How To Take Notes In Poker That Are Actually Useful
In poker, much like in life, information is power.
“Knowing your opponents’ tendencies in all sorts of preflop and postflop spots is simply invaluable.”
With enough information and the knowledge to interpret it correctly, your win rates are bound to skyrocket. So it’s no wonder that there are various tracking programs in the online poker world.
But, as good as poker trackers are, you can’t always use them.
In live poker, you don’t get the benefit of a program running in the background, silently collecting all the data for you to use. As for online, more and more sites are completely banning or severely restricting the use of trackers.
While this is certainly inconvenient, especially for those used to playing with the help of various stats, it’s not the end of the world.
One trait that all successful poker players share is their ability to adapt to new situations.
If you can’t have a program doing things for you, there is nothing to stop you from doing it yourself by taking notes on players.
It may not be as efficient or as extensive but having some ideas about what kind of a player you’re up against certainly defeats playing completely blind.
On top of that, most of your opponents won’t take that extra step, so you can even gain an advantage.
Manually taking notes on players may feel like a demanding and painful task, but it doesn’t have to be.
The goal of this article is to give you some useful guidelines on how to go about your note-taking process, whether you play online or live.
With these tips, you should save a lot of time and end up with notes that are actually useful in your games.
Note Taking Fundamentals: What To Pay Attention To
When you’re playing poker, especially if you’re on multiple tables online, there is almost always a lot going on.
Even if you’re experienced with multi-tabling, as the number of games increases, the time you have for other things, including taking notes, decreases.
Because of this, it is extremely important to figure out what kind of situations warrant taking the time to make a note.
If you are doing it too often, not only will you lose time and perhaps start timing out all over the place, but you might also end up with big walls of texts that don’t really help you.
So, to begin with, focus on really odd, non-standard events, like:
- Someone calling your three barrels to the river with a bottom pair
- 3-bet and calling a jam with a weak hand
- Making a big over-bet on the river with a bluff
There are many examples such as this, but you get the idea. You want to take notes of the events that stand out and can help you in particular spots in the future.
Making a note about someone defending in the big blind with a hand like 7-4 against 2.5x raise is just too wide. That kind of information won’t really help you.
Even if you had enough time to take notes on all the plays, it still wouldn’t be very effective.
You don’t really need a huge file containing three pages of (mostly irrelevant) information. With all that data, it will just be hard to find the concrete info you’re actually looking for.
Unlike auto-generated stats, notes are something you’ll need to work out on your own and build over time.
With enough hands against a particular player, you’ll be able to pick up on their most important tendencies and be able to rely on those notes.
Avoid Making Notes When Tilting
When a particular player sucks out on you or plays a weird hand and puts a bad beat on you, you might get mad or go on tilt.
That’s part of the game, and no one is completely immune to tilt, but don’t let these things influence your notes.
Making a note of “fish”, “idiot” or “donkey” won’t do you any good.
The next time you come across that player, you probably won’t remember the hand; you’ll just have a note that’s supposed to describe what kind of a player they are. But a lot of the time this won’t even be true.
Maybe you will feel better after “marking” players that put a bad beat on you, but if you’re serious about taking notes and making the most out of them, you need to avoid this practice.
How To Take Notes Online
These days, most online poker rooms come with an inbuilt feature that allows you to make notes on players in real-time. It’s usually as simple as clicking on the player’s name or their avatar and typing a note in the box.
Some rooms will even provide you with convenient little icons or colors you can use to mark players.
You can develop your own system for tracking players with categories, which you should keep consistent.
Here are some of examples of possible categories:
- Regular players that you come across a lot
- Good regs (players that you should probably avoid or play very carefully against)
- Bad regs (those who play a lot but you see make bad plays)
- Passive players who call too wide
- Overly aggressive players who 3-bets too often, etc.
If you mark many regular players in your games with a colored label or some kind of shortcut representing a specific group, you will know how to adjust your play against these opponents even before sitting down at the table.
This will also help you find the most profitable games and table select, so it is totally worth the extra efforts.
However, don’t be quick to put players in certain categories and be prepared to move them from one group to another as you gain more information.
Even good regs make bad plays every now and then, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad in general.
Take enough time to figure out what group the player is most likely to belong to and never make judgments based on one hand.
As you become more proficient with the whole process, you might develop an even more complex marking system for different player types.
I’d suggest starting with a simple categorization and branch out from there, especially because tagging players in a more specific way will require a fair amount of time.
Keep It Simple And Efficient
You don’t need to write a short story to make a useful note on a player. You only have a limited amount of time to make a note, and you want it to contain just the relevant information.
