Online Poker and the Intelligent Note

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The ability to take notes on your opponents has been a standard feature of online poker software since approximately the Dark Ages (also known as, the late 1990s/early 2000s.) If you're an online poker player, odds are you've typed up a few of these yourself.

I've invested heavily in player notes over the years. Even though robust hand history analyzers and real-time HUDs have relaxed the need for hardcore note-taking, I still find that player notes are useful for storing all the "other stuff".

  • Player psychology and personality
  • Records from Sharkscope, OPR, PTR, and PokerDB
  • Blogs or websites found by Googling the player's handle

Unfortunately, if there's one thing all this squinting at player notes has done, it's convince me that the online poker note-authoring experience is tedious, uninspiring, and ergonomically broken.

The Full Tilt player notes dialog shown above is currently the state of the art (it's resizable, it floats, and it has that nifty color-coding feature). But let's take a look at how some of the other sites do it.

Exhibit A: Poker Stars.

Exhibit B: Cake Poker.

Exhibit C: Bodog. 

Exhibit D: PokerTracker 3.

Does anybody else see a problem here? Wherever you look, the operative design philosophy seems to be:

  1. Cramped text boxes.
  2. Fonts only a Lilliputian could love.
  3. Rich text? We don't need no stinkin' rich text.

And it's a little bit of a disconnect, to me at least, because (warning: platitude forthcoming) nothing is more important in online poker than keeping book on your opponents. Right? Player notes are not a convenience feature. They should be accorded a first-class treatment in the UI, rather than the naked-text-and-duct-tape approach reserved for low-value cruft.

Fine and fair enough, you say. But what would a first-class treatment look like?

Well I hate to go all The Machine Is Us/ing Us on you, but digital text really can do better. In the year 2009, a player note should be a generic visual canvas capable of displaying and editing...anything. Anything at all.

Ambitious? Not really. This is a problem with an obvious solution. You've probably already guessed it. It's called:

Store and display player notes as HTML.

Note that I didn't say force the player to enter notes in HTML. What's needed is a format which is...

  • Standard rather than proprietary
  • Textual rather than binary
  • Expressive enough to enable eye-popping player notes

...but also:

  • Capable of being edited/manipulated by people with zero knowledge of HTML/programming/technology

HTML (or XHTML, or XML, or you know—markup) is the only format which fulfills all of these requirements. And once we cross the HTML Rubicon, it becomes possible to create declarative/interactive player writeups incorporating...

  • Formatted text
  • Images
  • Tables, charts, and graphs
  • Anything else that can be presented with HTML an easy-to-use WYSIWYG authoring environment that requires zero actual knowledge of HTML. I should literally be able to write and format this entire post in an online poker player notes windowWithout knowing a lick of HTML.


Why not?

This is basic software development praxis after all; nothing fancy or ground-breaking. With the ubiquity of...

  • Easy-to-use HTML rendering components such as the Microsoft WebBrowser and Mozilla ActiveX controls
  • Open-source HTML rendering stacks such as Gecko and Webkit
  • WYSIWYG HTML editors such as TinyMCE, FCK, Infragistics, and Telerik

....there's no reason to restrict players to lifeless, dull, dreary, monotonous, headache-inducing, plain-text-only notes. Isn't it time that the online poker note came of age?


I had a friend review this post and he pointed out:

It's all well and good to have HTML player notes, but how does that make those notes more intelligent? I mean, you named the piece 'Online Poker and the Intelligent Note' right?

Very true. So allow me to elaborate, if anybody's still reading.

The really cool thing about HTML-centric player notes isn't the personal freedom they give you, the player, in your note-taking. It's the ability of third-party developers to build tools which generate interactive human-readable player notes data from repositories such as PokerTracker.

This is powerful.

For example, imagine a piece of software which analyzed each player in your PokerTracker 3 or Hold'em Manager database, incorporated your manual notes as well as various statistical/historical trends and details, and produced an interactive player summary on the fly:

(The above is a mockup. A competent visual designer could do a much better job with this, but you get the idea.)

The point is that by adding some simple HTML support we can transform the player note from a smear of arcane text into an interactive combination of human insight and computerized analysis, delivered to the player on request. And that, I think you'll agree, is about as intelligent as the humble player note has a right to be.

Tags: HTML, online poker, poker

24 comment(s)

Could not agree more. I could tolerate the plain text thing if they allowed me to pick the font size. That's all I ASK. If they do build this out, don't forget to include hyperlinks: should be able to hyperlink to specific GAMES. On click the game pops up in a replayer. should be able to hyperlink to PLAYERS. On click the player's note pops up.

I like the idea... but do players really use notes enough to justify it?

Does it distinguish the site in any way?

