Keep learning about poker and you will keep improving

January 17, 2017 3:00 AM


It’s no secret I take notes while playing poker. I do it right out in the open; anyone can see me do it. I make note of various types of information that can help me win more often, win more chips when I win, while losing less. All it takes is a small piece of paper, a pen, and some self-discipline.

Some opponents have commented on my note-taking – occasionally in a derisive manner. I just smile and avoid discussion. They are entitled to their opinions; so am I.

Taking notes helps in many ways: I am more inclined to focus on the game, to know what types of bluffs are more successful at this table, and better informed as to what kind of player each opponent is – what are their traits?

Then, for example, knowing a certain player is tight, when he raises from an early position I am sure he has a powerful hand, and will muck my mediocre hand – saving a pile of chips.

Another example: Some players are a lot easier to bluff out; others are just the opposite – “calling-stations.” Being reminded of that information at a glance is bound to help my bluffing statistics.

Reading Irene Edith’s recent column on rating your poker skills, I had an “a-ha moment.” It occurred to me I could make a simple change in my note-taking and gain even more edge over my opponents by doing so. I don’t know why this had not occurred to me years ago.

She pointed out “there are many degrees of luck and skill, ranging from the worst to the very best, and everything in between… We can measure our skills by the frequency and the amount of our winnings. If you never win, then (obviously) you have few of our 15 poker skills. If you are a consistent winner and the amounts won are growing with time, then you must be rated as highly skilled.”

Until recently, I denoted an opponent’s skills by observing how well he used the Hold’em Algorithm (Ref. Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision; see ad in this issue). An opponent who did not use the algorithm (or equivalent process) was considered a “pigeon,” and I wrote a “P” alongside his seating position. One who used the algorithm (or equivalent) earned a “T” for “tight.”

But, it is just as important – perhaps even more so – to identify the highly skilled players at your table. Be extra cautious when playing against them. If there are two or more at your table, consider a table change. And, if there is just one highly skilled player, you might seek to change your seat so he declares before you must act. That information can be vital to your poker health.

How can you tell? To start with, the highly skilled player is more likely to have substantially more chips in front of him than the average player. That’s a fairly good clue – but not 100 percent accurate.

Another way: The highly skilled player is likely to muck the vast majority of the cards dealt to him. On average, a truly skilled player does not stay to see the flop more than one out of four hands from a late position; and, pays to see even fewer flops from an early position.

Highly skilled players will play marginal holecards only if it is a multiway pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop) and no raises. Then, too, it’s harder to read a highly skilled player’s hand; they keep me guessing. And they are more prone to mix up their strategies and tactics, making me more uncertain.

On that basis, I have now added an “S” – for highly skilled (could also stand for “shark”) – alongside that opponent’s seating position. With nine or ten players at a full table, and players coming and going, this visual notation makes it a lot easier to play without undue stress.

Always strive to improve your game. This simple change in my note-taking certainly helps.