Knowledge is power, particularly at the poker table, and not only concerning knowing how to play the game optimally but also regarding holding information about your opponents’ tendencies. The more information you hold about an opponent, the more substantial your edge over them can be, and this means your chances of coming away from a battle with them as the victor are significantly increased.
One of the best ways to gather information is to study how your opponents at your table are playing and take notes on their play. I remember reporting on a World Poker Tour Main Event in Venice, Italy a few years ago where Danish star Simon Ravnsbaek was frequently typing notes into his mobile phone upon the completion of a hand. These notes were useful to him, as is evident by his fourth place finish that netted him more than €50,000, and led me to take more notes whenever I played poker live or online.
What Notes Should You Take and the Poker Table?
One area that players fall when it comes to taking notes at the poker table is knowing what to jot down. Often, they write too much information, or too little, and some even make notes that won’t be helpful to them in the future.
The art of taking notes at the poker table is to find a system that suits you, a system that has just the correct amount of information in it, and a system that has accurate information noted. That last point is imperative: the information you jot down has to be accurate because the only thing worse than having no information is having incorrect information.
Here are some tips for taking notes at the poker table.
Make sure the information in the note is useful
The inspiration for this article came last week when I came across a player who I’d made a note on. I clicked on the note hoping to discover something about how they played, and saw the following pointless text:
Notes like this serve no purpose. None at all. What advantage would such a note give to you? None. Zilch. Nada.
Why his the player a “complete nutcase?” What have they done to warrant such a label? A sweeping statement is worthless.
Likewise, don’t take notes about hands deemed as standard. Ask yourself if it is worth writing a note about a player who three-bet from the big blind after a loose player raised from the cutoff, and then five-bet all-in with pocket kings. Almost everyone would do this, so it’s not noteworthy.
Remember that you’ll be reading your notes while in the middle of a hand where you have limited time to act. With this in mind, do not write reams of text because it’ll be practically impossible to digest on the fly, instead use abbreviations such as BTN (for the button), UTG (for under the gun), CRAI (for check-raise all-in) and so on.
Always include positions of the players and the postflop action
Making a note about a player three-betting with is all well and good, but where did they raise from and what position was the initial raiser in? There’s a big difference between an opponent re-raising from the big blind over a button raise than a player re-raising with from middle position after a player opened from under the gun.
What happened after the flop? Did they make a continuation bet? If so, how large was it? Did the make a continuation bet with a draw, or top pair, or after completely missing the board? What size was the bet? You’re trying to paint a picture of how this player approaches the game. The more details you have, the accurate and more useful your notes are.
Be prepared to alter your notes
Remember how I said that inaccurate information is worse than no information? You have to be willing to remove or edit a note if you feel it is no longer valid.
Try have some game facts and game flow in there
Not everyone does this, but I like to make a note of where and when the note was taken. When I play cash games, I play two or three different stakes so will note the limits I was playing at the time. The same goes for tournaments where I’ll note the blinds or stage of the tournament, and the effective stack sizes.
Try to note if the table was playing loose or tight because this will often see players alter their styles; a player may play much looser on a tight table or vice versa.
An example of taking poker notes
As I mentioned earlier, finding your own system is preferable to copying someone else, but with that said, I thought it would be an idea to show an example of how I take notes.
“R/C Ts9s UTG 6max NL25 to BTN, x/c ½ PSB Qs93, x/r ½ PSB 8s T, x/x 4d R”
It looks like gobbledegook at first, but when you think about it, it shows that at six-max NL25 ($0.10/$0.25) blinds, the player raised with from under the gun and called a three-bet from the button. He then check-called a half-pot bet the [9x][3x] flop before check-raising a half-pot bet on the turn, and checking on the river.
This shows that this particular player opens loosely, is fond of seeing flops, doesn’t fold when he’s caught a piece of the board, can play draws aggressively on the turn, but didn’t bluff the river when his draws missed.
If future notes reinforce what we saw in this hand, we start to build a clear picture of how he plays certain hands and can use that information against him.
What system do you use to take notes? How often do you jot down aspects of a players game? Let us know in the comments box below.