Over a decade ago, a younger Ivan Stokes, then a 15-year old international chess competitor, noticed that some of his older peers weren’t just spending their free time on delving deeper into chess, but they were actually making money by dabbling in poker. Stokes, now well over a decade into his poker playing career, recalls his first exposure to the game he’d eventually fall in love with.
“I became really curious and, along with watching poker on TV, I felt there was an opportunity to be had,” Stokes said. “For some reason, even though I hadn’t formally studied the game at the time, I had a sense that a lot of the plays the pros were making on TV had to be bad.”
So a young Stokes, encouraged by his instinct, began a journey that found him diving deep into learning the game of poker. Over time, it resulted in him, playing under his ‘ILS007’ screen name, achieving Supernova Elite, the one-time Holy Grail of the PokerStars VIP program, not once but twice.
In 2014, Stokes was the sixth person to earn Supernova Elite, profitably grinding his way to the status in a matter of months. In the same year, he tested his tournament chops by reaching the final table of a WCOOP event for over $82,000. Today, Stokes runs his own poker training site, Professional Poker Videos, where he extracts the knowledge of his entire journey of grinding and beating various levels of Sit & Go’s.
“I started out playing Sit & Go’s on PokerStars. Initially $4.40 regular speed 180-man, where first place would be just over $200. I remember the first time I won one of those, it was an amazing feeling,” Stokes said. “It sort of validated everything I’d had in my mind before then, that perhaps you could make good side money playing this game.”
He did just that, expanding into other Sit & Go variants, broadening his knowledge base, studying not just Sit & Go’s but cash and tournaments as well. But while Stokes may have gone through the process by himself at first, he’s now of a mind that in order to get better in today’s game, everybody needs somebody.
“The first few years I lived under a rock in terms of my exposure to the poker community. I was entirely self-taught, just reading a few of the fundamental theory books for No Limit Hold’em and tournament poker. I was influenced by watching the biggest winners in my games, taking notes about the plays and tried to figure out what they were doing differently than everyone else and why they were doing that.”
But like many who go on a journey through poker, his wasn’t a graph that went straight up. Years into his education, before the Supernova runs, Stokes hit a wall and quickly realized that, for him, the solo approach was no longer working.
“Maybe three years or so in, I hit a massive roadblock,” Stokes recalls. He had taken a break and assumed he could resume playing and pick up where he left off. “For some reason, I just couldn’t win anymore. Yet, the before [his break], I was ranking top 3-5 in the world for 180-man Sit & Go’s. The stretch continued for an entire year where I made little to no money and it was soul destroying. I definitely thought about quitting and became increasingly desperate. This is the point that I started researching poker communities, poker coaching and poker software…then a massive Pandora’s Box was opened.”
He took on coaches and mentors and switched his approach from sporadic to methodical. He reduced his tables, dropped down in stakes and started from the ground up. Only when ready with his new approach did he move up in stakes and add tables using his prior success as motivation to get back to playing the high-stakes Sit & Go’s. This approach led him to his two Supernova Elite statuses and also into a role as a coach.
“My father was a University professor, so there’s something natural about coaching for me. I love the exploration of complex issues and the philosophical task of what makes a good coach. Once I found out about poker coaching and the amazing online communities, it was natural to venture into it.” Stokes said. Stokes has now coached poker players thru Professional Poker Videos since 2012.
“People can expect to have a coaching experience underpinned by my background…coaching that has been engineered and re-engineered thousands of times to be refined as much as possible. My approach has two key elements: provide the strongest, most sound foundation for student to base their game upon, that will survive in the very toughest games they face, because ultimately this same approach will also crush softer games too and is more predictably successful and, secondly, target the areas of very highest values first.”
Stokes’ approach has his student focused on ROI over volume. He seeks edges in a landscape that can no longer bank on rewards from a retired VIP program.
“I have been obsessively working on gaining and maximizing edges in games,” Stokes said, having just recently released his Preflop Blueprint Series. “I have also tried to be at the forefront of technological developments so that I can utilize incredibly powerful software to gain edges before more others do, which, in 2018 is more important that it has ever been.”
When speaking about coaching, Stokes clearly relies on a strong analytical foundation. His online courses provide strategies for a variety of level of buy-ins, formats and field sizes. But he is quick to point out that while you need to know your numbers to optimally analyze spots, the one thing he recommends to his students to instantly improve their games doesn’t have anything to do with knowing what ranges to shove when.
“It’s a no-brainer: Mindset. Honestly, mindset drives everything we do and poker is a very taxing game on the mind. Winrate gains are going to be found immediately for absolutely any individual by working on their mindset constantly. It needs to be part of what you do, who you are. Not just for poker for your life as a whole.”