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Playing online poker has never been more fun, but it is also now a level above anything Chris Moneymaker might have dreamed of it becoming when he played an $80 satellite, qualified for the 2003 WSOP Main Event on PokerStars, and won the title for $2.5 million.
To be profitable playing for real money on an online poker site requires a lot of skill, an ability to bear a bad run of luck without tilting, and the kind of determination once reserved only for the very best in the business. Fortunately, there are more tools than ever that you can use to make your chances of victory even better.
One of the most popular and certainly the most important is a HUD, or Heads-Up-Display. Using one – and knowing how to get the best out of it – will give you a significant advantage by providing you with valuable information about your opponents’ playing styles, help you track tendencies, and help you make more informed and profitable decisions.
A HUD, or Heads-Up Display, is a tool used by online poker players to display real-time information about their opponents during a game. This gives anyone using it a significant edge as real-time information reveals details about a player’s style, as well as habits and patterns that they fall into, allowing you to take advantage of those tendencies to improve your chances of winning.
To start with, you’ll need to set up your HUD. There are a number of different ones that are available and different levels of HUD, such as Hold’em Manager or PokerTracker. If you’re a first-time user, then you’ll want to make sure that all the information you see is something you understand. We’ll come to some of the terminology that is used later on but take the time to research which one is best for your current level of poker experience.
Once you’ve decided on the HUD for you, make sure that you check it’s permissible to use that HUD in conjunction with your favorite poker site. Some of poker’s biggest sites are absolutely fine with the use of HUDs, but in recent years other poker sites have taken a stand against the use of HUDs, claiming that it gives players an unfair advantage. Be sure that you know its possible to download your favorite HUD and implement its information on the poker site of your choice before you set it up.
Before you start playing poker with the aid of a HUD, it’s worth configuring it to do exactly what you need it to. With HUDs, you can change the layout in order to optimize your view of statistics and make playing your A-Game as natural as possible. Numbers hovering over or around the seats of your opponent’s takes getting used to, so changing the size and placement is important. It’s also worth labelling each stat with a different color and using fonts that please your eye.
There are a plethora of numbers that you can call upon to reveal how often your opponent’s put money in the pot, raise, call or when they bet in or out of position. You can also adjust the settings of your HUD, with one particularly crucial modification – the time frame that is used to calculate the statistics of each opponent. Depending on how long they have been playing poker, these might have changed, so an overall statistic might be very different to a recent look at that player’s tendencies.
Imagine that a player has played for two years, but didn’t plug a leak such as betting too big out of position with middle-ranking pairs until the past two months. Analysis of their entire lifetime of play on the site would reveal a serious weakness, but a look at their recent play in isolation would disclose quite the opposite tendency.
Knowing what terms mean before you put together your Online Poker HUD is a little like learning another language. Poker jargon is curious linguistically, and this element could take some time. To give you a short cut, however, here are a few popular phrases that are reduced to initials you’ll be familiar with before you know it.
This stands for Voluntarily Put (Money) In Pot. This statistic will tell you how often a player puts money into the pot pre-flop that they don’t have to (i.e. they are in one of the blind positions).
This is a crucial stat to keep an eye on and is often very revealing about player types. PFR stands for Pre-Flop Raise and, put simply, is the percentage of hands in which a player raises preflop. If they’re aggressive, you’re often going to know about it by studying this stat, or possibly AF (Aggression Factor), which divides the number of bets by the number of times that player calls.
This is something that you’ll really want to follow up by taking a note of the specific hands. Short for ‘Went to Showdown’, it’ll tell you how often the designated player went to showdown and showed their cards after the river card and the subsequent round of betting was completed.
Once you have chosen and downloaded your HUD software, you’ll want to optimize the information you receive so that it improves your poker game. You’ll need to consider what information helps you most. This is called thinking optimally and is a key part of getting the best out of your HUD. What do you want to know and when are you at your best when playing poker against particular opponents? Once you know the answer to that question, you’ll known what you want to display in-game.
To make the best use of your HUD, you will need to study each player. Maybe their three-bet ratio is too high. Perhaps they’re too passive in folding to continuation bets after the flop. You need to find out, and not only quickly, but in the way that allows you to act on that information and punish errors in real time. Make sure that you’re not solely acting on the information the HUD tells you.
One of the biggest mistakes players make is being over-reliant on statistics and not putting them together with other information, such as how long a player takes to act or whether they use their time bank. Then there is the stage of the game you’re playing. If it’s a cash game, how stacked is your opponent; are they short or one of the big stacks at the table? If it’s a tournament, what are their tendencies like when sitting on 50 big blinds compared to 15-20 bigs?
Picking the best poker HUD can be a hard job. Fortunately, we’ve tried a lot of them and we have identified the few that you might want to consider, each of which offer something different.
We’ve started with a basic HUD that is perfect for beginnners. DriveHUD is the Heads-Up Display you need if you’re just starting to play poker online and want to do so in a profitable way rather than splashing around in the shallow end. If you’re looking to dip your toe in low stakes tournaments or cash games with a view to stepping up as soon as possible, then DriveHUD could be the ideal poker HUD for you to download.
Plenty of the HUDs on this list will help you hone your poker game in ways that are intermediate or advanced, but DriveHUD purposely sets out to be as easy to use as possible in as short a period of time as it can. New players are the focus here, with color coding and simple, clean icons that all require very little understanding before you can get into the action.
