Pro concepts: How to use a poker HUD to improve your game

Learn how to unravel the web of stats and use a poker HUD to start winning more, with online cash pro Ross Jarvis

Stu Ungar never used a HUD. Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim were not famous for chatting about their opponent’s fold to four-bet percentage. Today’s greatest player, Phil Ivey, famously eschews all stats programs too, preferring instead to use only his finely honed poker instincts. If all of these legends never bothered with a HUD, why should you? The sad reality is that the vast majority of us need all the help we can get.

HUDs allow us to definitively see patterns in our opponents’ play and deduct strategies that can exploit those to our advantage. If you play online poker without one you’re in a street fight with one arm tied behind your back.

First things first, you must own poker tracking software in order to utilise a HUD. The two best products are PokerTracker and Hold’em Manager, both priced at around $100. For the purposes of this article all references made will relate to Hold’em Manager (but the differences between the programs are small).

A HUD is a vast array of statistics that is placed onto your online poker table as you play. Each opponent (including yourself) has a box that can be personally configured to show any stat you like. These can then aid you in making more accurate decisions quickly, rather than just guessing.

Successfully integrating a HUD into your game won’t make you a big winner overnight but it will allow you to multi-table much more effectively and discover reads on your opponents much faster (and more reliably) than if you were just paying close attention.

How To Configure A HUD

The first thing to do is decide which statistics you want to be highlighted on your HUD. The basics you should employ are Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP), Preflop raise (PFR), three-bet % and Aggression Factor (AF). These will give you an instant impression of how loose, tight or aggressive an opponent is preflop.

You can then make basic assumptions about their play and employ strategies to exploit that. For example, if a player is three-betting too much (anything over 10% is very high) you should start both four-bet bluffing them and also be willing to get all-in preflop with a much lighter range (something like 99+, A-Js+ would be good).

If a player has a very high VPIP (over 35%) you can safely assume they are a fish and aim to play as many pots with them as you can. Aggression Factor is less immediately important but it can help you out in tough spots too. A good aggressive player’s AF will be between 3-4.5. If you get raised postflop by an opponent with an AF far below that you will need a very strong hand to continue profitably.

Beyond those stats you should tinker to your own needs. I feel that Fold to three-bet % and four-bet % are important to add on. These will let you know which players you can bully with light reraises and which are liable to play back at you. If a player is folding to over 70% of three-bets that’s extremely high. In this case you should reraise them relentlessly with weaker hands, but only be willing to get all-in with a very narrow range (AA-QQ).

You win money from nits slowly over a number of hands rather than by stacking them all at once because they’ve made a major mistake. Continuation Bet % and Fold to C-bet % are also no-brainers. Logically, you should c-bet with air less against players with a low Fold To C-Bet % (anything below 40%) but bet for value with lighter hands such as any pair or even Ace-high.

If a player has a very high Fold to C-bet % it’s similar to exploiting those with a high Fold to three-bet %. You should just bet away until you are given a reason not to. Other more detailed stats you may wish to include are Turn C-bet %, River Bet %, Squeeze %, Blind Steal % and Check-Raise numbers. If you just stick to the basics listed here though you should have more than enough new tools at your disposal.

Significant Sample Size

Just like in science statistics mean nothing until we have a significant sample size to judge them by. You may see patterns emerging in a player you have only been playing with for a few orbits, but don’t read too much into them yet. I’d say that a bare minimum of 150 hands (and 1,000+ is much more reliable) of data should be compiled on a player before you even think about gleaning information from the HUD.

Anything before this and the stats could easily be skewed by a hot run of cards that could make them look much more loose-aggressive than they really are, and vice versa. Compiling tons of hands on your opponents takes a lot of hours at the table. One quicker solution is to buy hand histories from online sites instead. For a fee of $25-$50 you can buy millions of tracked hands, instantly granting you large sums of information on opponents.

This issue is a bit of a moral grey area though so it’s best to exercise caution and check your poker website’s terms and conditions before going ahead. Many players are doing this so it’s best to at least know the option is out there.

Are HUDs Good For Poker?

Personally, I wish HUDs had never been invented. They have narrowed the gap between good and bad players by explicitly highlighting weaknesses in people’s games, cutting into a winning player’s earnings. HUDs also promote a very TAG playing style throughout the low- and mid-stakes games that can alienate fish from enjoying poker as much as they used to.

HUDs are in danger of taking the fun factor out of poker. However, now that HUDs have proven so beneficial in the modern poker world it is ignorant not to incorporate them into your game, whatever your thoughts on them.

What you mustn’t do is assume that a HUD will solve all of your leaks. A HUD is there for the opposite  reason: to highlight the leaks of yourself and others. It is then up to you to take advantage of this knowledge. HUDs can be a significant aid to your poker playing, and it is imperative you are able to use them correctly. But don’t rely on them to the extent that you are no longer thinking for yourself.

Always remember that the human brain is far more sophisticated than any computer program can ever be and poker, when it comes down to it, is a battle of wits and not HUDs. Anyone that can retain the  individuality and creativity of a good poker player will always be a more formidable opponent than one who lives and dies by a Heads-Up Display.


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