Saturday, April 11, 2015

Can You Win at Online Poker Without Using a HUD?

Can You Win at Online Poker Without Using a HUD?
A lot of people want to know if you can win at online poker without using a HUD. I see this question on forums all the time and I get emails about it as well. As someone who has played over 7 million hands of online poker now, both with a HUD and without one, I want to finally answer this question in a blog post here once and for all!

For anyone who does not know what a HUD (Heads Up Display) is, it is a component of the popular poker tracking programs like Pokertracker 4 or Hold'em Manager 2. It allows you to display information on your opponents directly beside their name at the poker tables. This information is extracted by these programs from your own hand histories. Hand histories are small text files that are automatically created by the poker site after every hand and stored on your computer.

So for instance, say that you have played 100 hands of poker with a specific player. And by this I simply mean that you were seated at the same table as them for 100 hands. You probably both folded preflop the majority of the time. The poker tracking program will find 100 different hand histories where this player showed up and it will then be able to calculate for instance what percentage of those hands that they decided to play. You can then display this information (as well as many other stats) next to the person's name at the table if you wish.

So your online poker table with a HUD enabled may look something like this (I blacked out the player names to protect their privacy):

Winning at online poker without using a HUD

Don't worry about what all of these stats mean right now. I will have more on that later.

Let's get back to the original question here first. Can you win at online poker without using a HUD or is it necessary to have all of these fancy numbers on your screen?

The answer to this burning questions is...

*Drum roll*

Yes! You can definitely win at online poker without using a HUD. 

However...why on earth would you choose to play without one?

Let me explain.

Using a HUD Simply Gives You More Options

Playing online poker without using a HUD would be like playing golf with only 2 clubs. There is a reason why most golfers (professional or amateur) usually carry around a dozen or more of them. It just gives them more options when confronted with different scenarios.

Could you still win a round of golf against someone by using just two clubs? Sure, if you played against somebody who is terrible at the game like me then you could probably still manage to get the win on most occasions. But if you were to play against somebody who is equally as skilled then this advantage that they have might be difficult to overcome.

The same goes for online poker. All a HUD really does is give you some extra options (information in this case) at the tables. You don't even have to pay much attention to it if you don't want to. In fact for people just starting out at the lowest stakes I recommend a very scaled down bare bones HUD so that they focus more on the fundamentals of the game instead. Information is power though even if you only make limited use of it.

Think about how having the following data in front of you might help you make a better decision in a key spot:
  • Percentage of hands that they play
  • Percentage of hands that they raise
  • How aggressive or passive they are
  • How often they make a 3Bet
  • How often they fold to a 3Bet
  • How often they make a continuation bet on the flop
  • How often they fold to a continuation bet on the flop
I could go on but I think you get my point.

But Using a HUD Isn't Real Poker!

This is a common complaint that I hear from those who are more let's say "old school" about the game or those who come from a live background. Many of these people think that a HUD breaks with the tradition of the game which includes reading your opponent and making gut decisions.

Well I think first off we need to remember that online poker and live poker are in fact two different games. While it is true that the rules are the same just about everything else is different from the pace of the action to the ability to physically interact with your opponent. There is a huge dimension of the live game including physical tells, appearance and table talk that just really does not exist in the online game.

"Reads" in online poker are much more based on stuff like timing tells and betting patterns. And of course the other main difference is that the online game is played through a powerful computing device like a laptop, pc or tablet. It is only natural that people are going to try and make use of this technology to their advantage.

You must remember though: 

All a HUD really does is process data from a bunch of hands that you yourself have already played. 

While it might sound a bit ridiculous there is absolutely nothing stopping you in a live game from using some sort of mobile device and compiling data on your opponents in a similar way. So to answer another common complaint, no, there is absolutely nothing about using a HUD that is "cheating" or breaking the rules of the game.

