Note Taking in Poker

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One of the huge disadvantages of playing Poker online is the total inability to see the other players, their mannerisms, facial expressions, and tells. However, since nobody can see what the other players are doing, this downside is somewhat mitigated by the ability to take notes on opponents. In fact many online Poker rooms make it easy by providing a Notes window adjacent to the display for Hand History or Chat.

The reason for taking notes, of course, is to gain insights into how others play various hands. Are they likely to call a bluff? Do they consistently overplay small pocket pairs? Having detailed information on a player’s past actions can provide the note taker with a leg up in tournaments and save a bundle in ring games.

Methods of Note Taking

Any method of note taking is better than none at all. Simply jotting down random observations may be a good way to start. The initial objective is to get into the habit of writing things down. But as note taking becomes a natural part of one’s game, it will become useful to develop a more formal system, incorporating abbreviations, shorthand or codes to describe recurring actions.

At minimum a note taking system should identify an opponent’s general style of play: aggressive or passive, tight or loose. Such designations can be further classified as “very much so” or “somewhat so.” Players who rarely bet or raise and prefer to check or call might be noted as “VP” for “very passive.” When “Bladerunner” is observed dropping out pre-flop with anything less than premium cards such as A-A, K-K, or A-K, the corresponding note might be “B-run VT” for “very tight.”

Another good starting point for methodical note taking is a coded description of the circumstances of play. This might include the size of the blinds, the player’s position at the table, and the size of the stack that he/she started with. For example, “B-run 1/2-2L-56” might mean the blinds were £1/£2, player Bladerunner was two seats to the note taker’s left, and there were £56 in her stack.

More specific information about individual hands played will improve the utility of the notes that are taken. Again, a minimum requirement of a note taking system would be to keep a tally of the times each opponent folds, calls, or raises pre-flop. Annotation for when a player is on a blind will be useful, too.

Post-flop, there are fewer players to take notes on, so the information recorded can be more detailed. Note the community cards for the flop, turn and river, such as “Ks-Qh-3s / Qc / 6d.” Look for wagering patterns, long pauses, or quick actions during betting intervals that may turn out to be “tells.” Write down the results and what cards each player held. Check the Hand History if unsure or to see what cards were mucked.

Using the Notes

As taking notes becomes second nature, editorial comments can be added, such as “brilliant play” or “stupid bluff.” The accumulation of notes should gradually help characterize the opponent, so that it is almost like seeing her/him seated at the table: “Bladerunner is very tight aggressive. She rarely chases draws and always raises with premium hand. Won’t defend blinds with a weak hand. Never caught her in a bluff, perhaps because she times them well. Often uses chat to distract other players.”

Remember, the goal of note taking is to obtain information that can be used to identify how others play. If note taking is too detailed, it may be hard to dig through for gems of knowledge. If it is too sparse, it may be insufficient for use in profiling.

Some useful tools are available to assist in note taking and unraveling what the notes mean. Apart from the facilities built into the software of online card rooms, applications such as PokerOffice provide free odds calculators and record-keeping functions. Some include the ability to track all of an opponent’s actions without the need for hand histories or user input.

Clearly, other players are already taking notes. Those who don’t are putting themselves at a disadvantage, so the sooner one develops a note taking system and starts using it the better.

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