Making effective notes on opponents can often be the difference between winning and losing a big pot
Almost all online poker sites offer players the ability to take notes on opponents, yet few people take advantage of this – and fewer still do so effectively. How many times have you found yourself in a crucial pot with a player you’ve got a note on and taken a look at it, only to see a fairly meaningless word like ‘idiot’ or ‘donkey’. While this note might have meant something at the time of writing, when facing the same player months later it’s far too vague and tells you little that can help.
It’s no surprise that most of the crucial parts to note-taking are also important in the wider game of poker and, while each one of the key points on their own may be ineffective, when taken as a whole you should get a highly effective note that could make the difference in any given tournament or cash session. While a note might not be able to tell you an opponent’s specific hand, it can help you put them on a much tighter range, which should be one of your main aims.
You’re not going to have time to write everything out in full so you’ll have to create your own short-hand way of taking notes, which gets the most pertinent info down quickly. There’s no right or wrong way to go about this, it’s just finding what works best for you.
As a guide use short-hand for common factors such as positions (UTG = under the gun, MP = mid position, CO = cutoff, BTN = button), and actions (c/r = check-raise, c/f = check-fold, c-bet = continuation bet). And use symbols like <, > and c. (approximately) to save time. Also, having seen an opponent do a certain thing once does not mean they will always play a hand in a certain way, so put a ‘?’ in brackets if you’re not sure the note is 100% reliable.
Jamming A-9o for effective stacks of 15bb is a very different thing in early position than on the button. Likewise a UTG min-raise will often mean something vastly different to a min-raise from the button. If you see someone constantly limping in early position you can safely assume this is not always a sign of strength so take a note of it, although if you see someone limp big hands from early position take note of that too.
The most important thing to note is how they react to being raised. You’ll make most of your money in poker from bad players, so isolating weak players who limp/call a lot preflop is a good way to do this. Noting how tight or loose a player is in the blinds is useful, and when used in conjunction with stack size, can be very effective. Noting if a player will smooth-call with a monster in position is a great reminder to have and can save you valuable chips.
Also note if a player often bets into the preflop raiser out of position, how players react to being re-raised and what they do on the turn. And any hands where you reach the showdown and get to see their cards provides vital info for notes.
So many players, even the very good ones, will often play certain strength hands exactly the same way every time and it’ll often be their bet sizing that gives it away. The massive over-shove preflop is usually a hand like A-K or A-Q, so if you see someone do this with K-K or A-A make a note, perhaps something like ‘3-bet shoved for >25bbs with A-A from the BB after an EP raise and BTN flatted’. This tells you that the villain is capable of this play again in future.
Take note if someone is capable of overbetting the river for value, or if they always have air when they overbet. A common play you’ll see online is someone betting, say, 100 into a 1,200 pot on the flop – knowing whether this is total air, a draw, or a player getting tricky with a set is crucial. Luckily most players won’t balance their range in spots like these and it’ll always mean the same thing. If you get to see their cards note down what it means.
If someone changes the size of their preflop raise in terms of big blinds and you get to see what they show down, be sure to jot down what it means. For instance, many players make smaller raises preflop with monsters to get action and larger raises preflop with weaker hands that they don’t wish to see a flop with.
The postflop min check-raise is very common these days – and it can be everything from the nuts to total air. Does an opponent check-call with flush draws, are they capable of thin value bets on scary boards? There could almost be an entire article devoted to taking notes on bet sizing!
If you ever make a spewy play or get lucky and suck out on someone, make a note of that in the opponent’s player profile. Something along the lines of ‘likely thinks I’m crazy given history’ will remind you – and then copy and paste any relevant hands in the notes box to back this up. Knowing your image against regulars, especially in cash games, is vital as it affects how they’ll play against you. And once you know that you can react accordingly.
Online poker is constantly changing so whenever possible date your notes as opponents’ play will change over time. You should also type in what stakes and what game you’re in. So you might note down: ‘$20 NLHE f/o’ or ‘6-max 25c/50c PLO’. If you play mostly cash, jotting down the stakes you’ve seen an opponent play at is crucial. You can also note if they post when they first sit down, wait for the big blind to roll around, and if they usually short-stack – all indicators that often define whether an opponent is going to be tough to beat.
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