May 20, 2010

Note Taking Tips

What’s Up Degens?

I’ve been yielding tons of questions lately about good note taking, so rather than answer each one individually, I figured it’d be easier to just post some of my thoughts about it in the blog. FWIW, this stuff can also be found Here. Enjoy!

If your approach to poker is similar to mine, then you’re probably in constant search for ways to gain an edge on the opposition. One of the easiest, but most underused ways to accomplish this is by simply taking good notes during your sessions. Many players (especially beginners) admittedly exercise poor note taking skills, and even the successful ones could probably use some improvement. I think most players would agree they don’t take notes as often as they should, and when they do, they are haphazardly taking down information that’s either useless or irrelevant. Given all of this, the purpose of this article is to provide you with some ideas for systematizing the way you label your opponents and identify their exploitable tendencies.

Tony Gwynn Approach:
Playing as a right fielder for the San Diego Padres, his reputation was forged from being one of the most consistent hitters in the history of baseball. While learning how to drive the ball into the opposite field won’t do much for your poker game, developing a consistent system for note taking might be the missing piece that’s preventing you from taking MVP caliber notes. Particularly if you play a ton of tables, it’s important to develop some uniform type of player labeling system across all of the sites, stakes, and games you play. I personally use a color labeling system (which I’ll outline later) that denotes every pertinent piece of information such as VPIP, win rate, skill level, and number of tables. It works really well because it allows me to efficiently cruise the lobby during a session, which is important for ensuring that I’m always playing at the juiciest tables available.

Quality > Quantity:
In the note taking universe, quality will always trump quantity. If you ever get the chance to watch a high stakes player, you’ll quickly notice that all of the information they have on their opponents serves some type of purpose. A good rule of thumb I tell students is to never take a note that won’t save or make you money in the future. The situation you want to avoid the most is taking a note that’s vague or confusing, because it could potentially cost you money later on. When I first started playing online, I made the mistake of being way too meticulous with my note taking. Although I had the best intentions, I went into the time bank practically every hand because it took me forever to wade through all of the meaningless observations I’d gathered. Here’s a few examples of the more reliable pieces of information you should be looking for and taking down:
Bet Sizing Tells: It’s difficult to argue against the usefulness of a HUD, but HUD’s don’t say much about bet sizes; they only display frequencies. So if you’re one of the players that relies too much on your HUD for decision making, then you’re missing out on a lot of profit from neglecting the bet sizes of your opponents. Bet sizing tells are excellent sources of information, especially at the lower limits where many players have glaring bet sizing leaks. Noting the simple mistakes, such as betting small with weak hands, or potting the flop with strong hands, will make you a ton of money in the long run.
Timing Tells: Like bet sizing tells, timing tells won’t show up on a HUD. But if you’re fortunate enough to find a player with a bet sizing tell, you can really bank a ton of profit from it. Something simple like “snap pots with the nuts”, or “snap checks with air” can give you a huge edge on your opponents.
Calls 1, folds to 2: Especially if you’re playing several tables, locating specific information in your expandable HUD can be difficult to find. Writing down big leaks on players like this one, or something like “doesn’t barrel wet boards with air” will make it more likely that you’ll see it and make the correct adjustment.

Get Frantic at Showdown:
Regardless of whether you’re in the hand, you should be scrambling to find the golden nuggets of information that surface at showdown. A simple rule I tell my students is that anytime there’s a showdown, you should force yourself to take a note. Being a live degen for several years taught me the importance of paying attention to what people flip over at showdown, because in the casino you don’t have the luxury of simply checking the last hand history to see what the action was. What’s important isn’t necessarily the preceding action, but what you LEARNED from it. I mentioned earlier that the overall goal of taking any kind of note is to either make or save you money in a future situation. So when the time comes to write down what you took away from the hand, be sure to include either a definitive tell, or an inference you made from the line they took.
For example, let’s say you’re in the BB and decide to flat a BTN open with KhKsTh3c. You elect to check/call on a JJ3r board, and after the final two streets check through, you find that your opponent checked down to the river with air. Although many players would move on to the next hand without much thought, the most important thing you can take away from this hand is the simple fact that our opponent bet the flop and gave up, which means that we can reasonably infer that he doesn’t barrel light. Therefore, using this information, you can easily narrow his range to big hands on later streets if he’s giving you a ton of heat in a future situation. Or, you can confidently call flop bets with medium or weak hands with the knowledge that he’ll be very easy to play on future streets. In addition, here’s a few examples of questions you can ask yourself at showdown:
Did he play a big draw passively?
Is he capable of value betting thinly?
What bet sizing did he use if he wanted a call? What about with his air?
Did he make a mistake pre-flop?
Replay each players line from pre-flop to river and see if you can deduce anything else that’s useful.

