Should you use tracking software in online poker?

The main poker tracking software packages are PokerTracker, Hold’em Manager and Poker Office. All of these items track your play and that of your opponents in online poker. They are all touted as being “essential” to the arsenal of any serious online poker player…….I want to examine if that is true. There is no doubt that all of these items are fantastic tools but tools do not always indicate a good workman and good tools are no guarantee of a good result.

There is little doubt that “information is power” although that line can be terribly misleading because the wrong information or misinterpreted information or even old information can be very damaging as can too much information that leads to a swamping effect. This happens more in online poker than most other fields for the simple reason being that there is an avalanche of information about online poker and not all of it comes from reputable sources.

The problem with using tracking software to analyse your own online poker game is that it can actually lead to your game becoming too rigid. I will explain here by using the standard online poker metrics of VPIP/PFR/AF to highlight the point. All of these statistics are longer term averages which essentially mean that they have less short term value than what many people think. Let us say that you have read somewhere that a winning pro at your level has a VPIP of 22%…….should you try to emulate that figure?

Well in online poker then the boundaries can and do often get a little hazy. For example you cannot look at a figure of 22% and deduce that a player is playing the top 22% of all possible poker hands. A top pro will be aggressive in a situational way and this means that he will react to changing game conditions. So he may drift from say a VPIP of only 10% under certain circumstances to as high as 50% in others with 22% being the long term average. You cannot simply strive to reach a VPIP of 22% without first understanding what the player is actually doing to arrive at that figure.

Firstly it is no coincidence that many top online poker players do not use tracking software and their results are often exceptional. So it is clear that as you move up then the information that it provides you has a decreasing effect on your earn rate. This is because your opponents are often playing in a theoretically correct fashion according to game theory. So situational trickiness is harder to define by data and needs to be done by skilled players manually.

So there is a definite trade-off between which levels are best suited in online poker for using tracker programs. Also really low stakes levels may not need the use of a tracker program anyway if your ABC game is strong enough. I am aware of many top players at their respective levels who do not use tracker programs for the simple reason being that it slows them down and they prefer to play many tables at once. There is no doubt that if you are trying to play ten tables for example that you can do so far more easily when you do not have to base your decisions around what you are seeing on a HUD.

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