This week, we look at the one thing almost no live poker players are doing, yet it could improve their game immediately. And that one thing is taking notes at the table. Host Zac Shaw delivers advice from the Red Chip Team and our member community on how and why taking notes on the hand histories you play can transform your game.

Featuring: Zac Shaw


Zac: Welcome back the Red Chip Poker Podcast. This is your host, Zac Shaw. Today we’re going to talk about something that almost no players do, I was just playing a session at the brand new Resorts World Catskills here in New York, and I looked around the room, and I was the only person doing this.

So I’m going to talk all about what that is in just a moment. Before we get to that, just want to do some housecleaning on the podcast. I know we’ve had a lot of messaging about Core, our new learning platform, and we shared some excerpts with you of the great content going on over there at our new poker training platform,

I don’t want to load you up with a bunch of marketing here, and that’s not the point of this podcast. We’ve always been a pure value podcast, unlike a lot of the poker podcasts out there, where you kind of have to wade through a lot of conversation and a lot of back and forth that might not necessarily have to do with the strategy of a hand.

And that’s great, I love those podcasts, I listen to them, and you probably listen to a few of them too. And we just want to fill that gap in the podcast market where we just want to deliver pure value to you. We want these podcasts to make you feel like you can go out and crush your game at the end of listening to it.

So, I just wanted to make that clear, that’s what we’re doing here. That’s what we’ll always be doing here, and if you hear us talking about Core, about Pro, those are our products, that’s why we do what we do, right? We do this podcast so people can know more about our company and what we do to help poker players win and improve.

So, this episode is not going to depart from that formula, we’re going to get pure value here, and we’re going to talk about that one thing, which is, take hand histories at the table, take notes on the hands that you play. We’re talking specifically about live poker here, because online, of course, you should be downloading all of those hands into a database like PokerTracker, and analyzing them there.

And it’s super easy to do that, might even make sense to play a little bit online if you’re a live player, just for the ease of being able to take those hand histories and look at them later. But as live players, we know that it can’t always be super easy to remember exactly what happened in a hand, because it requires almost taking notes in your head as you’re playing the hand.

So that you know exactly what happened, later on you can say, yes, it was the queen of diamonds and not the queen of clubs that came on the turn, and that could be the decisive thing, but it’s hard to really memorize every single thing that happens at the table.

So this podcast is going to be all about me sharing with you tips from the Red Chip Poker team on how to effectively take notes at the table. Now before I get into the techniques, why do we want to take notes at the table, and more importantly, why isn’t anyone doing it? Well, most people approach poker because they want to have fun, right?

And we as serious strategists are learning ways to exploit their weaknesses, which are that they don’t think strategically enough. And one of the key things about thinking strategically is understanding what parts of the hand, and what parts of the information at your disposal, require your focus. Because there are just so many things, right?

I’ll use a golf analogy. If you try and focus on keeping your eye on the ball and keeping your stance correct and keeping your wrists in the right plane, and bringing your club up at the exact right angle. If you think about all those things at once, you will fail. Your mind will choke, and you will swing and maybe even miss the ball entirely.

And poker is much the same way. If you’re thinking about ranges and bet sizing and the order of the actions in this line and that line, it’s going to be really hard to make the correct decisions at the table. So this is the first big revelation that I have to share with you, it’s something that you’ll hear the whole Red Chip Poker Team talk about when they talk about hand histories.

But it’s something that I just experienced in playing a game. And let’s just pause and say, I’m not a poker expert, I’m not a poker coach, but this is something I feel very good talking about because I just came from the casino and I was just doing this. And I’d like to think that, on a certain level, you guys listen to this podcast because I am that every-person player, I am that average poker player that luckily gets to rub shoulders and talk to some of the biggest poker experts in the whole entire game.

So, based on that, I’m hoping that you can identify with this, right? We’re just going into the live poker room, we’re trying to get better, we’re trying to make better decisions, and the one thing that I changed in my poker game was to take these notes and really do this every single time I play. And my threshold is, whether it’s a pot that is over $100 dollars, right, I play one, two, I want to make sure that those critical pots, I’m making the right decisions in them.

