Jennifear’s Guide to Effective Note Taking

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Talented poker players don’t make most of their money from being great. While brilliant play is certainly critical to our bottom line, the vast majority of our profit comes as a direct result of our opponents’ mistakes. Since that’s how we make our money, it’s best to know when those mistakes are coming, and from whom. Effective note taking is an asset that we can use to take advantage of these errors.

Editor’s Note: This article received the most views for user-submitted content in June, 2010.

* PocketFives Article of the Month — June 2010 *

I know you probably don’t take good notes, or possibly any notes at all. In doing some research for this article, I came across questions from new players asking how to take notes. I found several threads, over several sites, all of which had less than 15 responses. I’ve seen screen shots of the tournament lobby from your big wins. With a few exceptions from true professionals, there you are, your screen name at the top of the lobby, victorious!….and no one underneath you is color coded, indicating that you didn’t take a single note. You’re busted! What’s that? You do take notes? Let me see! No, “BOOGER-EATING ASS CLOWN WHO PLAYS 83o AND SUCKS OUT EVERY F***ING TIME!” does not count. Sorry.

In doing research, I tried to figure out why people aren’t taking notes. So I asked around. Many people told me that they are just lazy and I know that’s probably true. Some told me that they play too many tables to reliably note take, and I can understand that, but I’ll show you a couple ways around that. Some told me that they relied on their HUDs for reads, which is great, but there are holes in that philosophy. Some told me that they didn’t run into the same players often enough to make it worthwhile. That’s just not true. Some told me that they didn’t know how. I can fix that!

Other than the obvious reason of picking apart our opponents, there are several reasons to take notes. Note taking helps you keep your focus on the game, alleviating boredom and prevents you from making wild fancy plays without a reason. It also re-focuses you after a bad beat and keeps you from remaining tilted. When done correctly, it gives you a feeling of dominance and ownership of the table. It allows you to quickly see games with lots of good players in it that you should avoid.

General Note Taking Tips

1. Include stack size and position

Someone who makes one play from the button may make a different play while under the gun. Also people play different stack sizes in different ways. With this, you can also occasionally recall the situation at a later date.

2. Be specific

Rather than writing “raised KK,” try “raised KK 3xBB from the button with 20BB.”

20BB 3x BU KK

This will allow you to get an idea of what hands your opponents raise from which position, and will immediately allow you to detect variations in raise sizing. One of the most profitable things that an opponent can give you is the knowledge that they raise stronger hands for a different amount than weaker hands. This is one very good reason not to solely rely on a HUD for your reads.

3. Eliminate “noise”

“Noise” is anything in your notes that doesn’t give you information. Don’t waste your time noting that your opponent made a standard play. “Called 8BB shove with AA in the BB” is a good example of noise. You want to focus your energy on noting when a player does something unusual.

4. Don’t let your emotions get in the way

If you take a note after a bad beat or your opponent’s poorly played hand that crippled your stack, leave your feelings out of it. Stick to the facts. “DONKEY who limped then called my shove with QTo” should be replaced with “12BB, cutoff, limpcalled QTo”

12BB CO HBLC QTo!

As fun as it may be to call your opponent names, that won’t enhance your decisions against this player in the future.

5. Color Coding

Many sites offer you the option of color coding your opponents, and I recommend that you use this. Decide which colors work for you. Here’s an example of my color coding system on Pokerstars:

Yellow – old note
Green – bad player
Light Blue – below average player
Blue – average player/unknown
Dark Blue – above avg player
Purple – solid player
Red – reserved for myself so I can identify myself in the tournament lobby
Orange – special note (something that I need to see as soon as I sit down)

That system may or many not work for you. It’s just an example, but do use something for easy identification.

6. Take advantage of the “built-in” icons

Some sites give indicators of how well an opponent might play. PokerStars allows a player to show off their VIP status, and I’ve found that Bronze Stars who show their VIP status generally play poorly. I’ve experienced that players with 3-6 stars on PokerStars or an Iron Man Chip showing on Full Tilt Poker generally have good, wider, more aggressive shoving ranges. If you see a Supernova, or Supernova Elite, then mark them as such. This is not to say that a “Supernova” is necessarily good. After all, if they have yet to figure out that publicly displaying this information is detrimental to their results, they most likely have other leaks too. However, these generalizations are often very handy.

7. Make the current action a priority

Don’t be so obsessive about your note taking that you miss what’s going on in the moment. If you do miss something, keep your eye out on the hand history.

8. Consolidate notes after you have some information

If you can’t decipher it quickly, and it won’t all fit on the notes screen, it might not be useful in a pinch. Once you know that a player limps weak, you might make one note at the top that says “SERIAL WEAK LIMPFOLDER x5” rather than 5 separate notes that tell you that they limp, then fold to a raise. Quality beats quantity. Use shorthand whenever possible. I’ll cover how to use shorthand in the next section of this article.

9. While it’s important to use shorthand, write out, in caps, anything that stands out or is very unusual that you will need to know immediately.

