There are hoards of poker players that use tracking programs like Holdem Manager, Poker Tracker, Poker Edge and others to look to gain the advantage on opponents at the poker table. You can see an example of what a poker table screen looks like when you’re utilizing a player HUD by checking out the image to the right side of this article.
The use of this software is now so prevalent among poker regulars that one may wonder if there’s even much of an advantage these days in using them. However, merely having the capability to track various tendencies in your opponents’ play is just the start of things, and the real potential is using these stats to your advantage during poker sessions.
Fortunately, there’s a big gap between the way the typical online poker player uses this information and what can really be accomplished with it. In this article I’m going to discuss some of these superior perspectives and tactics that you can incorporate into your own game to really get a leg up on the people you play against, regardless of whether they use one of the popular tracking packages or not.
What You Have to Gain From Using HUD Stats
Let’s begin by looking at what most players look to gain from poker stats. Poker players are accustomed to looking to come to general conclusions about their opponents, as in loose aggressive (LAG), tight aggressive (TAG), and so on. These categorizations can be further broken down to specific situations, such as tight out of position, aggressive pre-flop, and so on. So this is the kind of thing that players are used to while playing without the aid of stats, so they use the stats as a means to be able to make these generalizations more quickly and more accurately.
So this seems to be a reasonable use of stats, looking at specifics and then generalizing from them, but once we realize that poker is essentially a game of using math to your best advantage, and we have specific numbers to work with here, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the actual data than just looking to form some broad conclusions?
In some areas players actually do this quite regularly, like for instance looking at a distribution of pre-flop raises by position. However, for the most part, they tend to use too broad and co-mingled stats most of the time, which not only miss the mark as far as getting the most benefit out of them, they actually can do more harm than good in a lot of cases.
The main cause of this is that there has been a lag between the technology and its use. When tracking programs first came out, they were quite limited in the types of things you could do with them, and the stats provided tended to be ones that the common player wanted. So people like using things like aggressiveness, win $ at showdown, etc, even though these weren’t particularly helpful, and at best gave players only a vague idea of what was truly going on.
Breaking Down Player Tendencies and Betting Patterns
However, what we really need here is to look to gain the most specific information possible, to put ourselves in the best position possible to not only determine what a player’s specific tendencies are, but to actually have numbers we can work with. So in order to do that properly, we’re going to need this broken down by both betting round and position. If someone checks to me on the flop, for instance, I want to know how often he does this versus betting out, how often he folds and raises if I bet, what he’s prone to doing on the next street if I check back, and so on.
On the other hand, I could look at his aggressiveness, and say that this player is aggressive generally, but perhaps he plays that way in position and plays pretty tight out of position. So I can look at the fact that he check folds over 50% of the time, and when I check back, he leads out 50% of the time on the turn. So now I can look to take the pot down on the flop with my weaker ranges, making an instant profit through fold equity, and also look to trap him with my better hands on the turn. Maybe he likes to double barrel in these situations, and will fold his bluffs to a raise on the turn, but fire out again on the river generally when called. So this is all very useful information to know of course.
There’s more to it than this though. While we can easily spot general tendencies like this, it’s even better to have the actual numbers, meaning the specific frequencies of his actions in situations. Not only are we going to know where we’re at in terms of our fold equity potential, but we can also use this data to put him on an average hand strength based upon what he tends to do.
So instead of working from being against a random hand and then looking to generate reads based upon the hand action and some general thoughts, we can now average out what he generally has in a given situation, where we’re looking to determine whether our hand has this beat or not, and then use that as a starting point, and further refine from there with our specific reads in terms of how the hand has played out, the board, and so on.
For instance, if we know a player bets a certain amount of the time in a spot, we can then come up with an average hand that he’s doing this with, for instance second pair good kicker. So if we have top pair for instance, then we know that more often than not we’re ahead. If he’s playing a wider or narrower range, then we’re going to know what we’re going to need to go for value. In all cases though, whether we’re going for value, fold equity or both, this gives us the ability to use game theory to exploit our opponents, in conjunction with our normal hand reading, which can be a big plus if used correctly.
So in order to get the data we’re going to need here, we will need to have a player’s percentages broken down by both street and position. For example, on the flop out of position we’ll know how often he checks, bets, raises, 3 bets, calls, and folds. We need this for each street in and out of position. This looks at what a player does specifically, and it should be pretty obvious why that’s preferable.
However, there’s only one way to get these stats, and that’s by using the active player window in Holdem Manager. Hopefully, at some point we’ll be able to get these in a HUD, but it’s actually better for us that it isn’t, as if it were, more players would use this stuff. For now we’ll keep this our secret.