Taking notes at the poker table can help you win

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It’s no secret: I take notes at the poker table; and I teach my poker classes how to do it and why.

Keeping track of all sorts of things on my handy 4-1/4 in. x 5-1/2 in. sheet of paper, tucked neatly into my shirt pocket, is bound to give me vital information I would otherwise overlook or be unable to retain in my aging brain.

What kind of player is each of my opponents – tight or loose, passive or aggressive? Maniac? Calling Station? Too tight? Timid? Does he follow the Hold’em Algorithm? If so, then he’s a tight player and deserves my respect; if not, then he’s a PokerPigeon – bound to be a loser in the long run.

How many hands I win; how many I win and lose on the showdown. How many bluffs won – and lost. How much I won (or lost) at the end of the session, and how long I played.

Getting Rivered: A while back, I started keeping track of when I got rivered. I was sure I held the best hand until the showdown but an opponent who “had no right still being in the hand,” caught one of the few cards in the deck that took the pot away from me.

Of course, we all know even huge longshots sometimes win the race. With 9-to-1 odds against him, a horse still has one chance out of 10 of taking home the big prize. Bad beats do happen.

Playing low-limit hold’em at my local casino one recent night, I noticed I was being rivered much more often than usual. What’s more, while I usually win over 70% of my bluffs by using the Esther Bluff tactic, this evening I won only about 30%; and as a consequence I found myself bluffing much less often.

Plus it was a very loose-aggressive game: lots of players calling, often raising preflop. Lots of PokerPigeons at that table; a great opportunity to win lots of chips…or so I thought. Rivered 6 out of 17 hands that I lost at the showdown! Even in low-limit games, it’s rare when I get rivered more than once a session.

Taking a Break: So I took a break and joined two of my Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group members who were refreshing themselves at the bar (no alcohol) before they drove home. Maybe the texture of the game would change during that time, as some players left the game and were replaced by others.

Going back to the table, there was little change that I could discern. And that’s when I really goofed…Why didn’t I ask for a table change? I really don’t know. The information was right there in front of me, vividly looking up at me whenever I used my note sheet. The table was too loose; too many Calling-Stations and chasers. I was bound to lose more vulnerable (beatable) hands – and, indeed, I did!

Finally: It wasn’t until much later in the evening when the table texture became more typical – more “normal.” By then, I was quite a bit behind, hoping to win back my losses. To a large extent, I did. But, I must admit, I still went home a small loser for the session when the table broke up.

My Big Mistake: Thinking about it while driving home from the casino, I realized the mistake I had made. Actually, I knew it as I was playing and suffering – getting rivered hand after hand. That table was too loose; there was no way I could control the hands I played. Raising on the flop with a vulnerable hand, failed to force many opponents to fold.

Lots of card-chasers, in the long run, are bound to be losers. But, in the short term (right now), it only takes one to beat the odds against him. And the more of them at the table, the more often one will catch me on the river…I should have asked for a table change – early on. But I didn’t. A lesson learned!

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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