And also, if there’s any hand, any size pot that I’m confused by, I’ll take notes. And it’s a simple process. Everyone has their own way of taking notes, and I’m going to share some of those ways with you today, to really inspire you to find your own way that works for you.

And the reason why you want to do this is because the simple act of taking notes on a hand will make you a better poker player, okay. Let me be clear, we’re not even talking about analyzing what you’re taking notes on at the table here. We’re just talking about the act of taking notes. We could do a whole other podcast on how you take hand histories and discuss them in forums, run them in software like Flopzilla and Flop Falcon.

We could analyze hands in a million different kind of ways as well. We’re just going to talk about the million different ways … Or, okay. A handful of ways that you can take notes at the table, and again, the simple act of putting those notes down. For example, I played a hand, I took the notes right after I played the hand, and I realized my bet sizing was way off, because I wasn’t calculating the size of the pot correctly, I was glancing at it, and I need to pay more attention to really counting out the pot size, especially on the flop after action, right.

So, that was a very specific tune-up to my game that was revealed through the simple act of just taking notes. I hope I have at least convinced you that taking notes at the table is something that’s worth doing. Let’s talk about the actual tactics, where you’re playing, the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of players is, I’m going to look like an idiot whipping out my notebook or my phone after every single hand and typing in everything that happened.

But that is just ridiculous. For example, if you’re using your phone, no one’s going to even notice that you’re taking notes. Only the most perceptive player will note, okay, after every big hand, he’s taking notes. And the only thing they’re going to get from that is, hey, you’re a serious player and you have to be taken seriously. That’s a tell you can live with, okay.

But you’ll be so surprised where, even if you’ve taken out a notebook, pen and paper, and I’ve done this before with Split Suit’s “Live Poker Player’s Journal,” great book, we’ll put a link in the show notes. It’s just like a template that’s blank that allows you to write in the community cards and your hold cards and action on each street, and it’s a great way to journal that confusing hands to go back to and study and say, okay, I’ve mastered that.

I was whipping that out at the live card room, and no one said a word in a whole four hour session. It was not weird that I was taking out my book and making notes. So just get over the whole idea that people are going to think you’re weird, or that you’re giving off a tell. What works for me? I put it in my phone, because I just open up a notepad and I just type it in, shorthand.

You’ve got to come up with your own shorthand, and a lot of Split Suit and Doug’s advice, our two top coaches here, is on creating that shorthand and creating a template for which to take your notes. Now, I’m guilty of not having a template, although I would say that if you look at the notes, they would fit a certain formula. There’s certain things that you absolutely have to keep in mind when you’re taking down notes.

You want to know effective stacks, the order of the action, getting everyone’s positions right is very important. Bet sizing is also crucial. You want to make sure that you’re getting it down to the dollar, because these things matter. Okay, getting it down to the five or ten dollar range, that’s fine. But get close enough so that you can actually feel like you’re replaying the hand when you’re reading your notes back.

And that’s kind of like the idea, right? You want to create notes that give you enough to replay the hand. And this is not rocket science, I’m sure if you are into poker, you’ve checked out many hand histories, and you’ve noticed that, though people represent hand histories in various different ways, I’m a big fan of the way Doug Hall represents his hand histories in his books on “More Poker Plays You Can Use” and “Poker Plays You Can Use,” check those out.

He’s got a really cool hand history methodology there. But you’ll see them on Red Chip, you’ll see them in the forum. They all have the same things. Effective stack bet sizing, order of action, I don’t have to explain that to you, you know those things. The thing, though, to remember is that you’re not going to be able to capture everything in all that detail at the table, especially if you get dealt aces after you play a big pot, you’re going to need to put your phone down and play that hand.

So what you’re going to need to do is try and have clarity of mind as you’re playing, and think almost as if you are taking notes in your head as you are playing the hand, so that when you do take notes after the hand, it’s just pouring right out of your brain. That’s the best tip I can give for you, because I struggled a lot with this, with taking notes at the table.

