There are two problems here:

  • First just how much credibility are you likely to have with prospective students if you’re not beating the game anymore and how much value can your coaching actually provide?
  • Second, in my experience the best coaches are motivated primarily by things other than money, such as a passion for teaching strategy, and a desire to make a difference for their students.

It’s important however to say from the get go that playing and coaching are quite different skillsets. Some of the best players in the world are dreadful coaches, and some of the best coaches are retired players. Nobody expects Novak Djokovic’s tennis coach to be, or even have been, a better tennis player than Novak, and several of the students I coach are much better players than I ever was or ever will be.

How am I as a coach?

For most of the time I’ve been coaching, I didn’t rate myself very highly as a coach. When I started staking, I outsourced the coaching to my friend and Chip Race co-host David Lappin, and when the Firm staking expanded to the point, we all had to chip in on the coaching front, I rated myself a pretty distant third to Lappin and Daragh Davey.

However, I think I’ve gotten a lot better over time, and when I was hired to coach another stable, I had to up my game. In recent years I did more private coaching than ever before. I only take on or keep students as long as I’m convinced, I can help them enough to give them value for money, which means I turn away more than I take on. Here is a look into my coaching style:


Until last year I’ve seen my specialization as budding online pros, and that demographic continued to make up about half my students. My approach has always been the “teach a man to fish”: I see my job as teaching these students the methodology I use to look at and study poker situations with the tools that are available rather than (for example) “How to play Ace Queen”.

A growing part of my coaching which grew to the other half in recent years is what I would call highly motivated recreational. Most of them have successful careers in other areas (business and trading being the most common) and approach me with some variation of “I don’t want to be a pro; I have no illusions about my potential but I just want to be as competitive as I can be”.

The irony is their rate of improvement is often quite staggering and several of them have turned into significant online and live winning players. It took me a while to work out my approach had to be different for this group: typically, they don’t have the time or inclination to spend hundreds of hours with the solvers, but can assimilate what someone who has (like me) very quickly if it’s properly explained.

Coaching Approach

2023 was my busiest year ever on the coaching front, and the most successful for my students on the felt. My coaching approach has changed a bit down the years. Initially, I thought my only job was to teach people how to run the sims but I’ve come to the realization that most people don’t have the time or inclination to spend hundreds of hours doing that.

So these days I largely just take relevant solver output and explain it conceptually (the why) so students can implement it. I also have analysis software that can be used to identify leaks you might not even be aware of. I use Zoom to record the sessions so students can watch them back afterwards.

One thing I’ve realized the more coaching I’ve done is that every student is unique, with their own individual learning style. What works for one student will not for another, and my first challenge when I take on any student is to figure out the best approach to take with them (and if I’m the best person to take that approach).

I Enjoy Coaching

Like all the other things I do, I enjoy coaching. But there’s a happy balance as far as how much of it I do. It’s not something I could do full time eight hours a day, or even four hours, so I’m forced to limit the number of students I can take on (I only take on those I think I can help enough for it to be worth both our whiles). I’ve always felt coaching others helps my own game.

Having to explain my thought processes to someone else seems to really crystallize them in my own mind. The poker equivalent of Einstein’s famous quote “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself” is “If you can’t explain it to a recreational student, then you don’t understand it yourself”.

Dara o'kearney

Poker Pro, Coach, and Author

Former ultra-runner turned poker pro Dara O’Kearney, Ireland’s top online winner with over $3 million in profit, has a stellar poker career. He’s earned 8 Pocket Fives Triple Crowns, a 2008 European Deepstack win, and notable victories like a Super Tuesday win in 2013. With 225 cashes, 76 final tables, and 10 wins in 21 countries, his live poker record is impressive. O’Kearney, a coach and best-selling poker book author, co-hosts The Chip Race Poker Podcast. As a Unibet Poker ambassador, he reached new heights in 2015 with a $262,502 2nd place finish at the WSOP. Stay updated at

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