For Your Information – Hand Histories, Player Notes, and Hand Replays in Poker
Anyone who wishes to get better at something needs to spend time reflecting upon their past performances. The better performers value information significantly. In fact, at the highest levels, performers may spend buckets of money to acquire even the smallest bit of information which will make them faster, stronger, more consistent, or strategically prepared. Lance Armstrong, for example, while an admitted PED user, would spend a lot of money to determine the absolute perfect bike specifications that permit him to ride his fastest. Others may just break the rules to acquire such information – I’m looking at you Bill Belichick (see SpyGate).
Knowledge, indeed, is powerful. In poker, a game defined by incomplete information, small pieces of information can often cause big effects on your place. Picking up a tell on a player is a prime example. In the online game, the game of tells can be a little more murky without the face-to-face contact. However, playing online means you can analyze, even create, a treasure chest of information that can help you play better. Here are the three basic (and free) sources of information you should take advantage of.
Online poker rooms, unlike live casinos, give you the opportunity to review your hand history. You can request it through one of the tabs like ‘Account’ or ‘Settings’ and, for whatever time period you wish to examine, your history can be sent to you in an email.
If you just finished a horrendous session where you not only got unlucky but you feel you made bad decision after bad decision, your history can be a valuable read. You might ask yourself why you chose to play the hand the way you did and how did it get you in to trouble. What would you do differently? What will you correct for next time? Poker forums are laden with copies of past hands to invite additional analysis. Sometimes it is just to vent by showing a bad beat and the injustice of it all.
There is another source of information that is instantly at your fingertips during online play. Most site, if not all by now, give you the ability to replay the last hand you just completed. More so, the majority of sites compile a mini-history of all the hands played at the table you are sitting at during the entire time you chose to join. If you are proud of the last hand you played against a tough opponent, hitting the reply button can give you a little boost. Donked off your stack impulsively, you can mire in your misery by watching it go down again in slow motion.
Hand replays, my favorite bank of information, can allow you to learn a lot about the players at your table and can help you snap-analyze your recent play. One of my favorite uses of hand replay is to go back to hands of a particular player I have not seen previously in order to put them in a category (i.e., loose/tight vs. passive/aggressive). While the sample size is small, you can certainly determine the donkey’s from the shark’s by how they have played their last 10 hands or so.
You can even use past hand replays during a hand if you are savvy enough. Did someone 3-bet you from the big blind pre-flop? Is this a move or is he trying to keep you honest? Sometimes you can find a hand quickly where they have done this to someone else at the table. Yes, it is perhaps a more advanced use of this tool (you have to be quick) but it can be useful in finding the edge.
Some sites’ hand replays, like 888 poker, will show the showdown hands that have been mucked. So if you win a hand at a showdown and your opponent is not required to show, you will be able to see his holdings in the hand replay. This only applies to the mucked losers at showdown. This is a huge source of information. To be able to see the type of hands your opponent likes to play is an important advantage. Not all sites offer this little additional option.
While player notes can be made during live play, it is infinitely easier to do so online. You can categorize a player quickly at a click of a mouse and jot a note that you can access the next time you sit down with them. If you play regularly, you will find that you can accumulate a lot of information on a player in a short period of time. Have you discovered what kind of “moves” they like like squeezing from the button or limp 4-betting aces pre-flop? Noting your observations gives you a stronger focus when you tangle with them down the road. For example, if I know that Mr. Villain likes to 3 bet from the big blind but does so with middle pairs but flat calls with AA or KK, I am more apt to 4 bet this range in response.
There are other fee-based tools that can be very useful as well (e.g., Poker Tracker, Hold ‘Em Manager), but if you are not taking advantage of these poker tools, you are doing your game a large disservice. Identifying the leaks in your game and trying to gather an advantage on your opponents, however slight, is crucial for your improvement. Player notes, hand replays, and hand histories are there for a reason. Use all three to grow your game.
Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about his work and the inner game of performing at www.KellyDoell.com