A few weeks ago I published my review on Jared Tendler’s The Mental Game of Poker (TMGP). In it, among the items I touched upon was the topic of taking good notes while playing poker, and how that’s something that Tendler seemed to echo as important throughout the course of his book. After seeing my review, Jared was kind enough to agree to an interview here on Cardplayer Lifestyle in which he’d delve a little deeper into the concept and importance of taking good poker notes.
Cardplayer Lifestyle: Thanks so much for joining us Jared. First off, congratulations to you on your recent marriage! Can we expect to see “The Mental Game of Newlyweds” sometime soon?
Jared Tendler: Ha! Well I suppose I should get through my newlywed phase first. Thanks very much, the wedding and honeymoon were perfect. Couldn’t be happier.
Alright, so I’m about one-third of the way through TMGP2. Just as in the original TMGP, so far there’s a recurring theme of taking poker notes. Why would you say taking notes is so important in poker, rather than just committing things to memory?
JT: The important question is: How do people commit things to their memory? For many people, writing is a way to learn faster because it helps them remember. Simply writing can do that because it forces you to communicate something that may otherwise not get reinforced enough to stick in your mind. That’s not true for everyone of course, but there are enough players out there who benefit from writing and that why it’s something I emphasize a lot.
Is it just as important for recreational players to take poker notes (e.g., at their home games) as it is for pros and grinders, who make a living from playing poker?
JT: It really depends on how serious the player is about improving. If a recreational player wants to improve and they learn better by taking notes, they should do it. That said, they’ll very likely write less than their professional counterparts.
I’ve co-created an app called Poker Notes Live, which enables live poker players to take notes on themselves and their opponents on their mobile devices. In your opinion, are cell phones and tablets distractions at live poker tables, and, if so, would a poker note-taking app like that be an exception to that rule?
JT: If players are using cell phones to tweet, text, watch movies, or read, they are definitely a distraction. Too often players, just like distracted drivers, don’t realize how much information is being lost because of their lack of focus on the action. Even a poker note-taking app could also be a distraction if players are spending too much time with it (while playing). In general, they need to be taking notes quickly so they can capture the most relevant data (that’s also likely to be forgotten), and then after the session they can add additional notes.
The Premium version of my app allows a player to email their notes to themselves for analysis away from the table as well as import/export their notes database to have as a backup. How important do you think it is for players to review their poker notes, and would there be a distinction here between recreational players and grinders?
JT: It’s huge. If you just take notes in the moment, it’s easy for valuable information to be forgotten weeks later. Sure you may remember the next time you play, but if it doesn’t stay at the top of your mind, it’s likely to get lost. Reviewing notes between sessions gives players the extra reps to have their notes stand out better. This is true for recreational players and grinders, but again, how much a recreation player does this really depends on how serious they want to take the game.
From my own experience, the more effort I put into poker note-taking, the better my notes serve me going forward. That kind of effort takes time though, and sometimes it can be difficult to do with a live poker game going on, as I won’t want to miss out on the table action. What tips would you recommend to poker note takers to help them strike the best balance?
JT: Makes total sense to me why that’s true. With a lot of things, the more you put in the more you get out. As I said earlier, it’s important to only get down the notes while playing that you’ll forget, and then after the session expand on them. Doing more off the tables actually helps learning and of course will keep you more focused while playing. Reviewing afterwards, your focus is entirely on the hands you’re reviewing and that means you can think more deeply about them. It’s impractical to think that deeply about a previous hand while actually playing.
The Mental Game of Poker 2 talks extensively about striving to reach “the zone”, which effectively mean’s an individual’s peak poker performance potential. Is it recommended, or even possible, for a player to take notes at the table in between hands while in this ideal mental state? Would it preferable to take notes only after each live poker session?
JT: Definitely. Again as long as it’s something quick, note taking can be part of the zone.
Taking good poker notes that will prove useful in the long run involves a good amount of work and dedication. What sort of advice would you give to a live player who has never taken poker notes before and is just overwhelmed by the work involved?
JT: Start small. It’s easier to build up slowly and then add more when you get into a routine of doing it. Start by picking one hand in a session to write about. Then add a second, and so on, until the habit is established. The work isn’t really the hard part, the hard part is getting into the habit of doing it. And that’s easier by making small steps.
Thanks again so much Jared for your time. I’m looking forward to finishing TMGP2 and reading volume 3 if it ever comes out.
JT: l look forward to hearing what you think of #2. No plans for TMGP3 at the moment, but you and Cardplayer Lifestyle readers can catch articles from me and TMGP co-writer Barry Carter on our website.