Date Your Notes:
This seems like a no-brainer, but from my experience most players don’t date their notes nearly as often as they should. Particularly against regulars (or anyone you develop history against), it’s important to know how old your reads are. Most players games are a constant work-in-progress, so the same leaks they had six months ago might not be around anymore. Take a moment and think about how your game has progressed in the last year or so. If you’re anything like me, your game has changed significantly, so avoid being ignorant and assume that your opponents are changing their games as well. Take an extra moment, and use a few keystrokes to make your wallet fat and happy.

Man In The Mirror:
Admit it. You’re a closet Michael Jackson fan. Ok maybe you’re not, but even if you despise his music, you can use the title of his famous song as a reminder to always consider how your opponents perceive you. Particularly against thinking players who are capable of adjusting, it’s important to not only write down your perception of their game, but also how they perceive your play as well. Does he think you’re nitty? Spewy? Did he look you up on a big bluff? What does he think you’re capable of? Something as simple as, “probably thinks I’m spewy” can be the difference between a thin value bet and a check back on the river.

So far we’ve covered several easy tips for effective note taking. But what about the player labeling system I mentioned earlier? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the colors available on the FullTilt software to represent the individual categories of players.

Pink – Class of the Stake: This is the color I use for anyone that’s at the top of their stake, or crushing any given level over a significant sample size. Generally I’ll give this out to anyone that’s winning at 10 BB/100 or more through more than 50k hands. I don’t have too many of these, but an example would be world class players like durrrr, Skjervoy, or OMGClayAiken.

Purple – Solid Winning Regular: This is the color I use to label solid winning players over a large sample size. I don’t necessarily mean that a big sample is needed to give someone a purple label. It could just simply mean that I don’t think there’s much profit to be extracted from this player type for one reason or another. For example, if I play 100 hands with someone and they’re playing a 25/20 with no glaring leaks, I’ll generally give them a purple label. Under most circumstances I won’t start a table against them, and I’ll generally give them credit for being a solid, thinking player.

Green – Break-Even Regular, or Unknown Player: This player isn’t bad enough to fall under the category of “bad regular”, but it’s someone who’s just breaking even for one reason or another. I’ll also use this color because it’s the default for having a random note on someone that’s unrelated to their win rate. For example, if the only read I have on someone is that they’re playing two tables, but their playing stye is undetermined, then I’ll generally label them as a green player until I figure out something that puts them in another category. As a side-note, you should probably have a general approach/strategy for what a standard line is against an unknown player at whatever stake you’re playing. For example, the standard line against an unknown is significantly different at 1/2 than it is at 10/20.

Red – Bad Aggressive Regular: I’ll generally give this to someone who plays a ton, but steadily loses at a small rate. It’s someone who I’ll definitely start a table with or play HU against, but isn’t quite bad enough to be labeled a complete fish.

Burnt Orange – Good Aggressive Regular: For six handed stats, I’ll give this label to any player that averages a VPIP over 40, with a PFR over 30. This label isn’t necessarily associated with their winrate, it’s mainly there to alert me of how aggressive they are so that when I see them on my left, I know what to expect. An example of this type of player is 20 Buck Spin on FullTilt.

Yellow – Nitty Regular: Pretty self explanatory, but for six handed stats, I’ll give this label to any player that averages a VPIP of less than 17, with a PFR less than 12.

Dark Blue – Loose Passive Fish: This is used for anyone that has a large disparity between their VPIP and their PFR. Someone who’s tight passive (think 25/3) falls into this category, as does a player with a 50/8. Anyone that plays low and midstakes is well aware of these player types.

Bright Blue – Monstrous Loser: Sacrifice getting laid, sober up, or play on a wireless card at your buddies wedding if you have to. JUST SIT AT THIS TABLE! This is the inverted version of the pink player, and I’ll give this color label to any player that’s losing at 20BB/100 or more over a significant sample. The 89/77’s, 95/10’s, or really any massive fish that enjoys buying nice things for me falls into this category.

Now that you have a system for categorizing different players types, you can use it to make table selecting easier and more efficient. As you cruise the lobby, simply hover over each table, and get on the waitlist or sit at the tables with the highest number of bright blue, blue, and red labels that you can find. This ensures that you’re always at the tables with the weakest regs and the biggest fish, which ultimately positions you to increase your win rate and decrease your variance because the skill gap between you and the rest of the players will be significantly wider than if you were at a table of skilled regulars. Hopefully this information helps you win more money and move up in stakes. Good luck, and see you at the tables!

Posted By KasinoKrime at 04:42 AM

22 Comments

Tags: note taking

22 Comments:

coa5 posted on May 20, 2010 at 05:41 AM

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Thanks for sharing... very cool.

And, for the record, I am not a closet Michael Jackson fan, but I do love the beats that Quincy Jones put down on "Off The Wall" and "Thriller"....


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