While other HUDs are packed with numbers and stats, DriveHUD will have you at the felt in no time. There are a couple of technical specifications that you need to be aware, chiefly that you’ll need at least 4 GB of RAM to download and implement DriveHUD but we’d recommend having at least double that space for it to run optimally. DriveHUD is, however, well worth it especially if you are a beginner and want to take advantage of the program’s ability to fix those blind spots with the Leadk Detector function. The User Inteface (UI) is clean, discreet and can automatically categorize your opponents for you, as well as providing with your own graph of growth that shows you where you can improve your game.
DriveHUD may be perfect for beginners, but it is far from the perfect HUD and that may be Poker Tracker 4. This is the preferred HUD for poker players worldwide and while others do the job, Poker Tracker 4 is currently the most rounded tool for online poker players. So why is that? You can customize the HUD in virtually any way you want, and the detailed statistics that are provided will shape your game into that of an online crusher if you put the work in.
Poker Tracker 4 works with tournaments, cash games and is integrated with Sharkscope, so you can track your success at the felt directly with the app that is helping to improve your game. Poker Tracker 4 will help you make changes to your game in post-match analysis that a lot of players who use it will attest to. But it also helps you change your game as you’re at the felt, meaning this is a leap forward for many players. Using Poker Tracker 4 as you poker HUD will have a direct result on your ability at the felt, and there is no greater compliment than that.
Poker Tracker 4 runs on both Windows and Mac, too, unlike DriveHUD, which only operates on Windows. Adding in stats to focus on is easy and slick, the UI is complex but feels natural once you give it a little work. It also works on no fewer than 25 poker sites, including all the major ones you’re likely to be thinking about using it on. The live LeakTracker function allows you to implement changes at the felt and is a major plus.
Overall, Poker Tracker 4 is the most complete HUD out there right now and while its not perfect – advanced players might want more post-game analytics if they’re looking to crush the nosebleeds – it’s currently the market leader for a reason.
One criticism of Poker Tracker 4 is that there are only a few add-on packages that can be applied to the HUD. This may be true for seriously good players, but for the average grinder there are plenty and one of the best deserves a mention all on its own. Ninja HUD provides the user with a HUD layout that is the ‘perfect’ amount of information to take on and put others to the sword with.
Costing just $9 – compared to the frequent three-figure investments for the average HUD – buying Ninja HUD could be money very well spent, thanks to its innovative style and dynamic look. With an extremely organized layout, Ninja HUD adapts to both nine-player (full ring) and six-max tables, and generally pushes the user to improve on the VPIP/PFR statistics, along with folding vs. stealing, and when to three-bet pre-flop along with when to let cards go.
With continuation bets and fold/resteal statistics rounding out the compact yet extremely helpful UI modification, using Ninja HUD is a really good way of cutting to the key information with your HUD but rather that DriveHUD’s beginner focus, Ninja HUD feels like a lot more of a professional tool.
Holdem Manager 3 has been out since 2008 and through a number of iterations, has consistently proved very popular with poker players of all levels. With each poker era leading to a more refined product, Holdem Manager 3 has a lot of features and can need trimming down from its original settings. But once you get your head around thinking from what you want to keep hold of in terms of information as opposed to what you want to include, working this way around actually provides an edge of its own for many players.
Refining your own HUD by using Holdem Manager 3 has some real benefits, with its hand filtering feature helping you pare down the statistics that you’re taking on until they are at their most optimal use for you. It may be the most expensive HUD on our list, but it’s really slick and provides optimal information in a highly beneficial way to most serious players.
While there are feature about Holdem Manager 3 that keep it from the top spot in many people’s HUD Ranks – it works on roughly half the sites that Poker Tracker 4 does, only works on Windows and takes up the most GB space of any of the HUDs we recommend here – the ability to use Holdem Manager 3 in a variety of different languages mean that it is the HUD of choice for millions of players worldwide.
Finally, and by no means without a little fanfare, we recommend Poker Copilot 6. As the name suggests, Poker Copilot 6 has been around some time, and was the first ever HUD that was compatible with Mac. Still able to be downloaded on both Windows and Mac, Poker Copilot 6 has definitely stepped up to the levels of Poker Tracker 4 and Holdem Manager 3 and can claim to be the slightly simpler complete HUD to use.
While other HUDs can be quite cluttered until your strip the information you don’t want to see away, Poker Copilot 6 starts off clean and for many users this is a really nice way to start using a HUD. The Leak Finder function helps you access your game histories and process which spots you could have improved in very well, and the suggested plays are strong ones that really work.
You can certainly do a lot worse than buying Poker Copilot 6 as your poker HUD and while its game analysis option may eventually become limited to advanced players, if Poker Copilot 6 has helped you become an advanced player, then it’s definitely done its job. With a hand bankroll chart to measure the financial implications of your gameplay alongside a ‘quick view’ session replay function, Poker Copilot 6 is one of the simplest poker HUDS on the market and we see it as a great tool to move from a beginner to intermediate or even advanced level.
Working with an online poker HUD can improve your poker game dramatically. It allows you to make the most of statistical information to aid the decisions you then make in play. From identifying player types to making your own game no longer reliant on instincts alone but genuine, up to the minute data, using a Heads-Up Display optimally can give your poker game the shot in the arm it needs.
Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!
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