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Articles - Alan Schoonmaker

Taking Notes - Part 3
by Alan Schoonmaker

Parts I and II discussed why and how you should take notes. This column will discuss what you should do with them.


Because poker demands fast decisions, you can’t rummage through a pile of disorganized slips of paper when you’re making a decision. You also can’t carry around all the ones you’ll need. You need to find the notes you’ll need (such as the ones for people who play at a certain casino). Then, you must be able to find the notes you need during the session (such as the ones on a specific player).

If possible, use a computer program to organize your notes. Part II recommended Poker Tracker and Poker Spy for online players, but I don’t know of any similar programs for brick-and-mortar casino players. If you know of a program for recording data on how your opponents play, please tell me, and I will tell our readers.

There is an excellent program for organizing the data about your results: Statking. Its very userfriendly. You just enter the data from each session, and they will organize it, and compute your win rate, standard deviation, and other statistics by game, location, time, and whatever other categories you wish.

Without such a program, you would have to work very hard to organize your records, and you might not fully understand the information. With a program, you can quickly get the data needed for important decisions. For example, you can easily compare your results for:
• Various limits
• Different casinos
• Weekdays versus weekends
• Various times of the day

With that information, some important decisions become easy, almost no-brainers. Since I do well in certain casinos early Saturday and Sunday mornings, but do poorly at other places or during weekday afternoons, I know where and when to play.


Several authorities have stated that this is your most important decision. If you choose a game with better players, you’re going to lose. It really is that simple.

I change games frequently, and I never do it to “change my luck.” I am constantly evaluating my own game and the other possibilities. If another game seems better, I’ll change, and that decision will be based not on whims or wishes, but on solid information about the players. Without good information, your game choices can be little more than guesses.


I change seats very frequently, and most people think I’m doing it to find “the lucky one.” People often ask, “Why are you changing seats when you’re catching cards in that one?” They just don’t understand that cards are random, but people are predictable. Because I take such complete notes, I know that I’ll do better to the left or right of various players.

If you sit in the wrong seat, you’re going to get poorer results than you would in others. You want unpredictable players on your right so that you can see what they have done before you act. Try to get predictable players to your left to reduce the number of surprises.

My notes tell me which people are predictable and unpredictable. I would generally want the rocks to my left and the maniacs to my right. However, some maniacs are predictable, and having them on my left makes me into the “semipermanent button.” I can often act last, even if I’m in early position. I can check or call a bet, let the maniac bet or raise behind me, and trap everyone. Conversely, I can thin the field with vulnerable hands by betting into the maniac and having him raise.

Maniacs can be predictable because they almost always bet or because they telegraph their intentions. Because I take such complete notes, I know many people’s signals. I am not talking about obvious telegraphs such as grabbing chips. Nobody needs notes to identify that one. But many signals are much subtler, and I can understand their significance only by building up a database. What did a person do with his hands, posture, face, cards, and so on, and what action did he take afterward? If I take enough notes, a pattern will slowly emerge.

Let me give just one example that I never could have grasped without that database. A loose-aggressive player (who is not quite a maniac) has the following pattern: • If his right hand is near his chips, he will play.
• If his right hand is near his cards, he will fold.
• If his right hand is not near either his chips or his cards, he will raise.

Some of my intuitive friends could just “feel” that he is going to raise, call, or fold, and their feel might be as accurate as my predictions. Since I don’t have their feel, I need a database.


Adjusting to different types of people has been the central focus of my last three books, on selling, negotiating, and poker psychology. The general principles are the same for all three: You have to understand how a person “plays,” and then adjust your strategy to fit that person.

Some players with great intuition can make these adjustments without even thinking about them. They just know how Harry, Susan, and John play, and they can make extraordinarily insightful moves against them. For example, in the March 16, 2005, issue of Card Player, Layne Flack said, “I seem to have an intuition in poker that is amazing.” I wish I had his gift, but I don’t, and you probably don’t, either. I therefore have to build up a database on people and slowly learn how each one plays, then use that information to make strategic adjustments.


Part I said that many people don’t take notes for silly reasons, and the silliest is: “Real players don’t need notes.” A few extraordinarily gifted players such as Layne Flack don’t need notes. In that same column, he said that he doesn’t read books, either. If I had his gifts, I would do what he does, but I don’t, and you probably don’t, either.

One of my favorite topics is the way poker players deny the truth about their limitations.

You almost certainly overestimate your abilities. How can I be so sure? Because almost everyone does it, including me. You, I, those famous players on TV, and Sigmund Freud all tend to believe what we want to believe, and we definitely want to believe that we’re smarter and play better than we really do.

But we are not as good as we think we are. Our selective memories let us preserve our delusions. We remember the great reads we made on “gut feel,” but forget our terrible mistakes.

Unless you have an extraordinary memory or intuition, you should build a database about your results and your opposition, and then use it to answer these critical questions:
• Where and when should you play?
• Which game and seats should you select?
• How should you adjust your strategy?

Don’t let false pride prevent you from making good decisions. Poker is not about proving how smart you are. It’s about winning, and you will win more if you take good notes and use them wisely.



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