Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Importance of Note Taking in Online Poker

Most online poker rooms include a feature that allows you to take notes on your opponents. This is extremely useful. Even though many online card rooms have enormous user bases, you’ll be surprised to find yourself playing against some of the same players frequently. By taking notes on these players, you can categorize and remember their strategies, and you’ll be better prepared to play against them and beat them in the future.

Learning Abbreviations

When preparing to take notes on your opponents, your first step is to learn and use some basic abbreviations. The pace of play in online poker is often very fast compared to live poker, and you’ll need to be able to take notes quickly and efficiently. Some abbreviations deal with betting position; EP is early position, MP is middle position, LP is late position, BTN is button, SB is small blind, BB is big blind. Other abbreviations have to do with betting strategies; PFR is preflop raise, 3x is three times the size of the big blind, C-bet is continuation bet, Chk is check, VB is value bet.

Some abbreviations indicate the types of hands that players are pursuing; Fdrw is a flush Draw, SDrw is straight draw, Gut is a gutshot straight draw, Back is a backdoor flush draw, TP is top pair, MP is a mid pair, BP is a bottom pair. Other notes might be an indication of what to do (or what not to do) against a particular player. For example, DNB means Do Not Bluff. You can obviously change these abbreviations as you see fit. As long as the system is efficient and works for you, your note taking will be useful.

Taking Notes on Playing Styles

When you start to utilize note taking in online poker, you should begin by paying careful attention to your opponents’ playing styles. You can categorize your adversaries in one of four ways: Tight-aggressive, Tight-passive, Loose-aggressive, and Loose-passive. A tight player brings only premium hands to the flop, and only brings a hand to the showdown when it’s still strong. Looser players see more flops and often end up in the showdown with a garbage hand.

An aggressive player will bet aggressively, while a passive player won’t invest much money in the pot regardless of the strength of his hand. These qualities can be used in combination when you’re taking your notes. It is advisable to use the first few hands of a poker game to categorize each player into one of these playing styles.

Other Considerations for Note Taking in Online Poker

After you establish a note on your opponent’s general playing style, you can start asking yourself more specific questions in order to make your notes more complete. Is your opponent calling excessively? Are they pursuing draws too often? Are they paying too much to bring these draws to the flop? Do they place too much value on top pair? Are they making sure to bring a good kicker to the showdown? What is the average size of their bets, and do their betting amounts directly correlate with the strength of their hand?

Alternatively, they might be using uniform betting sizes to cover their tracks and prevent you from detecting a betting tell. These are all important things to take note of when playing online poker.

The Importance of Consistency in Note Taking in Online Poker

As you’re taking notes, you’ll be able to choose whatever format works best for you. You might decide that your note will be a description of their playing style, their average bet size, the types of hands their playing, and any other warnings to remember about that player. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re consistent. If you make a note of Do Not Bluff for one player, be sure to make the same note for every player who you’ve decided can’t be bluffed. Incomplete or inconsistent notes can be misleading when you see a player two weeks after your first encounter with him.

Why Poker Students Master the Game

Anyone who has watched the WPT will be familiar with Mike Sexton’s line “poker takes moments to learn, but a lifetime to master”. There are many new poker players who fail to grasp the last part of this great quote.

I was reminded of this recently when playing poker with a friend, who has been playing poker for less than 2 years. We played heads-up at PokerStars, and I beat him up pretty badly. He didn’t say “well done, you outplayed me”, rather “you got lucky!” This friend says the same thing on anything I beat him at. You could say he’s a bad loser!

I know the result of one heads-up session doesn’t mean I’m necessarily the better poker player. It’s the long game that counts, right? But I know for a fact I’m a better poker player than my friend. I’ve been playing poker much longer, have considerably more playing experience, and have a firmer grasp on poker strategy. This was apparent in some of the things he said during our heads-up battle, questioning my calls, and generally failing to recognize the beginner mistakes he was continually making.

It got to the point where I told him “you’ll never be a really good poker player – because you already think you are”. I think he was quite insulted by my comment, but it’s the truth. The reason – he is a poker fan, not a poker student. He watches poker on TV, talks about poker, and shares his bad beat stories with me. But he never ever questions his ability or asks what I think he could do to improve his game. Because he thinks he’s really good already (he isn’t), he’ll never improve without critical self-analysis. Put simply, he’ll reach a plateau – and his progress will be slow.

I’m not a great poker player, and know people who are far better than I’ll ever be. I also know of people who have overtaken me in terms of ability. I’ve played poker with the some of the same people for a number of years now. I can see great progress in some of them, and others have stagnated. The poker players who have improved are those who have recognized that they are not yet the greatest poker player to walk the earth, and have actively sought to improve their poker game.

Speaking of the world’s greatest poker players; let’s use Phil Hellmuth as an example. Everyone in the poker world knows about Phil and his huge ego. He is undoubtedly a great poker player, but is his uncontrollable ego damaging his current poker game, and his future success? Well, Daniel Negreanu of Team PokerStars, one of the biggest poker sites, seems to think so:

“Ivey, Durr [sic], and Patrik just play at another level. In order to compete with them you have to work very hard, play lots of hours, and study your weaknesses. I’m willing to admit they are far better than I am at no limit cash games, but I think Hellmuth actually believes he is the “best no limit hold’em player in the world by far. He’s either lying to the public when he makes those statements, or, he genuinely believes that. Either way, he’s either lying or completely delusional”.

This reminds me of my friend, who doesn’t study the game, yet thinks he’s great already. If you’re like my friend of share traits similar to Hellmuth (may god help you!), then let this be a lesson to you.