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You are the Tournament Director Series 4: Is Taking Notes in Live Tournaments Allowed

The following was sent in by Eric Larcheveque:

When I play in poker tournaments, I usually have on the table a pen and a paper where I take notes from some of the key hands of the tournament. During the main event of the 2008 MCOP, as I was writing some info about the previous hand, a staff member came and told me that I had to stop to write as it was against the rules to take notes during play. I asked to speak to a supervisor to get confirmation of this ruling and a lady came to explain to me that taking notes was an unfair advantage against other players and so I was requested not to take notes any more (and would be sitting out one orbit if I took notes again).

For information, I only take notes when I'm not in a hand, but I'm doing it while seated at the table. I play regularly on EPT/WPT/WSOP circuit and it is the first time such ruling was made. I have read terms and condition of all major tournaments and nothing is said about note taking so I suspect this is a "grey area".

So my question is the following: is note taking authorized in your tournaments (using pen and paper), and if not why would you consider this as an unfair advantage against other players?

Matt SavageMatt Savage:
I allow it and with the prevalence of on line poker (where it is allowed) I cannot see an unfair advantage as long as it does not disturb play or ink gets on your hand to possibly mark cards.

Thomas KremserThomas Kremser:
I agree with the floor person of MCOP and I use the same ruling in my tournaments. Taking notes or reading any kind of self written documents or use of electronic equipment is not allowed in live tournaments.

Jack EffelJack Effel:
At the WSOP, we do not have a rule that states players are not allowed to take notes at the table. There are rules that cover disruptive behaviour and objects that are allowed on the table. Players are not allowed to place any foreign objects on the table with the exception of one card cap, which can be no larger than two (2) inches in diameter and no more than one-half (1/2) inch in depth. A bottle of water is also acceptable as long as it’s capped. I would rule that a player may be permitted to only take notes while not in the hand, but not permitted to place the notepad on the table.

Nicolas FraioliNicolas Fraioli:
It’s also the first time I heard about that rule. During tournaments at the Aviation Club de France players are allowed to take notes while they are not in a hand. The notebooks should not be on the table because cards or chips could be hidden below. That would be unfair against the other players if every hand a player would read notes while he’s involved. That would slow down the game and that would be unfair against the players. Tournaments are still a competition and everybody should have the same advantage. I will let players take notes but not while they are involved in a hand.

Dave SimpsonDave Simpson:
Note taking would be allowed in our tournaments with the provision all note taking is available for scrutiny at all times by the floor. Any note taking during a hand or using previous notes as an aid during a hand would lead to the privilege being denied and therefore penalties applied if further use took place.

Tab DuchateauTab Duchateau:
I have no rule against note taking, and if a player complained it was an unfair advantage, maybe they should pick up a pen and paper and gain the advantage themselves.

The Mob Verdict

Matt and Tab both allow note taking unconditionally. Thomas is in full agreement with the MCOP ruling, whilst Nicolas, Dave and Jack allow it but with certain conditions, the main one being that it is not done whilst in a hand.

We think it is all a matter of degree. You can not allow a situation where players are writing furiously on lots of bits of paper or notebooks whilst cards are up and a hand is in progress and then referring to these when in a pot to see how many times a particular player has made a raise under the gun today. But if a player wants to walk away from a table in between hands, or even on a break, and write something in a notebook that he may want to remember or refer to at a later time you can't stop it, nor should you.

Providing it doesn’t happen while the note taker is in a hand and providing it doesn’t interfere with or slow down the game we think its fine. We wouldn’t allow the pen and paper on the table or allow a player to constantly refer to notes whilst in a hand. We also think there needs to be consistency with other media. If someone cannot refer to their own notes during a hand then neither should they be reading the Full Tilt Poker strategy guide, or using the Hendon Mob odds calculator on their iPhone. While it is true, as Matt points out, that all sorts of notes and tools are available on-line (some less controversial than others) this is one of the many ways in which the live game differs and we don't see why live poker should have to follow on-line poker in this area. It's a different game.

Matt and Tab's straightforward no nonsense position appeals to us, but we also like the fact that Jack and Nicolas both have a specific rule that makes things very clear. Although we do not really see note taking as a big problem in the game Jack and Nicolas probably come closest to our own position on this issue.

That does not mean that we think that Thomas and the MCOP staff have it wrong. As with all tournament rules consistency is a key factor and providing the rules are clear, fair and consistently enforced we feel that any position can be seen as fair.

As a side note: When Full Tilt Poker pro Gus Hansen wrote his book ‘Every Hand Revealed’ he did this by taking notes nearly every hand during the Aussie Millions in January 2007. He did this by routinely stepping back from the table and recording information into a Dictaphone, and he did it without it interfering with or disrupting play. If Gus can effectively write a book at a poker table then how hard or disruptive can it be for a player to take notes in a similar fashion?

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