HUDs have become a hot topic recently, as major online operators plan to restrict, if not ban, their use. Some people love a HUD (I’m one) some people hate them (are HUDs cheating?) and others have no idea what a HUD is (can I have cheese on it?).

As ever, my blog is aimed at low-stakes, large field MTT online players and this is an introduction to HUDs, and a discussion of their use at a very basic level.

HUD stands for “Heads Up Display” and means any screen display showing extra, pertinent information on a task in hand. They have long been present in “1st Person” style shoot-out video games, and the term originated from fighter pilot technology (the pilot could see info with his “head up”, which is useful when one is gunning down insurgents, I would imagine).

In terms of online poker, a HUD is a bit of software than you download onto your PC/Laptop that speaks to the poker site as you play, and collects data on you, and your opponents, and provides you with an in-game display of this data.

What you see in your HUD will depend on what data your software is programmed to collect and display, so in theory, no two players’ HUDs will be identical, and many hours can be spent optimizing and tweaking a HUD.

There’s a lot of stats available, but you choose what you want to see.

Equally, PokerTracker/Holdem Manager can both be downloaded and active within minutes, using basic stats, so don’t feel excluded on the basis you are not a computer-whizz, you really do not need skills at that level to get benefit from a HUD.

I personally use PokerTracker, but I’m not on commission, I’m sure Holdem Manager is as good, I have friends who say it is! I am not aware of any other HUD software for online poker, I’m sure there is some, but I recommend beginners stick with the major brands at first.

A lot of old-skool players say HUDs are “cheating”, and maybe they’re on to something as there has been recent uproar about PokerStars (and other major operators) putting some serious limitations on how extensive a HUD’s data mining and information displays can be.

I believe that advanced HUD users can currently use the software for table selection, ie targeting tables already populated by fish (more relevant for cash and STTs), programme them to colour-code display likely equity against opponents’ ranges and other very robot like functions that I don’t understand and never been able, or tried, to use.

If my understanding of the information released is correct, then only the more “botty” functions of HUDs are going to be restricted, and this will hit the high volume regs pretty hard, especially ones who have grown-up into the game using this software as their principle decision making tool.

Boo-Hoo. The game changes again.

Robot from The Terminator
Are we playing a man, or a machine? Do we even know the difference any more?

As it stands, the basic and original functions of a HUD will remain in place, meaning that I can still collect data on this sort of thing:
VPIP: Voluntary contribution preflop. A high number means a fishy guy playing too many hands, he’s choosing to put his money in too often.
PFR: Pre-flop raise frequency, a low number with a high VPIP flags a calling station.
3-Bet: How often he 3bets preflop, if he does it loads, then I’ll 4-bet him light.
C-Bet: The % of time he will c-bet the flop, helping me decide if I can get money from a nice flop.

This is basic poker information, and you will already be collecting it yourself, in your head, as you play.
I think it’s easier in live poker, because you can only play one table at once. A very loose player, or very tight player will become obvious to you in a couple of orbits, so there is always some “data” being built up that you will use to help you make a decision later.

As a large field MTT player, I encounter a massive amount of opponents each day, and I’m usually playing four tables at once, I don’t see a problem with some software collecting some information for me, if I still have to make my decisions alone.
I don’t have time to carefully study 32 other players when I play online, and, given the speed with which players move in the fields I play, it would not be time well spent anyway!

My HUD, which is almost exactly as it came (ie I’m too techno-tardy to do anything especially clever with it) is most useful to me deep in tourneys, either because I have collected a good chunk of data on a few guys, or if I make final/top two tables and am put in a lot of tricky survival spots.

As I’ve got more used to seeing the statistics, and spent a bit of time reading about what they mean, I’ve been able to hover over my opponent’s display and get further information on how they have been acting on the flop, turn and river.

Sometimes, when I’m facing a really marginal, squeaky decision, the extra bit of support from gathered information is at worst, comforting, and at best, profitable.

Concept image of the six most common questions and answers on a signpost.
HUDs can answer a question you would have asked anyway.

While I cannot deny the usefulness of having information on my opponents, I am convinced that the most useful function of my HUD software is the information it collects on me.

It helps me find leaks, it tells me which tourney format I’m crushing/being crushed by, it puts everything into nice little graphs for me, it allows me to replay every hand in a tournament to analyse what I’m doing well/wrong and forces me to come face to face with the actual truth of my results on a daily basis.

It has functions that are vital to the development of my poker game, and are certainly not any form of “cheating”.

I do understand the point of view of people who feel like HUDs are “unfair” or “wrong”, and I have considered it, but I think if the playing field is levelled by the major operators, and HUDs are prevented from being robots, playing the game while drooling algorithm nerds click buttons, then HUDs as a display of collected information are an exciting, interesting and, now, unavoidable, part of online poker.

My HUD has definitely been useful to me, and it seems like none of the changes will affect the way I currently use it. I have to take the logical step of assuming that some of the people who have been beating me will lose some of the functions that have helped them beat me; ie they will have fewer tools, and I get to keep working with what I know.

Sometimes the jungle does change in favour of the weaker animal, eh?

Are these mice? They’re not colour-coded as mice. WHAT DO I DO?

I don’t know if you should get a HUD or not, that’s your call, but here’s things I do know:

  1. They’re well cheap. $100 got me the full package, but if you play tourneys less than $22buyin you can get started for about $50*.

  2. They are easy to set up (I am a massive techno-tard and I managed, alone. Smug-face.)

  3. My HUD paid for itself within a month. (Av tourney buyin $10)

  4. A little bit more information is always better than a little bit less information.

[*The reason to get the full package as a micro-stakes player is for the odd occasion you might satty into a larger buyin online game. I upgraded mid-game when I won a $109 satty ticket to a $850 live event and felt a bit panicky without my HUD when I was playing a game outside my normal stake. I felt it was very much worth the extra $50!]

I love my HUD, and as long as I can use it, I will.
I think it’s worth my time to read about the various statistics and get more out of it, because I believe they are now a inextricable part of online poker, and I am very glad I started using one.

I am not an expert, and if you want more detailed information/discussion, there is mountain of opinions and theories on all the major forums. If you want to dive in and want help from an idiot who’s already been through it, feel free to ask questions. Even if I can’t answer, I probably know someone who can!