James “SplitSuit” Sweeney is back after a brief hiatus to discuss an interesting topic brought up in a forum post by boilerace:

“I’ll admit it. I’m against HUDs. I have enough to learn about the game and I’ll never have a HUD at a live table. I find them as a crutch and something that changes the game of poker to something that I don’t really care for. I don’t really feel inspired to play if I have to check a stat to determine if I call, fold, or raise.

So, I continue to play online without a HUD. Am I crazy? Maybe. I’m curious if anyone else here plays online without a HUD. Can you beat the game without a HUD? What level? And for those of you that play with HUD, if I took you’re HUD away, could you beat online and at what level?”

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The forum conversation has been great so far, we encourage you to check it out. Sweeney breaks the topic down into four key questions:

  • Does anyone play without using a HUD?
  • Can you win without using a HUD?
  • If you could win without using a HUD, at what level could you do so?
  • Could a HUD-using poker player win if their HUD was taken away from them?

Does Anyone Play Online Poker Without a HUD?

There are many reasons for why the answer to this question is yes. For one, your online poker site might disallow HUDs. There are plenty of more recreational players who don’t even know what a HUD is. If you’re one of those players, you should know that a HUD is a collection of statistics displayed next to a person’s avatar at an online poker table. These stats tell us how often they put money in the pot, 3-bet, and so on. Our article on Poker HUD Stats: The Basics for Live Players is a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with HUDs.

Check out our guide to the Best Poker Strategy Software

Sweeney, echoed the sentiment he posted on the forum:

“Poker is a game of information – ignoring valuable information doesn’t allow you to play as best as possible.”

If you’re going to play online seriously and it’s not against the site’s terms of service, Sweeney said you should always be using a HUD. He continues:

“That being said, we all play poker for different reasons. If you use online poker simply as a way to practice for live poker in between live sessions, it would make sense to not use the HUD. But if you are working to become the best online player you can – a HUD is super valuable and I would certainly suggest using one whenever possible.”

Can You Win Without Using a HUD?

Sweeney says, of course you can win without using a HUD. It happens all the time in live games and sites that ban HUD software!

But, if you want to 24-table without a HUD, your goal may not be compatible with the limitation you’ve put on yourself. And even in less extreme circumstances, are we really concerned with whether you can win? Sweeney says we should be more concerned with whether or not we are winning the maximum. And not having the information edge a HUD brings to the table will put a considerable dull to your overall edge vs. your opponents that do have HUDs installed.


What Level Could You Beat Without Using a HUD?

Sweeney thinks that while this depends on a site-by-site basis, it is absolutely possible to win at any level without a HUD. He points to comments in the forum post about Viktor “Isuldr1” Blom playing the highest online stakes for millions of dollars without a HUD, and other members who know high stakes players that don’t use HUDs. The higher up you go, the more you can assume that HUDs are being used by your opponents.

If you want to beat the game for as much as possible, you need every little gem of information you can possibly get.

Could a HUD-Loving Player Continue Winning Without One?

Sweeney says yes to this question, but again, with caveat that they will not be winning the maximum, optimal amount. A player that’s great with a HUD that doesn’t have it anymore will likely drop the number of tables they play consecutively, and focus more on collecting and processing information in their heads.

The question of how to quantify what edge is given up by deciding not to use a HUD (assuming you knew how to use one profitably) is difficult if not impossible to answer, Sweeney says. A player who gets good using a HUD would likely never stop using it, just to ‘experiment’ with having less information to see the results. And since it would take a large enough sample size of people winning to do this fruitless experiment, we’ll likely never know exactly what that differential is.

Are HUDs ‘Poker’

One common criticism of HUDs Sweeney has heard is that it’s not “real” poker. This is most common among long-time live players who have limited online experience, or don’t really like the online poker experience in general. This often manifests in the feeling that HUDs are a “crutch” to information gathering and processing skills that should be developed mentally.

When players are playing multiple tables, they need HUDs to fill in the information deficit from not being able to observe every action at every table, as you would be able to in a live game.

Sweeney describes how the HUD mentality can be applied to live games in his article Using a HUD for Live Poker. If you’re a HUD skeptic, perhaps you’d benefit from looking at your live game through the lens of a HUD.

Don’t Go HUDless

Forum user ZENIZEN posted this to the forum thread, which Sweeney quotes in the podcast:

“The hud at its heart and soul is best used to examine your own play . Identify your own leaks and tendencies while being able to replay hands for further examination. It does almost certainly create bad habits if your not cognizant of it. To deny yourself a tool in this game is career suicide in my opinion.”

Sweeney acknowledges that HUDs can mislead players who have not put in the time to master the numbers. Falling into bad HUD habits can cause downswings unrelated to variance. But if you’re paying close attention, doing regular reviews of your hands, you will be able to adjust your game to leverage the HUD stats with just the right weight on your decisions. Ultimately, the HUD is a guide to your decisions, not an oracle to blindly follow.

Drop by the forum to join the post Sweeney discussed in this episode.

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  • William

    I use a HUD on PS (play money only) as a simulator, like a flight simulator for a pilot. The HUD stats VPIP/PFR help me define player types. When I play live, I try to visualize a player’s VPIP/PFR from his live action. All I’m doing is correlating online actions with live actions, and assigning approximations based on the live player’s frequencies that correlate to the same kinds of frequencies of the online players that the HUD provides.

    For example, if a player in a 9-player live game limps half the time but only raises preflop once every two orbits, I might assign him a 35/5 – a little more detail than just calling him a loose-passive player. It just adds a little fine-tuning that helps me make better decisions, in my opinion.