Monday, November 13, 2006

Taking notes

Most every poker decision you make depends on reading your opponents.

What hands could they have? Are they more likely to play back at you because you've been raising a lot? Are they weak-tight? Tight-aggressive? Calling stations? Do they continuation bet? Are their betting actions inconsistent with the hand they're trying to represent? Are they making any rookie mistakes?

Your personal knowledge about poker can give you a partial answer. Pokertracker also helps. Taking good notes is another piece of the puzzle that often goes overlooked.

Writing down concise, accurate and useful notes on my opponents' playing tendencies really helped advance my game. In the past, I had always wanted to take better notes, but I didn't know how.

Then I took the first step: Resolving to take as many notes as possible, even if you don't know what you're looking for. Try to take notes on everyone. Try to make a note every hand. This will get you in the habit of note-taking until it becomes routine.

For example, some of the first notes I take on players are some of the most simple. I write down any time anyone posts a blind out of position. In itself, writing down "mp post" next to someone's name doesn't tell me much about the player, but it can be a useful clue when combined with all the other data at my disposal. Other examples of introductory notes I frequently take include "buys in as short stack," "minraiser," and "button limper." These initial preflop leaks often indicate deeper flaws in your opponents.

After taking a note on a player, sites like Full Tilt will display a green tag next to their screenname by default. You can change that green tag to any other color. This is largely a matter of personal preference, but my rudimentary system assigns a purple tag to loose players and a deep purple tag to players I know. I use a red tag to call my attention to an important note I have taken, often on a player that demonstrates a consistent behavior (such as always bluffing at the river, a tendency to semibluff check-raise when scare cards come, or a high attempt to steal percentage).

Notes on postflop play often prove to be the most valuable. Once you can get an idea about whether an opponent's small bets are for value or show weakness, whether he bets out draws or check-calls them, whether his check-raises show genuine strength or are used for information -- then you're on your way toward manipulating that player to the fullest.

It's rare that one note will tell the full story about a player, but every bit of information is a clue leading you to profitable answers. My note-taking system is far from perfect, but the act of watching other players will further understanding of your own game while helping you figure our your opponents.

Strong players win money because they're observant, gather information and then unleash it at a well-timed moment. Notes are a great way to harvest information to be used when the time is right. As always, I'm interested in hearing about other people's note-taking systems in the comments section.

Play gut!


chipper said...

Note taking is very important. When I was hell-bent on grinding limit Holdem tables, I would upload Pokertracker stats into the Notes fields on Poker Stars. If I had ever played that player before, I would instantly know their playing style and how much they won/lost.

Now, I'm playing Omaha Hi/Lo and am trying to take notes by hand, but without pokertracker (haven't bought the Omaha version yet).

If I'm multitabling, I find that I don't take as many notes as I should. If ever something noticeable happens, I'm sure to record it. Problem is, I play on different computers and can't see the notes I took on the other computer.

Notes will only show tendencies but don't bank on lightning striking twice on every hand.

Guin said...

I have been working on a simple system in the notes section as well... now if I could figure out how to get pokertracker to work in a tournament that would help...

for notes I use the following:
PFR (worst hand shown) UTG, EP, MP, CO, SB, BB
cbet % guess mostly
value river bet % of pot (this is tough but when someone has the nuts this is interesting to note)
bluff river bet % of pot (again interesting to note if you see it)