If I wrote nothing else in this book but what I put in this section I think it would be worth the price of admission. When I used to go to live games I would tip a dealer who was rotating out to tell me about the players. Who just broke up with their girlfriend? Who was drinking earlier? Who lost a bet on the game?
When the first HUDs came out I tried to use them, but I was quickly discouraged. There was all this technicolor garbage on my screen that I couldn’t interpret. Regretfully, I stopped using it, and wouldn’t bring it up again until five years later.
I shudder to think of what kind of money I would have made if I made an attempt to understand the HUD then. The HUD is simply a collection of statistics on all the players at the table. It is as if I tipped a dealer $50 once in my life, and he sat there with a notepad recording every detail of every game I played until the end of time. What a bargain! The only problem comes when we try to use these numbers. There are surprisingly few guides online to describe what each of the numbers mean. Worse, people don’t know how to use them.
What I write next is honestly the section I feel most uneasy about committing to paper, because it has been my secret weapon throughout the years. Knowing a player so intimately can almost feel dirty, but to prosper we must take advantage of every tool we have.
The HUD always intrigued me. I had a victim complex when I started playing, which eventually became a superiority complex. Yet throughout, the numbers never lied. They didn’t change to my whims. They didn’t feel emotions. They told the truth, and nothing but, and I soon realized that if I wanted to succeed at poker when I was high on my own fumes, losing, tired, in the midst of a difficult family moment, or what have you, I’d have to build my game from bedrock. That foundation was the statistics, and my game increasingly became built on them as a beacon of reason. I use them in practically every hand I play online.
In this section I’ve included what I consider to be the most important statistics needed for a good HUD. This also clears up much of the terminology that will be used throughout the text. I recommend using Hold’em Manager 2 to create the HUD. It is important you pay special attention to this section because we use these numbers as shortcuts for elaborate plays in the chapters come.
Voluntarily Put $$$ In Pot (VPIP)
Over time, I’ve heard several variations for what each letter means from each statistical analysis tool, but all you really need to know is that it keeps track of what percentage of the time a player enters a pot voluntarily:
- ♦ A tight player understandably does not want to enter the pot all that often. Their VPIP is something like 15%; 10% or lower is extremely tight. You should approach this style of player with extreme caution.
- ♦ A 20% VPIP is a player who can get in with a mediocre hand, but generally doesn’t deviate.
- ♦ A 25% or higher is when you start seeing people who splash around.
- ♦ 30% or higher is generally a very loose player.
Many statistic programs put VPIP as the first number, because they believe it to be the most important. Knowing a player’s VPIP figure is certainly the beginning of your understanding of that person.
When you hear two professional poker players discussing a hand they often say something like, “He was playing 17/24.” Sometimes you hear the inverse: “He was playing 24/17.” They are speaking of the preflop raise percentage along with VPIP. Putting these two numbers against each other is crucial, because it gives you a framework to begin from. It shows you how often a guy plays, and beyond that what percentage of the time he comes in for a raise.
If you see someone has a VPIP of 20%, for example, that doesn’t give you too clear a picture. You need the preflop raise (PFR) statistic. If his preflop raise is 20% as well that means every single time he comes into the pot he is raising. This is a tight player, but he is aggressive. However, if you see someone has a preflop raise of 0% but also plays a fifth of the hands, then you know he is passive and is the live player in your game. Generally someone who has a preflop raise of 10% is considered very tight; 20% is considered looser, with a good deal of bluffs, but still protected; 30% or higher is considered a complete psycho and/or a Korean.
To help understand these numbers we should take a look at a variety of Flopzilla hand ranges in our free time. It is worth increasing by percentages, from 10% to 11% to 12%, on up to 40%+. You can play with what hands to include and which ones to drop. By getting a visualization of what each percentile looks like we have a better idea of what our opponents range could look like.
I find that once someone’s preflop raise is 15% or higher it becomes difficult to defend postflop: they just miss too often. To be safe, 20% or higher is even more difficult to defend. Players who raise this many hands should receive the brunt of our focus. When I played cash games for a living I would lick my chops at a player who was opening 16% of the hands from early position in a six-max game. “Fresh meat!” I’d think. Now, people in full-ring games sometimes open 25% of the time! And they say there’s no money left in poker. Those kids just don’t know how to mine it.
Even better, many of these players who raise from early position so often do it because they think people will believe them. In their poker dogma an early position raiser is supposed to have something. They are breaking the rules by opening so wide there, but when you 3-bet wide they don’t necessarily know that you too are breaking the rules. They may believe that you are 3-betting what you perceive to be a tight range, so your hand range must be monstrous. Because of this system of thought many early position players with a high preflop raise fold too much to 3-bets.