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Dr. Alan N. Schoonmaker, world-famed poker psychologist and author of many poker books, including The Psychology of Poker and Ducy, co-authored with David Sklansky, recently wrote a series of columns on “Switching from Online to Brick-and-Mortar Poker.”

One column recommends players take notes while seated at the poker table (CardPlayer magazine; Jan. 11, 2012). Having myself written a column on “Take Notes at the Poker Table,” published in the May 24, 2011 issue of GamingToday, I was much interested in Dr. Schoonmaker’s views.

Last year, I gave a poker class lecture on note taking while playing, but I observe none of my “students” with pen (or pencil) in hand while playing.

Why not take notes?

Playing in the local casinos, I believe I am the only person there who is taking notes. When was the last time you saw a player taking notes? Dr. Schoonmaker opines that, “when people won’t do something that will obviously benefit them, there must be strong inhibiting forces.” He offers several possible explanations:

They think taking notes violates the rules. But there are no rules against it. You even can drink alcoholic beverages.

They think, “real players don’t need notes.” Schoonmaker suggests this is “just another form of arrogant denial.” How come doctors and other professionals need notes? He asks, “Are you smarter?”

They’re embarrassed. Maybe so, but I take notes and am never embarrassed. It’s a free world!

They’re just lazy. Could be!

I would offer a fifth reason. They think, “taking notes is like work; it just isn’t fun.” Imagine what goes on in the player’s mind: “I came to play, not to take notes; that’s like working.”

There’s more to the story.

Schoonmaker quotes poker-hall-of-famer Dan Harrington:

“In top-class poker you will encounter many players who, after each session, go home and write down everything they’ve seen at the table.”

With all due respect, I think that practice is a poor compromise. It may be fine for a home game where you play against the same people every time. With that approach, you have to rely on your memory but you likely are tired by the end of the session and by the time you drive home.

Better to make your notes on the spot, while the information is fresh in your mind. Besides, you can include much more information and better adjust to player changes at the table. You can use the information now, rather than at another occasion when that player happens to be at your table – if you remember.

It’s best to take notes when you’re not involved in the hand and can better observe each opponent – what kinds of hands he plays; whether he’s passive or aggressive; a “maniac;” loose or tight; easily intimidated and bluffed out; a “tricky” player who often bluffs; chases with small pairs; etc.

Is he a PokerPigeon or a PokerShark? Does he play too many hands – more than the hold’em algorithm would recommend. Most important, I can look at my notes (right now) to make a decision that would make me more money or help me avoid a big loss. (A dollar saved at the poker table is worth more than a dollar won!)

If my notes show I’m losing too many hands on the showdown, or my bluffs are getting called too often, perhaps it’s time for a table change.

Occasionally, a slyly grinning opponent will cast aspersions on my note taking. “Are you writing a book?” or, mockingly, “Did you write down that hand I just won?” I don’t know about you but throughout high school, college, and graduate school (MS at MIT in 1952), it was important to be adept at taking notes during lectures. During my engineering career, I always used a notebook while attending meetings or conferences.

Bottom line: Rather than rely on your memory (there are eight other players at the table), taking notes at the poker table offers a big edge for winners.

“The Engineer” Epstein is a noted author and teacher of poker in the West Los Angeles area, who is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame.


About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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