in every field, even medicine or law) have the same problem: Clients don’t tell us everything, and they often lie. They do it even when they are paying high fees for advice about extremely important issues such as avoiding a heart attack or staying out of jail. If you don’t give me accurate information, I can’t help you.
3. Comment on other people’s questions, my answers, and other people’s comments. If you can improve my advice, do it. Psychology is not an exact science, and I will certainly make mistakes or give incomplete answers. My goal is to help you, and the wider the discussion becomes, the more everyone (including me) will learn.


Email me at Since I get a lot of email, please include the words “Blog Question” in the subject. In the email suggest a code name that you’ll recognize, but other people won’t know is yours.

My answers will use that code name. If your real name is known, you may: (1) be embarrassed by my answers or other people’s comments; (2) reveal information that opponents will use against you.

Every week or so I will select one or more questions to answer here. I’ll usually pick ones on a related subject such as, “How can I adjust to maniacs?” or “How can I keep from tilting after bad beats?”

Your questions may be edited to make them easier for readers to understand or to make it easier to see the similarities to other readers’ questions. I may also email you to clarify issues before publishing answers.

After every blog there will be a space for comments. Please comment frequently about your own or other people’s questions, my answers, or other people’s comments. As I said earlier, I won’t be offended if you criticize or add to my answers. But please don’t abuse anyone.

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


12 years ago

If Stu Ungar was the worlds greatest poker player and self-control is an integral component of being a great player then how do you explain his self destructive tendencies ? If you pick him as being the worlds greatest player why should any one give your "psychological" assertions credence?


12 years ago

ha . good one mikeyb

so phil iveys marriage fallin apart n his degenerate gambling is another example of a really bad poker player. he needs a psychology tewak i think.

the thought *fart noise* comes to mind whilst readin this.


12 years ago

Stuey was not the "worlds greatest poker player" by a long shot. Stuey had the shortest fuse I ever saw on a high stakes player. The slightest thing put him on tilt in cash games. You can guess the results of that flaw. I never saw him win in a high stakes NLH game.


12 years ago

what you mikeyb and the rest dont understand is his opinion on 'best poker player' has nothing to do with his psychological expertise. repeatedly he stressed that he wasnt the be all end all of help, this column is just to aid people. stop trying to pick a fight and ask a legit question. some people's kids... I tell you what lol

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