I only really feel like I hit my stride in this last session, and that’s because I was being very cognizant of each thing that I would note down in my notepad as I was playing the hand. And this has an incredible added benefit. So we already talked about, taking notes improves your game just by, you’re looking at your decisions objectively, and being able to reflect on them and have perspective, right.

That’s number one. But number two is that it makes you a better poker player at the table because you’re more focused on the action at hand. It also, if you’re one of these players like I am, who got super aggressive for a while and that kind of kicked them in the butt because, you know, I got too aggressive and I thought I could push people around, and I thought I was the best player at every table I went to.

And I got a big reality check. So this session I went back and I said, you know what, if I have this exalted focus on the hands that I do play, it will be much easier to reduce the temptation to open up and be too aggressive, throw too many bluffs in, because I’m very, very cognizant of what’s going on step by step. And the things that I think about in my head have a one-to-one relationship with the notes I take afterward.

So, that’s my two cents on taking hand histories at the table. It is, really, the easiest way to improve in poker that no one is doing. I think, as I said at the top of the podcast, it is a cultural thing. It is a self-preservation thing where people feel like they’re being stared at in a weird way if they’re taking notes, or that is just too obvious and people are going to be making them a target because of that.

I’ve found that to be total nonsense, and in the discussions in our forum, and with other coaches and poker players, they find the same thing. And that’s another thing. Every poker player I talk to has their own shorthand for taking hand histories at the live table, and they have their own methodology for reviewing those hand histories.

And you will develop your own methodology, too, both for reviewing them and for taking those notes. So I would recommend starting out with a simple notepad approach, you can also download a number of apps out there that have nice little graphical interfaces where you can choose the card and the suits, and type in little fields where you have the best sizing.

I found those to be a little cumbersome to use at the table, even though they’re designed to make it easier. Obviously, this presents you with a much prettier picture when you’re analyzing your hands later, but oftentimes it’s not about a pretty picture, it’s about detail in the information that you put in there.

So those apps will make sure you don’t miss any detail, but it’s best to get into the habit of getting it in your mind first, then getting it onto the notepad, and then get an assisting app once you have your own methodology figured out. Other specific tips, well, I mentioned that Split Suit and Doug Hall both have great methodologies for noting down their hand histories, and you can find those in the show notes here,

I’ll put the links in there so you can see. They even have templates that you can download, and like I said, Split Suit has a nice book called the “Live Poker Player’s Journal,” little black book filled with just blank templates where you can put in hand histories. I highly recommend that as well.

Now, I’ve got one more point to make, and this is, again, coming from that perspective that I have of the average poker player who’s a weekend warrior, plays when they can, is not a reg, is not trying to be a professional. And that is this. I’ve struggled a long time with repeating hand histories. I remember going to Live at the Bike and playing there with all of the Red Chippers and a couple Red Chip coaches.

And afterwards we were all discussing our hands, and I had a hard time remembering the action in the hands that I had just played an hour ago. And I remember looking at these pros and thinking to myself, “How do I get that fluency with poker, with poker strategy, and that will come if I just remember all of the hands that I play at the table.”

I thought, “Amazing.” And then I saw Andrew Neeme and the other YouTube vloggers doing these incredible seamless hand analyses on hands that they had just played at the table, sitting in the lounge outside of the poker room, and I thought, okay, it’s right after they played, so they must just have an incredible memory.

But if you look closely, Neeme’s looking down at his phone between cuts. All of the vloggers are taking notes, they’re not just pulling it off the top of their head. And I found this to be incredibly eye-opening, because I would witness people not take notes, professional poker players, and regs, really. You hear it all the time, “Ah, I called now, blah blah blah.”

They are able to recount the hand history with so much detail. Well, what’s happening there is a little bit different, right? Because if you’re a reg, and you’re playing all day, every day, you start to get into a pattern recognition style of playing, where strategy takes a back seat to saying, I’ve seen this before, I’m going to do this, I’ve seen this before and I’m going to do this.

