When Ivan Stokes first found online poker following a relatively successful chess career, he was what you might call a total newb.
“I didn’t even know how to click the timebank on my computer. I didn’t know what a hotkey was. I didn’t know there were poker forums,” Stokes said. “I’d read Sklanksy’s Theory of Poker book, Tournament Poker for Advanced Players, I think was another one, and I’d read Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold ‘Em trilogy. So, that was my education.”
Stokes decided the best way for him to learn was to watch the best players at the time and try to emulate what they were doing – but only if you could figure out why they were doing it.
“I’ll just open up all their tables and I’ll just write down by hand what they’re doing, and I’ll try and reverse engineer what their strategy is and then I’ll just try and copy it to the best of my ability and guess what is correct, more or less,” Stokes said.
He quickly shed the “newb” label and over the course of the years that followed, the English poker pro became a two-time Supernova Elite on PokerStars.
Now, Stokes is more focused on coaching than he is on playing. While he still makes time to play key online series like the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker and the Spring Championship of Online Poker, Stokes spends far more time in the lab.
“The majority of my time is spent on research and development. So, researching the game, doing theoretical and data research and analysis,” Stokes said. “And then I try to make those findings as useful as possible for coaching with students.”
Moving from grinding to coaching gave Stokes the opportunity to follow another one of his passions, travel. While being in different countries around the world isn’t necessarily ideal for playing a regular online tournament schedule, Stokes can still maintain all of his coaching appointments. The lifestyle he currently enjoys is one of the benefits of putting his efforts into coaching rather than playing, but there’s also some professional fulfillment.
“I just gravitate towards having a fascination for improving and studying the game itself. So it’s oriented pretty well. I enjoy coaching, I really enjoy the interaction,” Stokes said. “Having played poker for quite a lot of years, I guess about 13 years for money, you get to a point where you get a bit burned out. I was more happy to try and really enjoy the times that I’m playing, rather than feeling that I have to play around a 365 days a year schedule kind of thing.”
Stokes’ thirst for knowledge eventually landed him with Poker Detox. He was enamored with how different their approach to teaching and coaching was.
“It sounded very exciting, very contrarian to what the common way of doing things was. Kind of like saying, ‘This GTO thing might not really be as good as you think it is. In fact, it could be hurting you and these are the reasons why. We’ve got this solid data behind us, we have another way of being able to objectively assess things.'”
After first using their products as a customer, Stokes wondered if some of the things he had previously been working on might make for a solid match as part of their team of coaches.
“I was working with some pre-flop solvers, which was giving some insights into the pre-flop part of the game,” Stokes said. “If I used their methodology for my pre-flop research, I could offer them a pre-flop blueprint to go with their post-flop blueprint. So I offered that to them and we collaborated and took it from there.”
Most of the Poker Detox products were focused on cash game players. Stokes joined Poker Detox in late 2019 with the goal of launching an MTT product and building a team around it.
“We basically have a new division of the Poker Detox wing, which is for MTTs – before they were exclusively on cash games. And I’m basically the head coach of that, in partnership with Nick (Howard) on building this whole thing together. So, pretty much my entire focus is on this MTT team now.”
Players chosen for the team get the benefit of team retreats and grindhouses for major online series such as WCOOP or SCOOP in time zones specifically chosen to be optimal for the grind. Mindset clinics are also included to allow each team member to prepare for success.
Building a team of MTT players is a multi-step process. Players that are interested in joining need to be able to prove to Stokes and Howard that they’re already at a certain level. Each applicant is expected to submit multiple hand histories that show their current level of poker acumen, but there’s another piece of the puzzle that Stokes believes is maybe even more important.
“Apart from that, sort of trusting our instincts. We want people to be reflecting our core values as a company. We believe in being a very inclusive community, being a very strong team that works together and we try and help one another to solve problems rather than seeing each of us as individuals that just trying to run our own race,” Stokes said.
Being a part of the Poker Detox MTT team isn’t about taking a player making $50,000 a year to a six-figure winner. Stokes and his team believe that’s certainly possible with their coaching and support, but they also believe that is best achieved by creating an environment devoid of ego.
“As a company, we just simply try to facilitate the environment that nurtures that, encourages it, and offers some resources where they can do that to the best of their abilities,” Stokes said. “So, it’s about trying to keep the environment very positive, and conducive for this, and get rid of any toxicity. So, trying not to recruit people that are quite egotistical and selfish, but instead, those that are a bit more inclusive and welcoming.”
While Stokes’ poker career started with a heavy dose of Sklansky books, his methodology of instruction is far more modern. Using technology, such as solvers and databases of information, is what the Poker Detox program is built around. Teaching his players how to best use this technology to learn and improve is meant to position them for long-term success.
“There’s going to be one self-evident truth in the poker world that will probably never change, which is that the average poker player is lazy,” Stokes said. “So, whilst that’s a constant and everything else is very fluid, you’ve got an opportunity there because you just need to basically not be lazy and be kind of savvy about how you go about your self-development.”
Players interested in learning more about the PokerDetox MTT team can visit the official site here.