Special Report: In the Cards

May 20, 2008

You get a coach for you basketball or golf game, but what about your poker game?  With the skyrocketing popularity of poker, an estimated 60 million players in the U.S. alone, it's not surprising many are now turning to coaches to help give them an edge.Whether playing for fun at a friend's house - looking to win big on the web - or going 'all in' at the tournament table - more and more poker players are turning to coaches to boost their game.

Search online and you'll find pages of self-proclaimed experts waiting to critique your play via cyberspace for about twenty dollars a month. Or you can opt for a private, face-to-face instructor like Hector Roman did.

"I felt that having a coach, in particular, could help to customize my game to my strengths and improve my weaknesses," said Hector Roman.

Roman worked with coach Wendeen Eolis who says it can take from two to twelve sessions depending on what you want and need.

"We might talk about one particular strategy, we might talk about conduct, we might talk about how to observe people."

Private sessions run from 50 to 500 bucks an hour. If the group approach is more your thing, weekend bootcamps are packing 'em in. Typical cost: $1,600 for two days of instruction.

"A lot of lectures. There's also a lot of live labs where the instructors deal to the students and critique their play, there's a tournament. "

Participants say the trip is worth it, whether they're just learning the ropes or perfecting their poker face.

"They really take a lot of the problems, a lot of the mistakes that everyone does but we don't think about and show us how to overcome them," said Bruce Manning.

The National Council on Problem Gambling, however, says players' main concern should be knowing their limits. In terms of coaching, "From our perspective, the majority of the outcome from poker games are determined by chance and that's something that no coach can improve," said Keith Whyte.

But coaches say they see real results.

"In the biggest tournament in the world, the biggest prize money in the world, two out of the final two tables were former boot camp students, so lots and lots of successes."

Anyone can call themselves a coach, so Eolis, who's also vice-chairman of the World Poker Association, says be careful: ask for references, verify teaching experience, check credentials and do your homework.

Players who chose the bootcamp run by the world poker tour are happy with their choice. Now it's up to them.

"Now I just have to see -- if I can put everything into practice, that it makes me a better poker player," said Manning.