And for them, it’s quite easy to recall a hand history, because that’s what they’re doing all day. For Pros, there is a similar thing going on there, but they think about it on a level above that. They’re analytical while they’re playing, and they’re always looking for areas to improve, and the only way that you can really do that detailed pattern recognition that you need to do to find those granular little things like I did with bet sizing, is when I just took notes.

The only way you do that is through that note-taking and that hand history review. And it’s kind of like, you can go off memory and you can get a broad sense of what you’re doing wrong. The note-taking, though, has those additional benefits that I talked about, but at the end of the day, it lets you think like a pro, think like a reg, and have that mindset without necessarily having to sit at the table all day.

You use your notes as kind of a scaffolding to compensate for the fact that you are not looking at flops and turns and rivers for eight hours a day. And that’s something that I hope, as an average poker player, to another average, or above-average, or trying to improve poker player out there, that you really appreciate.

Because if you can take notes, you can get an edge, not only against the other players who are just simply not thinking strategically, not thinking about hand histories at all, they haven’t reviewed a hand that they played in years, you’re going to get an instant advantage over them. But you’re also going to get a defense against the players that are regs, or pros and are playing all day, every day.

And that is super critical, because I can’t tell you how many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of poker players came into this game, felt lucky, got lucky, ran good, got a little bit better, got better enough to continue to win a little bit, and then they just hit a wall. And that wall is regs and pros.

And certainly, pros are the ones you’re going to be looking out for more than the regs, but people who play the game day in and day out have a built-in advantage, and so the bottom line here, at the end of this podcast, what I want to get across, is for an average poker player, taking notes is the easiest thing that you could be doing right now.

It doesn’t cost any money, it doesn’t take any more time, really, it just takes a little more effort when you’re sitting at the table, to think these things through. The benefits are myriad and they’re super important. Offensive and defensive. So visit the show notes at In there you’ll find some very specific hand history methodologies in terms of note-taking from Split Suit, from Doug Hall, and across the Red Chip Poker Team.

I hope I’ve inspired you today to go out, take some notes and develop your own note-taking methodology to improve as a poker player. And I want to end this podcast, conclude with a little housekeeping, a little more discussion on the meta level of what this podcast is all about.

I’m going to be, in the future … If you’ve been following us since episode zero, you have a head crammed with poker information. You probably have more information in your head than you’re able to use at the table. Note-taking, psst, that’ll help. But seriously, folks, we have so many free strategy podcasts out there on pretty much every topic conceivable, so if you’ve just joined us, go into the back catalog and go crazy.

Because you are going to get free value podcast after free value podcast. But, where do we go from here? I mean, we’ve covered almost every strategy concept imaginable, we’ve talked to all of our coaches, we’ve talked to tons of luminaries in the poker world. And like I said, we want to stick to value podcasts.

We don’t want to become one of those podcasts that just interviews people who have a book coming out. We want you to be able to walk away from the podcast and do something at the table. So going forward, the number one biggest request that we’ve received for content on the podcast is to do more hand histories. So it’s no coincidence that we’re talking about hand histories today, because going forward, we’re going to be doing a lot more podcasts.

And we’re just going to go over the hands that you have submitted to us, either by the forum, or you can send them to me at zac, Z-A-C, You can send them to Split Suit and Doug, and certainly they have enormous backlogs of hand histories that people have sent in wanting to check out.

So we have no shortage of really interesting hands to review on this podcast, and I can’t wait to bring some guests on to do that and show you how we can now combine all of these elemental, fundamental strategies that we’ve learned through the last 128 podcasts, and start to piece them together into more complex strategies to tackle specific spots that are going to come up time and time again in your sessions.

Tricky spots, poker’s a tricky game, that’s why we do this podcast, that’s why we’ve run the whole website, that’s why we have Core, have Pro, it’s to make you a better player.

And until next time, this is Zac Shaw for the Red Chip Poker Podcast. Run good and play better.