Take notes at the poker table

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We learned to take notes when we went to school. When I broke my right arm playing football at Boston Latin School, I realized the importance of note taking.

I had to learn to write (hardly legible) with my left hand while my right hand was incapacitated. I can’t imagine getting through college and grad school without knowing how to take good notes. These days, I take notes at the poker table, using a small sheet of paper that folds into my shirt pocket.

Often a player will ask me about it. After all, you don’t usually see an old coot sitting there writing notes at the poker table. My stock answer is either a simple “yes” with a smile, or “that’s something we are taught in our poker class at the senior center.”

Why take notes?

Poker is a game of partial information with which you make decisions. Probably most important is the kind of hands each opponent plays, his position, and how he plays.

Is he aggressive (maybe a maniac), a tight player, too loose for his own good or a deceptive player? Does he often bluff or check-raise?) Is that person a “calling-station?” (Don’t try to bluff him out.)

As I observe the game, I write notes to have the information at my beck and call. That gives me an edge over my opponents.

There are eight opponents at your table. Evaluating each and recalling that information in the heat of battle may be difficult – especially for us older players.

The Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group recently celebrated my 84th birthday at the Normandie Casino. As we age, our memories slow down. Lots of information is further complicated by players changing seats, and new players replacing those who leave.

It’s easy to keep notes (in shorthand) and refer to them as needed. One of my students suggested I write a booklet on taking and using notes at the table – like my Hold’em Algorithm booklet .

A recent column by Tom “Time” Leonard in Poker Player Newspaper (“Old Man River;” Feb. 28, 2011) gave a good example of why this information is so important.

“In the big blind with K-3 offsuit against two players, you flop a second king along with two suited cards that don’t match your hole cards. You bet on the flop and get called by an early limper. You are heads-up.

“An off-suit ace falls on the turn. Oh, oh. Fearing your opponent has an ace, you check. He checks after you. The river is a brick. Your two kings may be the best hand. Should you bet or check?”

Knowing how this opponent plays his hands can help immeasurably in making that decision. If a tight player, he will fold unless you are beaten. It could be costly to bet into him. You wisely check.

If a calling-station, he’ll call you with almost anything. You would be wise to bet for value.

If aggressive and deceptive, your check would encourage him to attempt a bluff against you. Whereas he would likely fold if you came out betting.

Taking notes, you would have the information needed to make that decision.

Another plus

There’s yet another benefit you can gain by taking notes during the hands you sit out. Most hands are best folded before the flop. After tossing hand after hand into the muck, you may start losing patience. Who could blame you?

After all, you came to the casino to play poker – not to just sit and watch. There is a limit to your patience. Now you realize that taking notes, accompanied by the observations you must make during the play of the hand are beneficial. While you are sitting out it helps to overcome any sense of impatience, keeping you from investing in losing hands.

So, all in all, taking notes at the poker table is a big plus.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected]

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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