At the end of the day the information that we get from a HUD merely gives us clues to work with. No HUD on earth can tell you what two cards your opponent is actually holding. If you had access to that sort of information then you absolutely would be cheating. In online poker we still make decisions based on our gut instinct all the time. A HUD simply organizes the information that we already have in a more efficient and useful manner.

Using a HUD Pays For Itself Quickly

I actually scoffed at the idea of using a HUD for a long time myself, for years even. I have still played a slight majority of my 7 million+ hands of online poker without the use of one. Nearly all of these hands were played several years ago though when the edges were bigger online and it was easier to get away without using a HUD. Also, very few of my opponents were using one at the time either which is certainly NOT the case today.

I eventually smartened up though after realizing how useful the information that they provide could be and how easy they actually were to use. Now when I sit down to play poker on the internet my HUD is always fired up and ready to go with hesitation. It is not something that I even need to think about. A HUD is simply a key tool that all serious poker players use in today's games. And the reason why is because even with minimal use they pay for themselves very quickly.

For instance:

You have QQ in an NL5 full ring game. You raise back and forth with a particular opponent and then he shoves all in. What do you do?

Well, if you are using a HUD then you might notice that your opponent is a massive nit who only plays 10% of his hands. Most nits are hesitant to get all the money in preflop without the mortal nuts and your HUD might provide you with further evidence to back this up. So there is probably a pretty good chance then that this player actually does have one of the two hands that beat you. You could probably safely lay down your queens and save yourself $5.

On the other hand, your HUD might tell you that your opponent is a maniac who plays 50% of his hands and raises and re-raises with a large amount of them as well. In this case we should quite literally beat our opponent into the pot. We will most likely win and stack them for a $5 gain. A very simplistic situation like this will come up often enough that the entire cost of the HUD would be paid for in a short period of time even at extremely low stakes like this.

Now of course one might argue that you could just play a single table or two and watch your opponents closely. But then you would take away from one of the key strengths of online poker which is the ability to multi-table. This allows you to maximize your hourly, get to the long run faster and collect more rakeback all at the same time. And also, raw numbers (actual data and percentages on your screen) are always going to be more accurate than your memory.

If You Are Serious About Online Poker, Then Use a HUD

If you take online poker seriously at all then getting a HUD is easily one of the most +EV investments that you can make. This is not even to mention all of the innumerable benefits of the poker tracking program itself such as the ability to conduct a session review and a database analysis of your game and that of your opponents.

As we already saw, even if you only use your HUD for the most basic scenarios it would already start paying for itself very quickly. But furthermore, both of the major HUDs that are used these days have a free trial so you can simply test drive them for 30 days at no cost and see for yourself.

I personally use Pokertracker 4 when I play online because of how well designed the interface is, how easy it is to find stats, use filters and setup the HUD. They provide a highly detailed quick start guide as well for if you have any problems during the installation. It is also Mac friendly by the way.

And lastly, I have written a comprehensive guide on how to optimize your HUD which also happens to be the most popular post in the history of this website.

In it I discuss:
  • What each of the HUD stats mean and the technical abbreviations that are used
  • How I sort the stats on my HUD and use them to make poker decisions
  • Sample size convergence for various stats
  • Complete HUD customization including how to add or remove stats, change fonts, prefixes etc.
  • FREE downloads of both the lite and full versions of the custom PT4 HUD profiles that I personally use at the poker tables.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this blog post has once and for all helped answer the question of whether or not you can win at online poker without using a HUD.

Yes, you definitely can.

If you are a solid player, table select well and keep the tilt to a minimum then you should have no problem beating most levels at the micros.

However it makes no sense to be without the kind of quality information on your opponents that a HUD can provide. This is information by the way that an increasing number of your opponents will have on you as you climb up the stakes.

Using a HUD is not some magic wand that allows you to print money at the tables. However, when used effectively it will help you make better decisions based on the data that you have already gathered. This will pay off in a big way over the long run.

If you are serious about online poker and you do not use a HUD yet then do yourself a favor and at least try one out. Don't be that anti-HUD hero. You are only hurting your own bottom line at the tables.