Maybe, but does it improve their bottom line?

If not, it'll never happen...

Online poker innovation is driven by dollars not "creativity"

This is a great idea for a product. You could call it Keynote. Depending on how good the generated player profiles would be.... obviously if you can get compellingly awesome profiles generated.... seems like a PokerTracker 3 module at the very least.

i can understand why online poker clients use plain text: because it's easy& everything in online poker is crap. what i can't figure out is why pokertracker 3 / acehud didn't add support for html notes. it's all text anyway...

This doesn't appeal to the producers, so there is no incentive for a poker room to add it.

Seems like a good idea for serious winning players; however, I wouldn't want to let the fish know how much money they've lost!

We recently did this kind of upgrade to one of our backoffice apps which had plain "Notes" fields for everything. We ended up using the MS WebBrowser control. The HTML template was embedded as a local resource via the res:// protocol and we squirted content into that template during document load. For the WYSIWYG editing we played round with "design mode" but ended up going with one of third-party web authoring environments. Ironic that in order to get robust WYSIWYG editing in a desktop app we had to use an embedded browser with a Javascript-enabled editing framework. Yet another way in which the line between desktop and web app has blurred...

I just tried to leave a comment and it showed up, then disappeared...?

I was going to say I disagree that this functionality wouldn't appeal to users. Maybe some players dont take notes maybe some players are happy with plain text notes this feature alone is not going to sell more copies BUT it's the overall weight of features like these which convince players to take their business to a particular site.

Hm. Looking at the user interface that I'm typing this comment into, I see:

"Comment: (sorry! no HTML.)"

Pardon me, I just stepped in a small pile of irony.


A while ago I wrote a small piece of code that scanned my Poker Office (mySQL) database and found all players I've played more than a 100 hands against.

It then constructed an XML structure for the player that was inserted into the FullTilt "do not edit this" Player Notes file.

It wasn't as nice as having HTML, but you can still find patterns in a players data that can be exploited and "spliced" into the FTP notes file very easily.

I even colour coded the players based on how many of the playing statistics were within "normal/good" ranges.

Excellent idea. I've always thought player notes should support rich formatting. The step of generating interactive player notes is one I hadn't thought of. Should be a nice value add, and easy enough for an independent developer to write....hmmm....

Pacific poker (or pokerstars, or both, I forget) doesnt even allow new lines in the notes, which is quite appaling.

JB, yesterday they did... just hit Enter...

@James 'Richtext, who needs it?" Well all the note taking images you showed before this somment showed 'plain-text only' in the windows. And isn't your HTML idea (which don't get me wrong is fantastic, especially having information exported/imported by/from 3rd party apps is gold!) basically rich-text on steroids??

Top idea though!

@Rob: Are you for real? apples and oranges!

The way I see it HTML support is 1st party functionality. It should be implemented by the sites as a basic feature. The automated note-generation is 3rd-party. It should be implemented by hobbyists/indie developers. But I agree that displaying/editing HTML is a cinch these days, especially in this context, where it's all local HTML and there are no networking/security issues to consider.

I just discovered a few days ago that my Outlook support rich text Notes fields for contacts. I was happy.

This would fit perfectly with some kind of widget system to provide custom information from any third party.

I'm of the opinion that all "Notes" fields should be RTF/HTML. Back in '96 plan text was fine, but now it can be done through standard OS components... this would especially be the case where Notes are actually used to store important information (as in online poker).

Would like to see a demo on this...

not a lot of time for looking at complicated player notes when you're multitabling x12 or x16 tables or more. great idea, i have actually been wanting this for YEARS, but id really only use it for those hard decision that come up once every couple hours.

Hi James,

Excellent write-up and I could not agree more. One of the main areas that I wanted to improve upon when we began developing PokerTracker 3 was note taking as I think it is a very important and underused aspect of the game. Unfortunately, my plans fell to the way side and were put on the back burner.

Your article has reinvigorated me. Post v3.00 Build 5 which was recently released, we plan on greatly improving upon the "usability" of PT3. I think improving note taking ability fits perfectly into that plan and am I going to move this back up our priority list. I cannot say for certain when we will begin implementing these changes as our developers are pretty wide spread at the moment; however, they will come and we'll do our best to not disappoint. :)

Best regards,

Derek Charles, Member PokerTracker Software, LLC.

PS. I love the site. Keep up the great work.

Great article - I referenced the article in the Poker Tracker features forum and they like it -

I've taken it a step further and suggeste a ful API to the HUD

I liked this article which touches on playing online poker games. It also focuses on some technical stuff like html and xhtml coding and how it is beneficial in making the poker games interactive.

this is really excellent and this is a great trend in the poker games.

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