I doubt anyone even remembers by now that at the beginning, I said this was going to be an opinion blog. Well, there may be an acute lack of opinion-centric posts as of late, but I am going to fix this right here, right now by writing about something I am in fact very opinionated about: HUDs, or “heads up display” programs for use in online poker.
HUDs: What they do and what they don’t do
In poker, an HUD is essentially a device to collect and collate data about the opponents one faces in online poker play. It tells the player who’s using it many things about their opponent’s habits, mostly the percentage of time they display certain behaviors, such as properly entering a pot, (VPIP or Voluntarily Put chips In Pot percentage) raising an initial bet, (3 betting) or check-raising. The idea is that with this data, it is far easier to narrow an opponent’s hand range based on their current behavior by how often they engage in that behavior.
It remains up to the player to interpret the data correctly to truly gain benefit from the use of an HUD. Depending on the circumstances and the player, they can mislead as easily as they lead. That being the case, you’d probably think the fact that they are used as much as they are isn’t really a big deal, right?
HUDs: Why they’re a Bad Thing ™
The reason I hate HUDs with a passion is pretty simple to express: they quite literally change the game. When I play poker, when I play Texas Hold’em, I want to bloody well play Texas Hold’em whether I’m doing it with physical cards on a table and in my hands, chips I can stack and caress or if it’s all on a computer screen and my fate is at the mercy of some artificial random number generator. You might say that it’s the same cards, the same hand ranks, the same strategic concepts really, so it’s the same game. Most of that is true, but there is a deeper layer to games than those things, a layer called the “metagaming” and that is what the HUDs affect.
Metagaming is defined by Wikipedia as “any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game.” In other words, the metagame is where a competitor plays in such a way to take advantage of what they know about the players, even if a different action would be called for in their current situation in a vacuum.
The more astute among you may have already recognized just from this that metagaming is absolutely vital in any and all forms of poker. You may even have noticed that effectively the sole purpose of poker HUDs is to remove a large portion of the need for the player to make an effort in order to keep up with a given table’s metagame.
Now why do I have a problem with this little shortcut? There are two primary reasons. First, with a few notable exceptions such as CarbonPoker’s sponsored HUD, they are premium tools. As in, you have to pay money to acquire them. As in, they are not able to be used by everybody who plays online poker as a result.
As in, they are by any definition any sane person would use, an unfair advantage. They have massive potential to unbalance a game in favor of those who use them away from those who don’t because if a player knows how to interpret it properly, it provides much more precise data than a player can by keeping track of hands in their head unless they have an eidetic memory, and all with much less mental effort on the part of the player than keeping track of it themselves.
However, without the second reason I wouldn’t have that much of a problem. However, the second reason is an even more obvious flaw: HUDs are something that cannot possibly be used in live play. In fact, I strongly suspect that any casino, if they happened upon a player using a device to record all the data from every hand of poker they play, would consider it to be a cheating device! This is the biggest thing I hate about HUDs–they make it so online poker and live poker are effectively two different games. Similar games to one another yes, but not strictly the same game. Poker should be poker should be poker…but with HUDs, it isn’t.