Let me know your thoughts on playing online poker with or without a HUD below.

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Can You Win at Online Poker Without Using a HUD?


  1. Hey man

    For an aspiring pro what do you think about lack of social life? I am single, work ft, and wanna go pro this year. I dont have time for friends. After work I go home to grind a few hrs, eat dinner, do laundry. On days off I just wanna grind all day, and watch movies. Friends just take away precious time and energy. Im an introvert anyway and dont enjoy human interaction much. I dont need ppl calling me every week asking me to do stuff, if I tell them about poker id get a long story about how their friend who lost everything playing slots. Maybe ill make friends after I establish myself at a high enough stake and go pro successfully for a while, then ill make free time for making friends. Right now its at the bottom of priority. But your thoughts?

    1. Hey cannabis,

      I know what this is like and I am the same. I am definitely not the center of the party nor do I crave that at all. Online poker can definitely be a pretty solitary thing at times so it is good that you are already a fairly independent person.

      However, I do think that it is a good idea to still maintain a little bit of a social life at least. I try to go out once a week with friends and I sometimes see people during the week at the gym or for a quick coffee. But overall I would not worry about it too much. You can't put everything into this game and maintain a huge social life at the same time. Just don't alienate yourself completely.

      Also, your non-poker friends will never understand. You could reach out to see if there are any online poker players (or even live pros) in your area. This has helped me a lot to be able to talk to people who "get it." All the best.

    2. @Cannabis. A lot of winning, serious, committed players form groups with like-minded winning players of approx the same level of stakes, games & experience. They claim it accelerates their learning having other players critique their play + there's the competitive element of pushing each other to do better. Like you I'm not interested in doing this, but IMO I think it's a serious mistake to only hold a job, play poker online & watch some movies ~ fresh air, exercise & some interaction with non-work people will benefit you long term. I'm probably a lot older than you & one thing I've learned is it gets hard to make genuine lifetime friends once you're past college age. Whatever friends you've got now - invest some time in them & relatives because it pays later. They don't have to know that your "online investment portfolio" [or whatever you want to call it] is poker.

    3. I think small adjustments goes a long way in how to socialize while keeping the grind going.

      For example:
      This saturday two friends called me, one wanted to go out clubbing and one wanted to have dinner (he had work early on sunday) so i went with second which resulted in a good time with a long time friend over dinner and still had time to grind a few hours saturday evening afterwards and have no hangover on sunday to hinder your grind on sunday.

      A side note: Going out to meet non-poker friends that have no interest in talking poker can be the perfect solution to get of minor (or bigger) tilt that you might have at any point. Just get all your focus away from poker from time to time.

  2. Do u still live in Thailand? Cuz I live in Vancouver, if we're in the same city maybe we can hang out

    1. Ya I am still living in Thailand. I am from Vancouver though so I do go back there from time to time. I think Michael's advice above is really good. Maybe I will write something on this topic one day because I think it is an important issue that rarely gets discussed in the poker community. I actually just moved to an island where I don't know anybody at all so it has been on my mind a bit.

      Like he said though having that balance is really important so I force myself to get outside for at least an hour or two every single day no matter what. Exercise is a great excuse to do this. The seawall in Vancouver is of course perfect for that if you live anywhere close to downtown. I have seen a lot of poker players over here who are just total shut ins and I don't think it is a good thing for your game or your mental health no matter how independent of a person you are.

    2. Join PokerStars PokerSchoolOnline community - good way to link up with players in your area

      I also googled "meetups" for Vancouver & there are some live poker meetings playing in pubs. More social than "real" poker though - playing for prizes rather than cash I think

  3. For me it's a little complicated because I like to play zoom poker and I use a mac, so that the HUD unfortunately doesn't work at zoom tables. But I can also get information about my opponents from other tells and try to make notes and color labels etc. So it's ok, but it is more difficult without a HUD.

