BY JOSH H, OWNER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
I'd like to admit something that might not be popular with my full-time grinder brethren: I am loving the war on poker HUDs. Loving it, in the most schadenfreude-laden way possible.
What’s a HUD? The acronym stands for heads-up display. HUDs in poker are software that inlays detailed statistics about opponents' tendencies right on top of a poker site's table graphics.
Allowed to run unfettered for years, I largely blame them for almost ruining online poker from 2008-2014.
The worst part about HUDs?
They give educated players who already have a skill advantage a technical advantage as well.
The biggest victims of poker HUDs?
You know, only the lifeblood of the poker world.
I have good news, though:
Online poker sites have fought back over the past several years and are slowly killing HUDs.
They knew that the recs were staying away and the cannibalizing sharks weren't cutting it for their bottom lines.
Playing at poker sites that block or minimize HUDs is one of the most underrated factors prospective players should be checking out.
You don't have to live with HUDs, but it isn't always clear where you'll be in the clear and where you'll be on the end of a 20-tabling grinder perusing your lifetime stats.
That's why I researched and tested every poker site I recommend to find out what they actually do to fight poker HUDs.
Let's take a look at:
In other words, how to make sure you're being dealt a level playing field regardless of your technical knowledge.
Ignition Poker was the first to really launch an all-out assault on HUDs and I think they were brilliantly ahead of their time.
Anonymous tables across cash games and tournaments and now quick seating makes this the gold standard for poker sites without HUDs.
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HUDs (or heads-up displays) allow an unfair advantage to any player using them. I believe that 100%. They allow players to automatically capture the play data for every opponent seated at their table via hand histories without disclosing their existence.
Online poker HUDs then create meaningful data on autopilot that is displayed during future play sessions by altering the view of an online poker site’s software.
I think using HUDs during games is borderline cheating, and I wouldn't have to be convinced much that it is definitively.
Basically, HUDs collect data on everyone you play against and then put it into numbers displayed right next to your opponent’s seat at the table.
HUD users and developers who profit from selling them to players like to point to the fact that HUDs aren’t technically “stealing” data. They’re making use of hand history data that’s available to everyone and anyone could form the same conclusions manually with enough number crunching.
That’s absolutely true, and if any player wants to manually track what their opponents are doing through spreadsheets and calculators, then more power to them. Unfortunately, HUDs allow the equivalent of Johnny 5 to do the analysis for them. Even that could be acceptable if the line was drawn at data analysis.
However, in what I believe is the worst violation, HUDs display that opponent data in real-time right on top of the poker software! HUDs alter the official poker site software, they don’t need to declare to anyone that they’re being used, and they’re only even available to learned players who know they exist.
Doesn’t that sound like cheating to you?
Yes, anonymous tables, which are used at Party Poker and Ignition, are 100% effective in protecting players against HUDs because identifying players via hand history is the only way HUDs can function. Take away the ability to know a player's history and you make them unable to be hunted by sharks.
There has been such a backlash against HUDs over the past several years that I expect this war against them to continue. The online poker industry was dying, due in no small part to HUDs, and it needed an intervention. The numbers have shown palpable growth at sites that ban or restrict HUDs, so they're going to continue to follow the bottom line.
That being said, I imagine at least a handful of poker sites such as PokerStars to fear a revolt by their core HUD player base enough to leave them alone. The problem is, if HUD sites continue to be avoided by recreational players they'll eventually die a slow shark-filled death.
The only complaint from Team HUD that feels to me like it goes beyond sour grapes is the argument that player anonymity gives rise to the chances of player cheating. However, I think the logic of that argument is at least somewhat flawed.
Before HUD banning, if an opponent was playing suspiciously, it was easy to keep track of them, look for their name in downloadable hand histories, and compare your results to others in the poker community who may have crossed paths with the same player.
The argument is that banning HUDs and, by extension, player identities in hand histories, eliminates that.
No poker site that bans HUDs hides your hand histories. You just can't use them with screen names to gain an unfair advantage. You can still review every hand you've played and look for signs of cheating to your heart's content.
Ignition Poker takes it one step further and even allows you to see every player's hole cards after 24 hours, even if they folded pre-flop.
Technically, that makes it easier than the pre-HUD backlash to track cheating. Just send the poker site's support team an email with the hand number and as many details as possible.
Just because you can't identify the player in hand histories doesn't mean the poker site can't. What an awful security risk it would be if sites couldn't know who their own players were at the tables.
True, there is a lot of trust involved with relying on the poker sites without HUD support to follow up on cheating claims, but there's a lot of trust involved with the free market that is online poker to begin with.
If you don't feel trust your online poker home, find a new one. If you don't trust anyone, why make yourself miserable and play online at all?
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