Introduction to Taking Notes

by Chris Hughes (Lowraise on the Low Limit Poker Forum)

Player notes are such an important part of playing poker online. Without being able to see people face to face you are less reliant on tells your opponent might give off and you have to rely on any particular traits and betting patterns that give away your opponents hands and how they play certain situations. Making notes helps with remembering these people, given the volumes of people who can pass the game you are playing this is essential for recall as at least when you play in a live environment you can put a name and face together with memories of their play a lot more easily.

Poker is a game of impartial information, the more information you have the bigger edge you have. These notes can help you make money from you opponents and more importantly they will help you save money in the long run and turn you into a winning player.

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. This information can help you when you have those difficult decisions to make, with table selection and also help you improve your game. For example you sit down and someone has just raised the last 4 hands, are they really a maniac or are they just on a good run of cards? Your notes can help you answer these questions

Taking notes couldn’t be easier, all you have to do is focus on are your opponents. Every time you spot anything unusual – you can write it down. And the next time you encounter your opponent online you are already prepared for them.

How to take notes

A lot of sites provide facilities to write notes so that they are associated with the player and are easily accessible from dropdown menus or right click the players name and you get an option to add notes to that player. Some sites allow you to tag the players (PokerStars and Full Tilt are just two that I've played at that allow this) with icons or color codes. If the poker client doesn't offer the facility to write notes at the table then you can open up a text file in notepad for each opponent and make any relevant notes. Remember though to check your notes afterwards and merge any you make for plays on separate occasions.

Taking notes forces you to observe and analyze the hands you’re not involved. Every hand is a potential goldmine of information. Watching every hand will not only help you with your note it can help you improve your game (especially if you watch the way the good players approach the game).

Also you can practice you hand reading skills while you are at it and take time to think about how you would respond to the actions of each player and put your opponents on a range of hands using your notes to inform these decisions. Doing this will refine your notes and help you make more and more informed notes and decisions.

So what should you be looking for?

The main things to concentrate on are the fundamentals. These are playing styles (what basic player category does the player fall in to – loose or tight, weak/passive or aggressive), starting hands, betting styles and any tactical awareness (or lack of). Below are some of the things I make notes on:

Starting hands - at a showdown monitor the players starting hands or when ever they show them at the ends of the hand.

Betting patterns and tactical awareness - these are the little things that you note about a player and they play a hand and you wish to use at a later date.

Seeing your opponent’s cards at showdown is worth its weight in gold. The information you get provides you with so much evidence of their games. If you can play back through the hand (it might be best to do this after you have finished your session) you can see whether a player was chasing against the odds, how much they bet when they’re bluffing, what hands they’re prepared to slow-play.

Don’t be afraid to revise your notes, either. Look for trends, just because they make one play doesn’t mean that they play like that all the time (e.g. just because they overbet the pot or folded to minimum raise on 3 flush flop doesn’t mean they will always play that way).

Don't typecast people; you need to see them over many sessions to make sure you know what type of player they are. They may be on a run of good cards or just getting trash hand over hand.  Also, just because someone is a LAG doesn't make them a bad player, a lot of people play LAG for the first 2 rounds of betting but when it come to the money rounds they tighten up and make correct decisions, they rely a lot on hand reading to evaluate where they are in the game.

Keep an eye out for good players as well as the bad players. It’s easy to focus on the bad players. These are the people you will be making most money out of, but that is easy. Where you will make the biggest improvement to your game is spotting the dangerous players and noting when to avoid them. You’ll save more money in the long run and your win rate will thank you.

Player Types

There are basically 4 main types of player, these categories are generalizations about players and shouldn’t be taken at face value. As Brian once said “We are all individuals”. The categories break down to:

Tight Passive (TP) – rocks
Tight passive players (or sometimes called Tight Weak) are risk averse at the best of times. They play a small proportion of starting hands ( < 20% starting hands), and play simple abc poker. They will be making plays with one eye on their stack and thinking about how much they will loose and not how much they will win.

When playing against them loosen up your starting requirements and bet into them more on the flop. If they call then be more careful. If they raise, drop unless you have something.

Tight Aggressive  (TAGs) - ones to watch
Tight Aggressive players like to play a small proportion of starting hands ( < 20% hands) and raise when they feel they have a slight advantage and want to make you pay for your mistakes. They tend to make correct plays more often and will be making decisions according to pot odds and willing to lay down good hands when the play dictates it.

