I now believe that taking notes on opponents is critical to a consistent level of success, especially when playing poker on-line. One of the keys to making this work is to be able to make those notes very efficiently so that you don't miss any of the action!
One of the first things I do when I sit at an on-line poker table is set myself up to make quick notes. Thanks to a small notepad file I keep on my desktop, I can copy/paste my framework right into the notes field for each player. Here's what that framework looks like for five-card-draw:
5CD -- 6/11/09
The first line is fairly straightforward; the game and the date. If I'm playing Hold-Em it might look like LHE (Limit) or NLHE (No Limit).
Players I've never played before are dated today. However, if I have notes on a player already, I'll leave the date unchanged for a few orbits. Notes that are more than a few days old require some observation to determine that they're still accurate. While styles don't usually change much, sometimes we run into a serious player who's been studying, getting coaching, etc.
The rest of the framework is the table positions. I find that awareness of position can tell me a lot about a player, so I want to know what their range is based on where they are in relation to the button. By making my notes position-specific, I can look at them and form a pretty quick overall assessment of that player.
Since I play mostly Draw, and it's offered six-handed at PokerStars, that's what my master is set up for:
- UTG is first to act
Note: If I'm playing 9-handed I add lines between UTG and HJ labeled M1, M2, M3
- HJ is Hi-Jack
- CO is Cut-Off
- Bttn is the Button, or last-to-act
Once I've made sure the outline is in every player's notes, I start keeping track of what's going on. In the interest of efficiency, I usually only note sub-par activity, but I will note an advanced play as well, just in case.
I use single or double letter codes whenever possible in my notes, trying to keep them as obvious as possible:
CH) Cat Hop (three cards to a straight flush)
SP) Stand Pat
GS) Gut-Shot Straight Draw
woi) without improving
I use parenthesis () for two situations, the first to indicate what I've seen a player limp with in that position; HJ: (66, 4S) means I've seen them flat-call with a pair as low as sixes (I only note the smallest, replacing as necessary) and an open-ended straight. If I saw this player limp with fours in the same position in a later hand, I'd change it to HJ: (44, 4S) and if I then saw them limp with a gut-shot straight draw it would look like: HJ: (44, GS). I'll cover the other use of () below.
Occasionally it's difficult to determine from the hand history what the player had before the draw. In this case I use a slash / to indicate 'or'. If the player drew two cards, and his hand then has a pair of tens but three hearts, he might have been drawing to a three-flush OR trying to make his hand look better (three-of-a-kind) than it really was. The notes for this hand would look like: Bttn: (TTD2/3F).
When hands get more involved, I note the action after the limp notes. For example; I see player HitMe call a raise from the button and then draw two cards. Rocky777, who raised, stands pat (doesn't draw any cards) and then bets. HitMe reraises, and is called. At the showdown, Rocky777 has a straight and HitMe has two pair, Aces and Jacks. The notes on HitMe would be:
Bttn: () - CR w/AA, D2, reR SP(R) w/AAJJ
Interpretation: Called raise with AA, drew two, reraised stand pat (who was the original raiser) with AAJJ. Here's where that second set of parenthesis come in; they indicate the pre-draw action of the other player(s).
Note that I'll move this entry to it's own line when/if I have the chance, so it would look like:
Bttn: CR w/AA, D2, reR SP(R) w/AAJJ
A simpler example would be the small blind player who draws four cards:
SB: () - LD4
Here are my notes on a player I see all the time, with an interpretation after each entry:
5CD -- 6/11/09
SB: (55, 4S)
[I've seen this player play pairs as low as fives and four-card straights in the small blind]
[Note that I only list the straight draw if the player did NOT have the pot odds to call it!)
SB: CR w/AA33, CB by D2(R) woi
[Called raise with AA33, called bet by draw two (pre-draw raiser) without improving]
SB: CR w/TT22, CB by D2(R) woi
[Called raise with TT22, called bet by draw two (pre-draw raiser) without improving]
[I'm sensing a pattern here!]
SB: R w/QQ, D1, CB by D1 woi
[Raised with QQ, drew one and called bet by draw one without improving]
[It might seem odd to have limp notes in the BB spot, but I want to note if a player just checks with a raising hand!]
BB: R w/4S - CR w/TT - CR w/4F
[Raised with a four-card-straight]
[Called a raise with Tens]
[Called a raise with a four-card-straight]
[Note that I keep these three hands on one line because they're short.]
BB: CR w/QQ, CB by D1(R) woi
[Called raise with QQ, called bet by draw-one (pre-draw raiser) without improving]
HJ: () - R w/4F
[Raised with four-card-flush]
HJ: reR w/KK, D2
[reraised with KK, drew two]
[Note, I've observed a trap, good to know!]
CO: R w/4F
[Raised with a four-card-flush]
[limped with a four-card-flush]
Bttn: CR w/KK, CB by D1(R) woi
[Called raise with KK, called bed by draw-one (pre-draw raiser) without improving]
What I've learned about this player, based on these notes so far, is that he'll generally call my raises with drawing hands, even if I make the pot odds wrong for him to do so, which adds value to my play. I also know to use extreme care when bluffing him with a missed draw as he's likely to call even with an unimproved pair, which saves me chips.
Finally, I eventually add a general observation to a player's notes, once I've seen and noted many hands. I place it after the date, so if they come to an active table, I can just read my first line and I don't have to assess the whole collection of entries. The first line for the example player above will probably eventually look like:
5CD -- 6/11/09 -- Draws oblivious to odds, bluff with caution!
Again, note that I'll watch the date. Even this player could evolve, and I don't want to run into a tiger when I'm expecting a kitten!
This system may seem a little awkward at first, and I'm sure there could be refinements. If it helps you, as-is or with your own customization, then it was worth sharing. If you see an opportunity to improve it, or you have suggestions for adapting it to Hold-Em, Omaha, Stud, etc. I'd welcome them!
"Have Fun, Be Gracious, Keep Learning, Play Your Best and
Manage Your Finances. You will find Success in Poker and in Life!"