There have been numerous innovations to online poker since its inception, but it's arguable that the most influential has been the introduction of Heads-Up Displays, also known as HUDs. These are applications that track statistics on your play and that of your opponents and display them on a poker client. The most popular makers of this software are PokerTracker 3 and Hold'em Manager. We've asked poker instructor David Chicotsky to explain the basics of using HUDs.
First of all, let's talk about a few of these numbers. The two that are most widely used are VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot) and PFR (preflop raise). For those who don't know, can you explain what VPIP is?
That's how often someone plays hands whenever they are not in the big blind because the big blind is forced. So VPIP is what percentage of the pots the player is playing, or how active the player is.
How does that relate to preflop raise and what kinds of conclusions can you draw from both of them?
Well, preflop raise is going to be the main component of VPIP. Other than PFR, there's also the ability for your opponent to limp or call. The difference between VPIP and PFR is how often the player limps and calls. For example, if someone is playing 20 percent of the hands, meaning his VPIP is 20, but they have PFR of 12, you know that 8 percent of the time that player is calling or limping preflop.
We call the difference between the VPIP and PFR “The Gap,” and the bigger that gap is, the more likely that player is to call preflop. Think of that gap as their propensity to call preflop. So, if I look to my left and see people with huge gaps like VPIP 30 and PFR 10, I can already assume that he's going to call me about 20 percent of the time. If this guy is in position on me, instead of raising there, I'll fold. I practice a lot of avoidance to my left. Remember, in tournaments, it's all about getting folds. You want the small blind and big blind to fold and pick them up with the antes.
In a cash game, it doesn't matter. You can go to a flop and own them postflop. To a degree you can do that in a tournament, as well, but the issue lies in that in most tournaments, especially online, when you get deep you only have 20 to 30 blinds. Every time you raise and pick up the big blind, the small blind, and the antes, you're picking up two and a half blinds. If you only have 25 big blinds, you're increasing your stack 10 percent. In a tournament, it's so important that you look to your left and consider how good of a candidate those players are to raise into. By looking at VPIP and PFR and/or the difference between the two, I'm able to gauge how often that player is going to call in position on me, as well as defend their blinds.
What are the biggest mistakes or road blocks you see players who are new to a HUD making?
First of all, I call those first two numbers the “Front End Numbers” because in general the VPIP and PFR describe an entire poker personality. The main problem I see when players first starts using a HUD is that they don't know how to relate those numbers with the other numbers. Let me give you an example. The bigger the gap is between the VPIP and PFR in general, the more likely they are not going to fold their big blind. The bigger the gap, the more likely they defend. So, a lot of players who look at the numbers will just think about how often the player plays or how often the player is raising. I look at those numbers and I look at their gap and asses their willingness to call, but then I relate that to how often they fold their big blind, and then I relate that to how often they fold to a bet on the flop. I'm not just looking at their willingness to call preflop. I look at their tendencies across all streets. I have numbers for how often a player folds to a raise on the flop, how often they fold to a raise on the turn, and how often they fold on the river. I'm able to gauge not only how often they call preflop, but how often they call a c-bet and how often they fold to a raise if they bet into me. I'm able to gauge it across an entire spectrum.
Also, another problem that I see for a lot of players who are new to the software is that they don't see the relationships between all the numbers. For example, the Total Aggression Factor, which is the third number on the first line, is calculated by bets plus raises divided by calls. So, if a player bets or raises a lot, this will raise their Total Aggression Factor, and if a player calls a lot postflop, it will bring the number down. This actually leads to a lot of dilemmas. Really aggressive players can also call a lot, so now the numerator and denominator are high, which leads to a low Total Aggression Factor that basically says this guy is not aggressive. There's an example where you can't just rely on the that number and you have to relate them to others such as how often they fold to a c-bet. There are multiple ways to flesh out one number.
Let me give you an example. Let's say you look at the Total Aggression Factor on someone and it doesn't say he's aggressive or not aggressive. Let's say he's right in the middle and you don't know what to do. Then, you look at how often he c-bets. If he c-bets 90 percent of the time, you know he's basically an aggressive player on the flop. That's a another aggression factor that isn't really the Total Aggression Factor, but part of it. The c-bet number is just another form of aggression just like the Attempt to Steal. This number is how often someone raises from the cut off, button, or small blind, and it's an aggregate number. If I see that someone is attempting to steal 50 to 60 percent of the time, that tells me that if it folds to him in the cutoff, button, or small blind, at least half the time he's raising. Again, that's another sign of an aggressive player. I'm going to match that aggression to his Total Aggression Factor, and I'm going to match that against how often he c-bets the flop. The point is, I'm going to take one specific factor like the Total Aggression Factor and I'm going to relate it to other aggressive numbers. There's going to be redundancy. I'm going to double and triple check that this player really is aggressive or really is passive or really is loose. And, I'm going to make sure that it's not just preflop. But, you do have to remember that the average player who is passive preflop is also passive postflop and if someone is generally aggressive preflop they are postflop as well.
And if a player shows that they are playing out of the personality type that the numbers indicate, you should be aware.
Yes. Let's say there's a player with a VPIP of 10 and Preflop Raise of 8. That means he's super tight. He's only playing 10 percent of his hands ,and he's raising 8 percent of those so only 2 percent of the time he's limp or calling preflop. Now, if this guy does limp or call preflop, alarm bells are going to go off in my head. Why? Because it's an outlier. The same can be said about a loose passive player. Let's say a guy plays 35 percent of hands and his preflop raise is only 6. That's a 29 point gap. This player likes to call, he likes to limp. He only raises one in 16 times, so when he does, again, alarm bells go off. If someone acts outside their “poker personality,” you need to be concerned.
One thing that we say, is that the PokerTracker 3 is always right. You're sometimes right, but it's always right. Remember, it keeps track of every single detail. Let's say a guy raises me on the turn. What do I do? I click on the stats and go to Turn Statistics. Now I'll look at how often he raises on the turn. Not only do I look at that, but I also look at what positions (blinds, early position, middle position, late position). On top of that, I can also look at his aggregate, meaning if I have a 1,000 hands on the guy over the last year or two, I can see how many times he's done that in total, but I can also scroll over the number and find out how many times he's done that this session.
That's a good point. Players are human so they are affected by their surroundings or situations; therefore, it's common that their general approach is different on any given day.
Exactly. On Super Bowl Sunday, a lot of people will still play poker. A lot of times, they'll be watching TV and have family members distracting them, so they'll only be playing their cards. If you look at their VPIP and PFR, it might be a 20-15, but on this day, they might be a 7-6. So, if they guy raises and you have pocket sixes, today it might be a fold when normally it might be a raise or call against that player. You have to check the aggregate, as well as how he's playing today.