by John "The Scientist" Hayes
There is no better way to learn about poker than by listening to the advice of those who teach it professionally. So this column begins a new series: interviews with successful poker mentors/instructors. Our first interviewee is the former Dean at Poker School Online, Al Spath, who has been teaching poker for 20-plus years, both online and in live sessions in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, California, and Nevada (the latter two only by specially arranged contract). Al Spath is one of the first to create a poker curriculum course for Harford Community College in 2008.
JH: When you interview a player before you take him on as a client, what questions do you ask, and what are you looking for?
AS: How long have you been playing? Tournament or cash tables? For what stakes? What books have you read, or what training have you completed? Would you evaluate yourself as a poor, average, or above-average player? If you are above average, what particular leaks or holes in your game are you looking to correct?
JH: If you could have a potential client come to you with particular skills, what would they be (please limit your answer to one or two)?
AS: Math (to calculate pot odds and percentages) and patience (you have to have this to be disciplined).
JH: Where do you start? Do you have a rigid structure, or do you modify your training to meet the needs of the client based on your introductory interview?
AS: I usually take one complete session to shadow a player in a game or tournament (online). I ask a few questions, and based on the replies, I have a “good read” on what we need to work on.
JH: Consider average players, floundering around, not making money: What are the basic mistakes such players make when starting out?
AS: They play too many hands; they don’t appreciate the quality of their starting cards; they ignore pot odds, and they forget how important position is.
JH: What are the concepts successful players learn and apply?
AS: That A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-Ks are good hands, but mid pairs, suited connectors, and gappers will extract more money in certain situations, and that top pair, top kick are not always profitable.
JH: Do you mind if your clients disagree with you so you can toss ideas around and look at all sides of a particular action?
AS: I would not have it any other way. We need to kick around ideas and see lots of different ways to play a particular hand. Adding options to their toolbox is the only way to make them more effective.
JH: What do you find most challenging about teaching others?
AS: Finding time on their schedule (between work, family, and their own poker playing time).
JH: What do you find most rewarding about teaching poker?
AS: I love to hear about my students’ successes and, most of all, that they have become a mentor to someone else.
JH: What happens if the client is not satisfied?
AS: Without hesitation I refund money for that session and recommend another instructor.
JH: Do other professionals refer clients to you, and, if so, could mention them?
AS: A number of them have emailed me requests from clients or mentioned my name to them: I recall Tom McEvoy, Alan Schoonmaker, Rolf Slotboom, Susie Isaacs, and Barry Tannebaum, to name a few.