    1. Ya I believe that there are some issues specifically related to Mac users playing Zoom. I don't play/use either so I can't be of much help. Glad you are finding a way though.

    2. "Poker Copilot" is a HUD for Mac. It claims to have an experimental "dynamic HUD" that works on Zoom & Rush tables. I have never tried this program because I use Windows. Why not email support & ask if it currently works for Zoom?

      ** 30-day free trial
      ** Poker Copilot is more or less all about the HUD - don't expect to use it for post-game analysis etc
      ** Fairly frequent s/ware updates
      ** Only way to communicate with support is via email - no forum or 2+2. Therefore its difficult to know how the s/ware rates in the eyes of other users
      ** I think it has 25 stats [more than enough for zoom] - much less than available in PT4 or HM2 which have hundreds ready made

      To work on Zoom with Mac it must be using a screen scraping method & OCR
      Therefore the 'Dynamic HUD' is likely to break regularly when PokerStars changes the table design [it has to be Nova theme] or the chat info

  4. Hey man, excellent article once again. My HEM trial is about to expire and I don't think I can afford to not purchase it, I don't know how else I'll keep an eye on all tables or review sessions or decide if I've been running/playing good/bad without the database.
    On a related note, there are lot of 'regs' at NL2 that have a wide gap between their VPIP and PFR, examples are 18/8,15/6,20/10. I know fish are the primary candidates to play against at these stakes but there are always some regs like this at most fishy tables. What can we infer about these guys' tendencies of play and how to exploit them?
    Also, is cbetting as a bluff on a low-paired board like K22 or Q66 generally a good idea when we don't have enough hands on someone to be able to trust their fold to cbet stat?

    1. Thanks Ajgar,

      You are right. There are a lot of regs like this at the lowest stakes. They often have huge leaks postflop as well. I will certainly isolate them frequently preflop just like with the rec players and then exploit their postflop mistakes as well. My next blog post will have tons more on using your HUD to find their postflop mistakes and lots more on this can also be found in my book Modern Small Stakes.

      Yes, I will almost always CBet on those boards against one opponent. Most people fold to a CBet often enough to make it profitable if we are only betting something like 2/3 pot. It isn't always a bluff either. Sometimes our ace high for instance is ahead.

    2. There hasn't been one post of mine on here that you haven't replied to, and most of them must have seemed trivial to you. Thanks for bearing with everyone's questions man, I don't know what else to say :)

    3. Thanks for the kind words. I try! If the site grows a lot bigger I can't promise this will always be the case :p

  5. I think that a HUD is essential and perhaps the queries are coming from mobile players as they are forced to play blind. Maybe Stars , etc, could change their hand history format or have mobile only zoom as It's not a fair playing field . Hopefully this will change.

  6. Hi Nathan, Thanks a lot for your very useful articles. I was just wondering if the HUD is merely for cash game or it could have the same functioning in Tournament games?

    1. Hi Aidin,

      I am glad that my articles are helpful for you. HUDs are useful in both cash games and tournaments.

  7. Hi )

    Is there any free versions or editions of HUD available in the web?

    1. You can get free 30-day trials on the main two [PT4 & HM2]

      Jivaro for PokerStars did have a free basic version, but they've stopped that now & it's entirely by subscription at $4.99/mnth for the basic version now

      The truly free one that I know of is Freepokerdb [FPDB] which you can get at Sourceforge. This is quite good, but you do need to read the Wiki pages to install correctly or you'll have a bad experience.

      Jivaro & FPDB only display a HUD with stats, there are no reports or analysis functions which makes it useless for analyzing leaks in your game. Better to save up for the Small Stakes versions of PT4 or HM2 for around $60 both programs can also be 'earned' for free by signing up to a new poker site [new to you] via the PT4 or HM2 sites & than clearing a bonus that awards you the program, but this is a lot of hands of raked poker. Hard work.

      There are other programs such as Holdem Indicator which might have a free trial for two or four weeks [I don't know], but support is poor I've heard