Examples of this include: TRAPPY, LIMPS AA UTG, BUBBLE STALLER, BUBBLE ABUSER, SERIAL LIMPER, WON’T FOLD, ATTACKS MINBETS, RESTEAL CAPABLE, 2.5x=STRONG/3x=WEAK, ALLIN OVERBET RIVER=WEAK

Also, use exclamation points for any note that you feel requires special attention. 10x UTG = JJ! is a good example.

10. When you are moved to a new table in a MTT, look at the hand history

This applies to PokerStars. When you are moved to a new table and click “Instant Hand History,” you get to see the action in the previous five hands. Look to see what hands were shown down and what was done with them. Often you’ll get a jump on the action.

11. Prepare yourself for the future by checking leader boards.

Late last year, I looked at the entrants in a 100-man TLB freeroll, and noted them all, “Top 100 TLB 2009.” It helped me get a jump on knowing that they were probably good players.

12. Close the poker client properly when finishing your session.

On some sites, your notes don’t save until you have closed the program. If you have been playing all day at PokerStars, then shut down your computer without closing out the program, you will lose your notes for the day.

13. Taking notes on yourself is possible on some sites.

On PokerStars, you can type your own screen name in the “Notes” section and type notes on yourself. On Full Tilt, you can click “Ctrl-F” to Find a player, type your screen name in, then click “Player Notes.” You can use these tools as well if you are moved away from someone you wanted to note.

14. On some sites, you can use the Hand History Replayer to take notes

Right-click on your opponent in the Hand Replayer, and you can take your notes from there.

15. Pay attention to how your opponent plays the nuts, AA, or big draws

Many players always play big hands the same way, and if you can find that pattern, you can make some very nice hero folds. Most players are creatures of habit and will do the same thing every time with no mixing or imagination in their play. For example, if someone checks a set on a draw heavy flop, you can assume that they bet the flop with non-monsters only. If a player check/calls, chasing with draws, more than once, then they are not likely to use a semi-bluff next time.

16. If you use a HUD, pay attention to things that a HUD doesn’t give you data on.

Two examples of this are bet timing tells, such as “FAST CALL= DRAW”, “PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE CALL = TRAPPING”, or raise sizing, such as “Minraise AA from the button”

17. Showdown is SHOWTIME!

At almost every showdown, there are tender morsels of information about how a hand was played. A good rule of thumb is to take one note every time that cards are shown. When you see a showdown, it’s time to take notes!

Note Taking Shorthand

Position:

BB – Big Blind
SB – Small Blind
BU – Button
CO – Cutoff
HJ – Hijack
3o – Button-3
4o – Button-4
5o – Button-5
6o – Button-6

I don’t use “MP” for middle position because it is less specific than using the above abbreviations.

I don’t use “UTG” for under the gun on it’s own, because UTG 9-handed is very different than UTG 5-handed. I may use the two together to describe a situation. Example: “UTG 4o 10BB shove A7o” tells me that a player UTG shoved A7o with 10BB at a seven-handed table.

Pre-flop Actions and Examples:

HBL – High Blind Limp – A limp with less than 25BB in your stack
*taken from the book Sit N’ Go Strategy by Collin Moshman
HBOL – High Blind Overlimp – An overlimp with less than 25BB in your stack
LBL – Low Blind Limp
LBOL – Low Blind Overlimp (LBOL 44 5o would indicate that a player overlimped over the UTG limper with 44, with more than 25BB)
HBMR – High Blind Minraise
LBMR – Low Blind Minraise
LB3x – Low Blind 3x raise
18BS – 18 Blind Shove
16B3xR – 16 Blind 3x raise
F3x – Flatted (called) 3x raise. F3x BU QJo would indicate that a player called a raise with QJo on the button.
PM – Pot Mash HBPM AKo CO would indicate that with less than 25BB, this player hit the “pot” button to raise AKo from the cutoff. Knowing that someone hits the pot button rather than typing in their bets is a great indicator that they are probably a bad player.
GUS – Give Up Shove – A shove made to give up. 10-20 GUS 520 J8o BU would indicate that a player just gave up after losing most of his stack at the first level, and shoved 26BB. I use this so that I don’t get the idea that their usual 26xBB shove is J8o! (courtesy of Dissident)
RWAP – Raise Without a Plan – This is useful for determining which players plan ahead. If a player raised 12BB from the button, then stalled quite a bit after I shoved from the BB, before finally calling with A9o, that would be 3xRWAP BU A9o.
FE – Fold Equity
AI – Allin (10BB RR Q9h no FE after 5o 3x would indicate that this player, who had 10BB, reraised Q9h without any fold equity after another player raised 3x from button-5.)

When a shortstack goes all-in, the actions of the next player to join the pot:

FSS – Flat Shorty’s Shove.
SSS – Shove Shorty’s Shove.
MRSS – Min-raise Shorty’s Shove.
RSS – Raise Shorty’s Shove.

This helps you determine a player’s trickiness and aggression levels.

Example: “FSS 18BB SB AA” tells me that someone went all-in, and this player flatted from the SB with AA, hoping to trap. Someone with “SSS 18BB SB AA” is not trappy, so they would not likely be the type of player to limp AA UTG.