Everything else surrounding it is just the fluff that you don’t need and will take time to write down and read when you meet the same player again.
For example, a note like:
3-bet from the middle position with 4-5s against UTG open, c-bet on the 9-high board
can simply be:
MP 3-bet 45s, c-bet 9-h flop.
You have all the information you need right there.
Of course, some notes won’t be as specific.
You might want to simply describe someone as a very aggressive player or someone you’ve seen bluff a lot. Still, it would be perfect if you could come up with a couple of examples that back up your theory as these can be quite useful in the future.
Bluffs a lot (3-barrel shoved river w missed f-draw x few times)
Having these kinds of specifics and the general information can be of great use, as not every player is prone to bluffing the same way. Some will keep firing, and some like to check-raise as bluffs, etc.
Whenever you want to make a new about a player, do so on a new line. To take it one step further, you can add separators to quickly access what you need.
When I’m taking notes, I have these lines:
This makes your notes much tidier and easier to scan through during the actual play.
Just like any text, breaking your notes into smaller chunks makes it easier to read and nicer to look at in general.
How To Take Notes In Live Poker
Back in the day, if you wanted to take notes on live players, you’d have to show up with a pen and notebook and keep writing stuff down.
In addition to making you look silly, I’m sure quite a few players wouldn’t take too kindly to it and would be super curious to know what it is that you’re writing.
Today, thankfully, there’s all sorts of technology like smartphones that let you make quick notes without anyone raising an eyebrow.
Players spend a lot of time on their phones as it is, so no one will know if you’re taking notes or chatting with your friends.
Live poker is generally slower, so you’ll have plenty of time to take notes between hands. In this case, you don’t have to worry too much about abbreviations and can take really in-depth notes.
It’s up to you what kind of app you want to use for this purpose.
You can use any default notes app that came with your phone, or you can get one of the poker apps developed specifically for this purpose.
There are a few out there, and they come with some neat functions that will make your life a lot easier.
Either way, you should keep things nicely organized.
There will be no bubble popping over the player’s head at a live table, bringing up the notes you have on them. Instead, you’ll need to find them on your phone, and you don’t want this process to take too long.
Ideally, you don’t even want other players to know you’re keeping notes.
So, you could sort your notes by player names or nicknames and have them always ready to go if needed.
That being said, you probably shouldn’t try to read those notes in the middle of the hand.
In the live setting, you’ll usually be up against the same players over and over again. So, if you keep detailed notes and read up before the session or just go through the notes between the hands, you’ll be able to memorize the most important points about almost every player you encounter frequently.
The Kind Of Notes To Take In Live Games
In live games, you have access to much more information while playing, and you should include all that information in your notes.
First of all, if there is an interesting hand, you can take the time to describe it in detail and save it for later.
Based on the hand breakdown, you can then edit specific player notes accordingly later. If there is a hand with a lot of action and weird plays, try to catch as much as you can and just save it.
Later, when you have more time, this description will help jog your memory and make some more specific notes about players involved.
In addition to hand information, you should also be making notes about any potential reads you pick up along the way.
For example, if a player was making a big speech when pulling a bluff, definitely make a note of that. Or, if they placed their bet in a very peculiar manner in a certain spot, write it down.
Individually, these things may not mean a lot. However, as you keep playing against the same players, certain patterns will likely start to emerge.
Others in the same game are very likely to miss out on them, but you won’t because you’re keeping notes and slowly building player profiles.
This is one of the most underused things in live games, so it can boost your win rate quite a bit when used correctly.
As well as being very helpful, keeping notes at the tables will also help you pass the time during hands you aren’t involved with and keep you focused on the game instead of watching random videos on your phone or giving up to other distractions.
Make Taking Notes A Habit
Whether online or live, taking notes while playing is a very good and valuable habit to have as a poker player.
Even if you have access to a tracking program and can run it without any issues, you should still take the time to make personal notes in interesting and peculiar spots.
While it may seem like a lot of work for very little gain at first, you’ll see their usefulness as time goes by, and you keep running into the same players trying to do the same thing over and over again.
Many poker players don’t change their style frequently, and once you figure out their tendencies, you’ll be able to exploit them for a long time.
Don’t rely on your memory. It’s simply impossible to remember all the important things, even in a live setting where you’re playing against a relatively small number of players.
Make it a habit to take notes every time you play and try your best to keep them neatly organized so that you can make the most use out of them.
Take the advice from this article and apply it. Your profit line will be most grateful to you!