Alan Schoonmaker: Poker Psychology Expert

Alan Schoonmaker is a poker enthusiast, a practicing psychologist, and a
published author. He combined his love of poker, his psychology background, and
his writing abilities to develop some of the most influential poker strategy
books in history. They’re unique in the fact that they are targeted to analyze
the moves of the everyday poker player instead of the professional poker player.

“Most poker writers focus on how the champions think and play, but hardly
anything has been written about ordinary players. I want to help them to
understand themselves and the people in their games.” ~Alan Schoonmaker

To learn everything there is to know about Alan Schoonmaker from his
childhood to his career as an author, please continue reading this detailed
biography. We are sure you will discover something you never knew before. What
are you waiting for? Let’s dig in!

Early Years

Alan Schoonmaker was born and raised in Pasadena, California. His father was
a professor at the California Institute of Technology, and his mother was a
surgical nurse. He was the oldest of three children, having two younger sisters.
Schoonmaker had a pleasant childhood until his father abandoned his family when
he was just ten years old. He came home from school one evening to find his
mother in tears as she read his father’s goodbye note, which explained that he
was in love with someone else and was planning to spend the rest of his life
with her.

This incident left Schoonmaker devastated, so his mother felt it would be in
his best interest to talk to a therapist. He was hesitant to open up to a
therapist at first but eventually found those sessions to be beneficial. It was
actually these early experiences that caused Schoonmaker to develop an interest
in psychology, but there will be more on that later.

When Schoonmaker was 13 years old, he played poker for the first time in the
caddy shop of the golf course he worked for. The first type of poker he learned
how to play was Texas hold’em, but he went on to learn how to play Caribbean
Stud Poker and Omaha hold’em as well. Playing poker was a stress-relieving
activity he used to deal with his father’s absence.

Schoonmaker excelled in school from an early age and ended up graduating in
the top 5% of his class. He was a member of the school’s math club, science
club, and psychology club. His academic performance in combination with his
extracurricular activities earned him a full-ride scholarship to the California
Institute of Technology. Wanting to avoid a possible run-in with his father, he
decided to decline their offer and attend the University of California at
Berkeley instead.

His College and Career Path

During Schoonmaker’s first year of college, he decided not to declare a
major. Although becoming a psychologist was something he was considering, he was
overwhelmed by the thought of being in college for eight years. At the time, he
thought becoming a mathematics teacher might be the better option.

It was during Schoonmaker’s sophomore year that he started playing poker on a
regular basis with a group of friends that met at a local cafe every Tuesday
evening. He loved observing the other players, looking for their tells, and
trying to pinpoint their playing styles.

It was actually his interest in analyzing players’ moves that made him
reconsider his calling to be a psychologist.

“I play only in smaller games
because maximizing my profits is much less important to me than relaxing and
learning about people. I became a psychologist because I enjoy people-watching,
and a cardroom is a wonderful place to do it.”

He earned his Ph.D. in Industrial Psychology in just a little over seven years.

Well-Renowned Author in the Poker Community

Schoonmaker’s first job out of college was at Poker Digest; he became the
author of their Psychology of Poker column. His articles were so popular that
several publishers encouraged him to write a book. He has written six poker
strategy books in total now, all of which have been translated into French,
German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian. Over 100,000 copies of each book have
been sold in the United States alone. I have listed his books for you below,
along with a summary of what they are about.

The Psychology of Poker (Published in 2000)

Schoonover addresses the psychological factors that affect a player’s ability
to play properly. He also explains how a person’s personality and life
experiences will determine what kind of player they are: tight, loose,
aggressive, or passive. He lastly includes a chapter on some strategic
adjustments that can be implemented to improve a player’s performance and
therefore increase their chances of winning.

Your Worst Poker Enemy (Published in 2007)

This book alludes to the fact that the biggest problem standing in the way of
players winning a poker game is themselves. This book helps players identify and
stop psychological-based mistakes that everyone makes. Other topics discussed
include using intuition versus logic, adjusting to unexpected changes in the
game, and managing a stressful playing session.

Your Best Poker Friend (Published in 2007)

This book discusses the essential mental abilities and critical psychological
traits that lead to a successful poker player. It also encourages players to ask
themselves questions like, “Which games should I play?” and “Where should I
sit?” This book ends by taking players through the necessary steps to develop
their own poker improvement plan.

Poker Winners Are Different (Published in 2009)

In this book, Schoonmaker points out the difference between players who play
well and players who actually win. He outlines the key skills that are necessary
to see financial growth by playing poker. Other topics discussed in this book
include developing better discipline, controlling your reactions, and improving
your decision-making processes.

Stay Young Play Poker (Published in 2015)

Schoonmaker uses this book to explain why poker is better than most mental
exercise programs and how it has been used to improve memory loss in elderly
patients. He encourages people to learn how to play poker sooner rather than
later and points out the many health benefits associated with playing poker.

How to Beat Small Poker Games (Published in 2015)

This book advises players on how to improve their performance in low-stakes
poker games. It walks players through the steps of how to analyze their skills
and their opponents’ skills. It reveals how a simple change in basic strategy
can have a huge impact on the results of the game. It ends with a free
one-hour-long coaching session.

In an interview with Poker News, Schoonmaker explained why most of his books
target average players, rather than professionals.

“As the stakes get higher,
the players become more serious and homogeneous. Most of them study the same
books, know the same odds, and try to use similar strategies. In the smaller
games there are more rocks, more maniacs, more calling stations, more nerds,
more ‘Deluded Experts,’ and more oddballs, which means I learn more and get
better material for my writing.”

In addition to writing books, Schoonmaker hosted his own radio show called
“Holdem Radio,” where he discussed upcoming poker tournaments, latest poker
news, and a myriad of other poker-related topics. He was also asked to speak at
a seminar sponsored by the Global Poker Strategy Thinking Society at Harvard Law
School. He then went on to teach and perform research at other universities as
well, including Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain, Carnegie-Mellon, and

Family and Personal Life

Schoonmaker married his college sweetheart, Elizabeth Thiel, shortly after
graduation. They had three children in total: Margaret, Mark, and Mason.
Schoonmaker loves his job because it allows him to stay home and spend more time
with his family. He can even take his work with him when his family goes on
vacation, so they have the flexibility to travel more often. Now that all of his
children are in college, he and his wife spend nearly half of the year on the
road; their goal is to visit the capital of all 50 US states.

When Schoonmaker isn’t traveling, he can often be found horseback riding. He
owns four horses and enjoys the time he gets to spend taking care of them and
racing them. Once he retires, he plans to buy more of them and is even
considering opening a summer horse racing camp for children with special needs.

Schoonmaker is very generous, giving away 10% of all the profits from his
book sales to various charities across the world, including the American Red
Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Habitat for Humanity. He was even a part of
a team of volunteers that traveled to Louisiana to rebuild homes that were
destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.


Alan Schoonmaker is a brilliant man who used his psychology background and
poker knowledge to write several credible books. His books are highly-esteemed
in the poker community and are known to be filled with valuable advice for the
everyday player. We look forward to seeing if Schoonmaker writes any more books
before he enters retirement. As of right now, he has no plans to.