You should make sure you take everything into account when you are up against this type of player. Some players say you should avoid these types of players but I think that depending on the level you are playing they are still prone to mistakes (at the micro levels). They will be educated and you can sometimes reverse the play against them. Think on the 2nd level more when facing them (what do they think I have)

Loose Aggressive (LAGs) - maniacs
These people thrive on mayhem, the like nothing more to cause chaos and challenge people and put them into situations where they have to make tough decisions. They like to play more than 40% of starting hands and in general play any that they think will give them a post flop advantage (suited connectors, any 2 suited, any paint cards, any ace) in any position. They also like to raise with anything they think is a good hand. They are basically table bullies and will push you around taking small pots when ever you are weak. They like to bluff more and tend to make more fancy plays.

Most people tighten up when they play against LAGs but this is wrong. You should loosen up (especially when you have position). You should judge when to raise back at them and make a stand. When you make a big hand you can slowplay more and let them make the running and punishing them on the river when they think they can smell weakness. They will suck out on you and they will drive you crazy with the swings that you can encounter but they are beatable. Make sure you sit to the left of them so that you can make sure that you can take advantage when they are in the pot and also to fold your really marginal hands.

Loose Passives (LPs) - cash machines
These types of players are where you will make you money. When you look at a table judging whether you are going to take a seat, look at your notes and if there are a few LPs at the table get a seat as quickly as you can. These players play a large proportion of hands ( > 40% hands) and rarely raise. When they do you know that they have the nuts and you can let your hand go. They will call your bets to the river thinking that any card will help them call bets to river, ignoring pot odds and ignoring what their opponents might be holding. They never bluff so you know where you are at all times.

There is one thing to remember when playing against this type of player value bet, value bet and value bet your made hands (whether big hands or marginal hands). There game is so easy to read it is worth trying to isolate them and let them give you what they can. Just remember that they live life optimistically and will chase to the river, so punish them as much as you can.

For further information on different player types I would recommend people read “The Psychology of Poker” by A Schoonmaker.

Using Poker Tracker and a HUD

Poker Tracker is a database program that stores and summarizes hand history data that can be downloaded from your poker site. This allows you to analyse your game and that of you opponents. It allows you to filter the stats of your opponents and helps you when trying to make decisions about your opponent’s style of play. When used with a HUD (heads up display) that overlays the most useful statistics on to the game table you are armed with a very powerful tool.

One thing to take account of with poker tracker is the size of the number of hands you have on an opponent. Like when taking notes the more you observer something taking place the more you can say it is a trait that your opponent has. So take lightly the statistics that poker tracker gives you until you have more than 250 hands on an opponent.

Which stats to take notice of in Poker Tracker varies with personal preferences. The ones I like to use and think tell a lot about your own game as well as their opponents are:

These are the things I look at to determine what type of player I am facing as well as helping me making informed decisions. I use a HUD to overlay these numbers onto the poker table while I’m playing the game, this gives me a quick easy reference and if I need to find out more about the person I can click on the players name and a pop up contain more detailed stats from Poker Tracker (ed. note. at the present time, most online poker players use Holdem Manager which is far superior to Poker Tracker as of June 11, 2011) are available.

So now you have started getting data on your opponents how should you interpret them? Well, there is a facility in PokerTracker that sets rule that will allow you to rate players as TAGs, LAGs, LPs, TPs or any variant inbetween. I use the following basic rules when I look at my opponents:

I do NOT base all of my decisions on the stats that are produced by Poker Tracker, but they are helpful.  For example if someone with is rated as having a VP$IP 15% raises in EP I'll tighten up my calling requirements. Where as if I see a guy that is 45% VP$IP and 10% PFR in MP I'll loosen up and play back to him with any strong hand I have. Also I like to look at people’s 'Won percentage at showdown' when playing heads up to see if they are a calling station or only proceed with the nuts and I will look at the 'folded BB to a steal' if I'm thinking of stealing the blinds.

Another thing to consider when using PAHud is that when a hand goes to showdown it shows you all mucked hands on the river and saves you having to look through the hand histories and allows you to make quick notes on what you have just seen.