We explain why keeping player notes should be a top priority and a route to profit
At my very first live tournament I remember one old poker dog considering an all-in bet from another young beginner. He looked at the guy for a minute and then declared confidently: ‘You’ve been playing Ace-rag all night,’ and called. Sure enough the lad flipped over A-5 and busted out.
My awe at his powers of recall was matched by a numbing realisation that my memory, little better than a shopping list written on an Etch-a-Sketch, was probably not best suited to this game. And the noise, chip tricks and waitresses competing for my attention obviously weren’t going to help either.
So hoorah for online poker! Distractions like the fridge and internet porn notwithstanding, all you have to focus on are your opponents. Not only that, but every time you spot something interesting – noteworthy, even – you can write it down. And the next time you meet the guy who overplays Ace-rag, you’ll be armed and ready.
Short of winning mountains of cash, there are few things in poker more satisfying than having a sound read on someone. Calling a big bet on the river because you just know the guy is bluffing – or bluffing successfully yourself – gets the adrenaline flowing and has the pleasant side-effect of making you richer.
But to carry off either play consistently well, you need to be able to reason your way to the conclusion that the call or the bluff has a good chance of success. For that you need to know your opponents – and this is why player notes are such an important part of the online game.
Having the edge
As David Sklanksy put it to Al Alvarez in The Biggest Game In Town: ‘If there’s something I know about the game that the other guy doesn’t… then I take his money.’
Winning poker is about maintaining and exploiting an edge over the other players at your table – and that edge is often nothing more than information.
If you’re concentrating harder on the game than the next person, your edge increases. Think of it as a cumulative series of steps – the more you pay attention, the more information you can glean and the bigger your advantage. It’s that simple, especially when you can etch your flashes of perception onto your hard drive forever.
In fact, player notes are such an important part of online poker that you should browse a site’s Notes facility before signing up. Ongame’s sites (PokerRoom.com, Holdempoker.com), for example, have a tagging feature where you can assign labels to various coloured buttons that sit beside opponents’ avatars. These make good quick-reference points.
On PokerStars’ interface, notes for each player at the table are accessed via a drop-down menu embedded in the chat box. Ultimately, of course, it’s a matter of preference, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.
It’s also perhaps worth mentioning that the notes you make are stored on your computer and not on the server, which is something to bear in mind when you buy a new laptop. But you should have no problem copying the relevant file across, and the site’s support should be able to tell you where it is.
Not only do your notes help you with difficult decisions, they force you to concentrate. Observing and analysing the hands you’re not involved in is a great habit to get into. As any poker book will tell you, every hand is a potential goldmine of information.
So what should you be looking for? To start with, concentrate on the fundamentals. The most basic player categories – loose or tight, weak or aggressive – are what you should focus on initially.
How many hands is a player involved in? A raise in front of you means less coming from a loose player. Do they fold easily to raises, do they call, or do they play back? Any of these vital observations could come in handy later on – so you need to keep paying attention. It’s a way to keep you occupied while the deck is running cold, at the very least.
All the while you should also be jotting down anything else that you spot (see Note to self). Showdowns are priceless, especially if you can think back through the betting at each stage of the hand. They provide concrete evidence that a player was chasing against the odds, how much they bet when they’re bluffing, what hands they’re prepared to slow-play… so write it all down.
Weapons and tactics
Remember that note-taking is an ongoing job. Moving tables in a tournament and starting from scratch can be off-putting, especially after you’ve spent the last couple of hours preparing bulging dossiers on your previous opponents, but stick with it. Who knows who you’ll meet again at the final table?
Don’t be afraid to revise your notes, either. Hopefully you’re not playing against robots – you’re looking for trends, and one over-bet does not an overbettor make. Bear in mind that a player who seems to switch from loose to tight play is probably changing gears on purpose, which in turn means he or she is a player worthy of respect. So write it down!
As if that’s not enough, it’s a good idea to review the notes for your opponents during the game. Try and predict how they’re going to play or what cards they have based on your existing information. When something clicks – when your notes tally with your predictions – you have a bona fide read and a new weapon in your arsenal.
Some more wisdom to finish with, this time from Lou Krieger: ‘Most of the money you’ll win at poker comes not from the brilliance of your own play, but from the ineptitude of your opponents.’
By cataloguing and learning from the ineptitude – and conversely the players to be avoided – around you, you’re making money. There’s one more thing to remember, however: always keep an eye on your own game, because your better opponents are going to be keeping notes on you, too.