HUDs Are Not the Problem

Earlier this week, I critiqued some of the recent commentary in the poker media about the recent discovery of the Odlanor trojan that has latched onto the computers of some PokerStars and Full Tilt players, sending screen shots of their hole cards to cheaters who aim to sit at the same tables as the targets and profit off their knowledge advantage. A side topic that came up was that of third-party Heads-Up Display (HUD) software and how poker sites would be well-served to ban them. On this, I must disagree.

Well, sort of. Really, I don’t care one way or the other if online poker players can use HUDs. The problem I have is that those who want them abolished tend to fall back on the old, “You can’t use HUDs in live poker, so you shouldn’t be able to use them online” reasoning.

Come on. You know that’s bullshit. Online poker and live poker, while both poker, are two different games. There are things you can do in one that you can’t do in the other, simply because of the nature of the format. In live poker, you can Hollywood, talk to people to try to glean information, stare into people’s souls, give off fake tells, stall, and the like. You can’t do that stuff online, but internet players don’t complain about that. Ok, sometimes people complain that online poker isn’t has fun as live poker because of the social, personal aspect, but online poker fans don’t cry foul when they can’t see if their opponent across the ocean is breathing faster.

In online poker, we can multi-table, track our hands and statistics instantly, get in more practice because we can play more hands, and yes, we have HUD software to aid us in our quest for that extra fraction of a big blind per 100. And there’s nothing wrong with that because online poker is not live poker.

If I am playing in a brick-and-mortar casino, I can whip out a notebook and write down whatever I want about my opponents to help me gain an edge on them later. There are even apps designed to aid in this endeavor. What in the world is wrong with being able to do this in an automated fashion online? Nothing, that’s what.

The concept is the same. The online poker rooms provides players with their hand histories immediately and software allows them to instantly have records on their own play and their opponents’ play, along with providing real-time statistical analysis. That’s great! That’s a really cool thing to be able to do and is a natural extension of what we can do live with pen and paper or a mobile app.

People have to accept the fact that online poker is different than live poker and that if people are going to be playing on their computers, they should be allowed to use the computer not just as a vehicle, but as a tool.

PokerTracker is not the enemy.

PokerTracker is not the enemy.

HUDs and hand tracking software are not the domain of high rollers or professional players. They are available to everybody who is willing to pay for them. Yes, you have to buy them, but they are not unreasonably priced; PokerTracker goes for $60 to $160, depending on the package. People in every other hobby and professional pay for tools and training to help them improve and we don’t complain about that, but for some reason because it’s poker, it’s scandalous.

I do understand why many people, including some poker pros, don’t like HUDs, but here’s the thing: critics are taking aim at the wrong target. The problem is not the HUD program, but some of the other third-party software and services that go along with it. A HUD, as well as the hand tracking software in which it is included, is a useful tool. It is not until it is combined with other things that it becomes a scourge of the internet poker industry.

Where people need to channel their bile are at things like seating script software and data mining sites. These are the real problems. Seating scripts use a player’s tracking software (which, again, includes a HUD as one of its components) to figure out which potential opponents are the fishiest and then automatically hunt them down in the poker room lobby and seat the user with them. They not only make it unfairly easy for a strong player to target the weaker ones, but once one of those marks realizes he is being followed, it often causes that player to leave. The HUD is not the issue – in fact, it doesn’t really even come into play directly here – it is the script that allows a player to victimize others.

Data mining sites aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. There is something to be said for having a resource to see information about other players. It can be fun to see the track records of others and compare them to oneself, plus, why not have that information out there (for free or not)? The real detestable sites, though, are the ones who sell detailed hand histories by the thousands and even millions. Without ever having played a single hand against you, an opponent who purchases your hand histories from a data mining site can know your tendencies and betting patterns like you had been his home game buddy for a decade. He didn’t do anything to earn this knowledge. He just paid for it. And while this is fine in other sports, it clearly runs contrary to the spirit of poker. There is no arguing this. But again, while the purchased data gets input into a player’s tracking software and, in turn, their HUD, the HUD is not the problem. It’s the site that gathered and sold the hand histories.

There are other examples out there beyond seating scripts and data mining sites, but those are two of the most flagrant offenders. Poker purists need to realize that it is not useful tools like HUDs that should be the object of their scorn, but rather the adjuncts that allow those tools to become obnoxious, unfair weapons .


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