Information Management in Online Poker - Notes and Colours
The Importance of Note Taking on Poker Opponents
Due to their slower pace, live poker games provide several opportunities for obtaining information either about a problematic hand or the playing styles of the opponents. It is not forbidden, for instance, to “interview” our opponents, who—if we do it in a suitably polite form—are sometimes even willing to reveal their current cards. Of course, for the most part, we must settle for the observation of betting habits, the identification of telltale physical signs (tells) and the performance of the usual mathematical calculations.
In the beginning, many predicted the end of online poker pleading the lack of necessary information and argued that the game did not have much sense if it was exempt from one of its most essential elements, namely the possibility of gaining information. Nevertheless, for this very reason, others saw a great potential in the online version of poker. They considered the mathematical side much more exploitable. In retrospect, it is presumably the latter group that stood closer to reality, yet to some extent, they were also wrong. Online poker has been alive and kicking since then, and the truth is that we can obtain plenty of information about the opponents, what is more, in quite diverse ways.
Since the spread of utility programs and databases, for many, the play of their opponents has been an open book as much as they would observe them live. However, the interpretation of different statistical figures needs a great deal of practice, not to mention the fact that the setting of utility programs counts to be an independent profession nowadays. Not only do we have to know what each number means, but also the conditions under which we can rely on these data. Take for example statistic probability: if we do not have enough hands, we will not get reliable data. Sometimes figures set in and indicate real tendencies reliably only after more thousands or tens of thousands of hands.
There exists, however, a more simple and easily embraceable way of obtaining and preserving information, which is provided by most poker rooms. It is called note taking. It is quickly learnable and applicable; free and the recorded data can be brought forward immediately. An appropriately evolved system may be of invaluable help for a beginner player; in addition, it forces them not to wander away during the idle minutes of a game. Note taking can occupy the minutes when we are not in action, thus we can make use of our playing time entirely.
Our observations can be recalled the most simply by the use of colour codes, which we can distribute inside the chat window displayed on every table. The majority uses this table for abusing other players, but we had better get familiar with the applications available here. Besides being able to read back all the information related to the current hand, we can usually find the most important indicators of our play here; for example, how many times and in what positions we entered the game, etc.
After a certain time spent with poker, it is not enough to deal with our own play exclusively; we also need to observe our opponents, since their playing styles basically determine our current strategy and thus affects our entire play. If, for instance, we notice that a player plays regularly and on more tables, we can put him/her down as a local regular. This, of course, does not mean that s/he is professional, perhaps s/he just plays for too long to find a single table exciting and longs for more action. We can mark him/her with some neutral color, let us say with yellow or white.
Having gained more experience about a player, we can have a more detailed picture of him/her. If we see that s/he mainly plays in position, usually enters the game with a raise and the best cards only, we are facing a nasty player trying to make the biggest profit possible following a pre-defined strategy. We can mark him/her with red as a warning for the future to be careful with him/her!
There are, however, plenty of regulars who only while away their extra time and are primarily motivated by excitement. Their knowledge is less thorough and manifold. They jaw a lot in the chat, comment every hand (even those they did not take part in), regularly reveal their cards regardless whether they have got across a bold bluff or won a minor pot by a legitimate combination. We can mark them with green, as what shoud be satisfactory against them in the long run is a tight play and ABC poker (we should simply raise if we have a strong combination, but fold if such a player plays back on us when we do not hold anything.)
Other players sit down to play only occassionally on one or two tables, and there are some who can be seen more frequently, but turn up only for a particular time. The less regular, but adept opponents can be marked with blue, while the rare or short-time, but more skilful ones with brown.
Due to the colours, we are instantly going to have a preliminary picture about those 8-9 players sitting at the table; let us say, we will have 2 red, 1 brown, 1 green, 1 blue, 1 white and 3 unmarked ones. This way, the composition of the table is immediately clear for us and helps to decide more easily whether we have joined the right table or not. In the case of too many red and brown players, we should change tables. In contrast, when meeting a lot of green and blue ones, we should strive to spend as much time as possible on the given table. Finally, if there are a lot of white and unmarked players, we should hold back and try to figure out what type of players we are facing.
By the help of the colour codes, we can right away distinguish between the different types of players: the regular or occassional ones; the more skilful, adept ones or the ones who join us only for fun or because they are unable to accept their lack of talent, or because they are simply unwilling to spend time on training.
However, colour-coding is just the tip of the iceberg. It is not likely that colours by themselves can give us pieces of advice satisfactorily applicable to each and every hand; for example, if in a particular action, we need to decide in favour of betting, a call or folding our cards. To this, we need further information: the willingness to fold, the frequency of limping and calls, the sizing of bets, playing in position and bluffing are all important elements in a player’s profile. Since the number of available colours is limited, we should rather record the above items in writing.
Of course, we could write only if the player is a donkey, a fish or a maniac, not to mention ruder expressions, but these rather serve the release of our tension and not our improvement. Colours are good for a rough identification of the player base; notes rather provide specification. It does make a difference if a regular, winning player rakes in big pots by oversizing his/her bets. A bigger bet by a particular opponent at a particular pot can imply good cards. Thus, we can relatively easily fold our second pair or medium pocket pair on the flop against him/her. The same way, it can also bear a certain importance what kind of mistakes a bad player commits. Does s/he limp a lot with premium cards from the middle? Does s/he always check-raise on the flop in an early position? Does s/he bluff too much on the river with hopless cards?
These are all such pieces of information that can save a vast sum of money for us even in the medium run. If glancing at our notes, we can come to the conclusion that somebody is not willing to continue playing after the flop under a top pair, top kicker, we will instantly know what to do if s/he re-raises to our raise. Namely, we have to fold everything under two pairs unless we have such a draw beside it which can overcome him/her on the turn or the river. The procedure can be the same against a regular bluffer who calls throughout the game then wants to deter us from the pot by pushing in his/her entire stack. We should call more often and courageously against him/her than against other opponents even if we only have a poor second or third pair.
While taking notes, we should get to the point and avoid the description of particular cases. We should rather make general statements so that we can profit from them later. General statements related to certain players and based on the classification of their strengths and weaknesses can prove to be helpful. We can describe nearly all players by the mistakes characteristic of them.
It is also useful if the necessary information can be displayed quickly, so our system should be clear and easily embraceable. We should introduce abbreviations easily comprehendable at the split of a second during playing. For example, regarding bet sizing, OB can stand for overbet, L for frequent limping, B for excessive bluffing and so on. If we want to be even more specific, a number can mark the extent of the event (1: heavy, 2: frequent, 3: above the average). For instance, OB1, L3 can mean that someone always overbets the pot and limps somewhat more often than the average.
Colour Codes and Notes – Summary
The preparation of colour codes and notes can be useful in more ways: on the one hand, we are going to have more information on our opponents than they do on us; on the other, it makes us get prepared for a potential change to a poker HUD application, where, likewise above, we can set the available pieces of information according to different groups.