Post-flop:

CB – Continuation Bet
NCB – No Continuation Bet
1BM – 1 Barrel Monkey – Someone who c-bets every flop but gives up on the turn if they are called.
C1F2 – Calls 1, Folds to 2. This player calls a c-bet but folds to a double barrel bet.
BRR – Bets are Real – Someone who doesn’t bet as a bluff
RRR – Raises are Real – Someone who doesn’t raise as a bluff or to semi-bluff
BWC – Bets When Checked to – Someone who never met a check he didn’t like. Easy to trap.
POB – Post Oak Bluff – Also known as a Blocking Bet, Donk Bet, or Probe Bet. It’s a minimum lead bet into the preflop raiser, that is usually weak, but sometimes strong. “POB with top set” indicates that this player leads this way with monsters. “POB/f” means that they led weak, but folded to a raise.
CFC – Can’t Fold a Chair – Someone who should have folded, but didn’t, might get tagged this way. Someone who calls a raise, re-raise, and a shove with AJo might get the tag “CFC AJo regardless of action. (courtesy of papoorboy)
CCD – Can’t Close a Door – Someone with no closing ability. A player who fails to make an aggressive shove in a SNG against a midstack in an obvious shoving spot might get this tag.
TES – Top End Shover – Someone who only shoves real hands
TEC – Top End Caller – Someone who calls shoves too tight.
BAM – Bad At Math – Usually reserved for a player who folds despite incredible odds (1.8BB BB fold! BAM!)

In closing, be sure to back your notes up frequently. It doesn’t take long to accumulate 1,000 or more notes, and when you do, losing those notes can be quite disheartening. Back up your notes frequently. Some sites have this feature built into their software.

Happy profiling!

Jennifear

Jennifear is a proud Contributing Writer for Pocketfives.com and a Presto Award Winner for 2006’s Most Valuable Poster, as voted by the readers of PocketFives. She teaches private poker lessons, and you can find the details at Jennifear.com. A discount on these lessons is available if you support PocketFives.com by joining a poker site through one of the site links.

*Opinions expressed in this article and all member-submitted content belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of PocketFives.com, its staff, or administration.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. jeez, how you have time to read (and take) all those notes is beyond me.

    Green: limp/fold or r/f an absurd stack in SNGs
    Yellow: SNG reg
    Red: More Annoying SNG Reg
    Purple: Someone I Know In Real Life
    Deep Blue: Nit

    Bam, SNG classification system optimized for 45 tabling. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

    • Great article! Although I am not as thorough as you suggest, I agree that note taking is very useful. It really helps you pick out some weak spots. It becomes especially valuable late in the tournament as you get deep in the money. Since you mentioned it in the article, I actually have proof. 🙂 http://www.flickr.com/photos/pdxsean/4604658437/

      • Great article! Although I am not as thorough as you suggest, I agree that note taking is very useful. It really helps you pick out some weak spots. It becomes especially valuable late in the tournament as you get deep in the money. Since you mentioned it in the article, I actually have proof. 🙂 http://www.flickr.com/photos/pdxsean/4604658437/

        Haha Allinflush, that’s what the screen shot SHOULD look like! Way to go!

        I also saw a recent win on AdamSapple19’s blog that had quite a bit of color! 🙂

          • Nice job Jenn! I play mostly O8, so there are couple of other things I like, 1. Make note of poor starting hand selection, since this indicates weak players. 2. Use purple to designate all players who make a final table. If they do it once, not a big deal but the repeaters you can count on as being pretty strong players.

          • Very Helpful Article, Another note I use that I learned while watching a Bond18 video on Savvy is the short stack nit

          • great article, one thing i might add is to date your notes. a note from 3 years ago is probably much less relevant than a note from last week and its safe to assume that someone is probably a bit of a different player after enough time passes

          • great article, one thing i might add is to date your notes. a note from 3 years ago is probably much less relevant than a note from last week and its safe to assume that someone is probably a bit of a different player after enough time passes

            Good thought. I stopped doing this because after a while I noticed that old notes still were relevant a good % of the time, and I rarely found old notes that didn’t hold true. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to do this, and it’s a great recommendation.

            FYI: Pokerstars now tells you when your notes were last updated on a player.

          • Jen Keep them coming, you are truly an aficionado of the game. Keep the articles coming, your the best!

          • Great article. I started using this system a little while back and I was def overwhelmed at first but like anything else the more you use it the more comfortable it becomes. It’s sort of like another language so dont get frustrated, it gets easier!

          • I also use Sharkscope and put in the player ROI and type of game they play. i.e.38% Shark in tournaments.

          • Thanks for the great article Jen! Once again, you prove to be worthy! 🙂 I’m probably going to change my note taking a bit after this article but here is what I currently do:

            PPL NA 10 AKs UTG minraise. SnG

            AQos SB lmp after CO lmp. R gives me A high straight, he calls overbet. 🙂 SnG

            Q10s HJ calls MP minraise. SnG

            AA UTG1 minraise. SnG

            KK CO 3bets 300 to 500. SNG

            PPL= PokerProLabs. I base my coloring off of their rating and actually looking at their charts.