The importance of note-taking whilst playing online poker

Note taking in pokerIf you are serious about improving your online game then getting in the habit of taking good quality, meaningful notes about your opponents is vital. Taking a few seconds to do this can make future decisions much more easy and give you easy ways to exploit other players' habits and tendencies.

So why do we want to make notes?

- It gives us bite-sized information about the other players so we can exploit their weaknesses

- and also exploit their strengths!

- We can make better decisions during a poker game to gain more chips/money

- We can make better decisions to lose less chips/money

- It allows us to record non-quantative data (such as timing tells) that poker software like Holdem Manager won't give us

- It gives us an immediate edge over players that aren't bothering to note-take

- By finding out (and recording notes on) what style of play tilts our opponents we can exploit them further

Things to include in your notes

1) Timing tells - if they insta-check does that mean they're weak, or trying to trap you? Many players are very lazy and will just click the check box or insta-check through impatience when they haven't hit a flop. You can then exploit this time and time again by stabbing at the pot when it's checked to you. Conversely, many players will know that an insta-check will appear weak and will do it with a view to check-raising you. If you have notes that your opponent does this you can save chips and money by checking as well.

2) Bet sizing tells - make a note of what it means when the other player bets big/small/etc on each street - e.g. does a large bet on the river indicate weakness and a bluff? Or should it be taken at face value?

3) The date you made the note - this is something that many players forget to put in the note. But it's really important. Why? Because players change and improve. A note made six months or a year ago for example, I wouldn't place as much importance on as one I made on a player last week. It's also a significant factor to bear in mind if you're noting on whether they're a profiting player or not. Before I started noting the date there were a few times I'd changed my play on account of my notes saying they were a losing player only to find the note was way out of date and they were now outplaying me!

4) General style of play - is your opponent a tight 'nit' of a player, only playing premium hands such as big pocket pairs and AK? Or are they a complete maniac calling any raise and bet with any two cards? Write it down in their notes and adjust your future play accordingly.

5) Weaknesses - as you've observed their play, what would you say their key weaknesses are? As a SNG player I see many players who can't grasp the concept of good play on the bubble. I will always write this in their notes, especially if they are the type who will call blind-to-blind shoves light. Again, this is important as you can adjust your play accordingly. Or, perhaps they tilt very easily to being raised or the time. Note down any area of their play you can take advantage of and consistently use it against them. (Remember in future, if their style of play changes, to change your notes!)

6) Strengths - we also want to be recording which areas of the game that player is strongest in. For example, if they're particularly good in the late stages of the game or on the bubble. Player strengths can be exploited as much as their weaknesses (for example a good multi-tabling SNG player will often be playing a standard TAG game and be open to being exploited by stealing more from them)

Colour-coding during poker games

If your chosen poker room supports it, it's also really important to use the colour-coding feature of the software. This allows you to get information at a glance about your opponents. Whatever colours you choose to use, keep them simple and keep them consistent. As an example, I use green to indicate a standard recreational/losing player, yellow for break-even or mildly profiting, red for consistently winning players, and blue for complete lunatics.
Colour-coding is especially helpful when you're playing multiple tables at once as you will be needing to make more decisions more often. As an example, when your raise is called out of position by a player you know to be profiting, you would probably give this more significance than someone who has earned the 'fishbowl' icon on Sharkscope!

Note-taking and colour-coding when not playing

If you're someone who is regularly playing one type of game and buyin, I really recommend taking one or two hours a week and dedicate them to note taking and colour-coding. You can do this when you're not playing yourself, by opening up a few tables that are running and observing them. This is great as you haven't got the pressure or time restrictions you would have if you were actually playing and you can get information on a large number of players very quickly.
It's also a very useful way of getting reads on 'regs' that you will be up against frequently.

Summary

Note-taking (and colour coding) is a quick, easy and free way to record and use information on your opponents. It all helps to give you the 'edge' that is increasingly needed in today's online poker world. Any time you have a tell on a opponent, note take it. If you're starting to get a feel for their starting hand ranges, note it down. Remember to keep the format of your notes and colour-coding consistent, and to include the date you wrote the note.
Then start using that information in conjunction with a headsup display (HUD) from poker software such as Holdem Manager or Poker Office.

Good luck at the tables!