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Poker Mental Game & Planning

Guide to Playing Poker Without a Hud

8,460 Views on 10/3/17

Including some HUD-less session into your poker routine can have many different positive effects other than preparing you for the future where HoldemManager and PokerTracker are things of the past.

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"What's your BB/100?" has to be one of the most popular questions in the poker community right after "What's your name?" and "How much ya bench?". We're obsessed with graphs, stats and numbers floating on the screen. Professional players often use HUD's that look even more complicated than what you can see in a cockpit of a fighter aircraft and if we contrast that with the perspective of a recreational player who's not using PokerTracker or HoldemManager it's hard to shake the feeling that there is something dirty going on.

It's almost like the pro and semi-pro players decided to bring an F 16 to a snowball fight and it's not difficult to imagine that recreational players who find out about this feel cheated and discouraged. Unfortunately, for them, the game theory concept of "prisoners dilemma" (with a bit of "tragedy of the commons" sprinkled in) explains exactly why regulars will never abandon the HUD software.

However, given the recent trend in poker room management based on making the game more appealing to casual enthusiasts (allowing for screen name changes, cutting down on seating scripts etc.) we might quickly find ourselves in an online poker world in which HUD's were completely abolished.

Maybe it's my tinfoil hat talking, maybe HUD's are here to stay forever and ever until we are all robots, but including some HUD-less session into your poker routine can have many different positive effects other than preparing you for the future where HoldemManager and PokerTracker are things of the past.


Like we've already explained - the simple fact that you're sacrificing some amount of your edge by not using a HUD in the environment in which other grinders are using a HUD ("prisoners dilemma") is the reason why you shouldn't uninstall your PT4/HM2 just yet!

Poker is a game of small enough edges as it is and putting yourself at a disadvantage when playing against other HUD users is not a great plan for winning the maximum amount of money possible at the poker tables in 2017. However, there are some compelling reasons why you might want to include an HUD-less session or two in your weekly poker routine.

First of all, we already touched upon the fact that playing without a HUD can be a way of future-proofing your game. Allowing for unlimited screen name changes is not that far off from banning tracking software altogether and it might be a natural next step for big networks like Microgaming. There's already plenty of rooms on the market where the use of tracking software is either difficult for technical reasons or downright prohibited (Unibet).

Playing the occasional session without using a HUD can prepare you for the future and offer more opportunities in the present.

Playing without a HUD can be a great way of reducing the psychological phenomenon called analysis paralysis. Paralysis by analysis is the state in which we fail to make a decision (or make a poor one) when faced with a complicated problem and provided with the amount of information and number of options that we can't possibly process.

Sure it's easy to make an iso raise preflop based on the fact that limper on CO has a VPIP of 60% and PFR of 5% after 150 hands, but it's much harder to figure out if you should call that second barrel from a guy with WWSF 48%, AF of 2, Turn Cbet of 51% after 1.5k hands. And what if he knows that you have 29% WTSD and 2.2 River Call Efficiency?

Building on that last point, a very small number of genetic outliers can actually benefit from quitting the use of HUD entirely (which given how ubiquitous HUDs are they probably have no idea about). While for most of us focusing on hard numbers is the preferable way of reasoning at a poker table there's a high chance some players could produce better results by relying on more esoteric aspects of the game of poker like table dynamics. And even if you're not one of those select few, by playing the odd HUD-less session you might realize how much value can be gained from putting more emphasis on things other than HUD.

Maybe you'll realize that HUD - while incredibly useful - became sort of a crutch for you game preventing you from becoming a better player.


Now that you know why playing without a HUD can be a good idea, let's briefly discuss how to go about it. First of all, even if some of the arguments presented above are very close to your heart you shouldn't automatically go all-in on the idea (so to speak). Start slowly and build up gradually as needed.

Pick one day of a week or even one small session in a week and commit to playing that session without the use of a HUD. Monitor your results during that session and monitor your progress after the session! Unless you're one of the genetic outliers mentioned above it is highly unlikely that the results of your HUD-less session will be better than when playing with a HUD (given sufficient sample size of course) but you should also treat it as a form of education and learning experience.

Even if HUD-less sessions end up costing you some money in the short term they might also make you into a better player and therefore help you maximize the long-term results.

Another important thing to point out is the fact that you might want to decrease the number of tables when playing the HUD-less sessions. Since you'll be forced to pay attention to more aspects of the game and rely on information that's difficult to obtain.

You'll no longer be able to categorize players simply by looking at rows of colorful numbers which might make the spots that felt trivial to you far more complicated to play and might make the spots you thought were simple turn out to be much more complex (which is a good thing!).

Many poker rooms out there give players the options to color code their opponents and create notes - use it. Color coding can be a decent substitute for VPIP/PFR stats when multi-tabling. For example, if you mark good regs with red, nits with yellow, loose-passive recreational with green, loose-aggressive with purple and short stacks with blue you'll get a basic overview of preflop dynamics at a quick glance.

Playing without a HUD can also help you realize how insanely valuable notes can be. We often neglect the notes based on the belief that stats gives us all of the information we require while in reality, stats can be very misleading especially out of context or when we put too much stock into them without the adequate sample size. Two different players with Flop Cbet of 60% and Turn Cbet of 45% can have radically different ranges for that play but once you see a player barreling turn without a backdoor you know exactly how unbalanced he is in that spot.

Lastly, playing poker without a HUD is still largely the same experience. You still have the same game structure, the same basic strategy, it's not like you suddenly forget how to play poker.

The main difference lies in what you focus on in order to gain the edge and if after training to play without a HUD you add new insight to your HUD-powered sessions you might realize that colorful numbers - while, potentially very useful - shouldn't become a crutch and there's as much (if not more!) information to be gained from paying attention to the game flow, table dynamics, and showdowns!

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Matt VIP

Matt is predominantly a mental game and planning expert, with a terrific knowledge of science, meditation, practical methods of improvement and of course, a good level of poker skill! Look out for his strategy articles and follow him for hi ... Read More

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