Poker Rooms Tighten Third Party Software Restrictions: The End of HUDs?

In October 2015 PartyPoker issued further restrictions on the use of third party software such as HUDs, in a move to try and "level the playing field". PokerStars quickly followed suit and implemented tighter rules on the use of software as well, announcing further changes to be made in 2016.

These changes will shake up the world of online poker yet again. What will the effect of these changes be? Should online grinders be worried or will it bring new opportunities?

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Third Party Software

There are literally tons of third party software programs you can use for online poker, such as: 

  • Tools to analyze your own game
  • Simulation tools for training purposes
  • Equity calculators
  • Multi-tabling tools
  • Poker tracking software

Most poker rooms have their own rules on which tools you are allowed to use and which ones are prohibited or restricted.

Obviously, any tool that can be used for cheating or automated play without human intervention (a "bot") is always prohibited. But if you're unsure whether the specific third party software or service that you intend to use is allowed or not, always check with the poker room you play at. You can usually find third party software rules on the poker room's website or otherwise you can contact their support.

An even quicker way is to consult this useful table on SitandGo Planet: the table provides an overview of which tools are allowed on the different poker sites.

New Restrictions and Rules

PartyPoker recently decided to stop players from using poker tracking software and HUDs (heads-up displays). A HUD is basically an overlay of on-screen statistics on your opponents, so you can see how many hands they play, how often they raise, 3-bet etc.

PartyPoker decided to prohibit HUDs to try and level the playing field: the idea is to decrease the edge of (semi) professional players so that recreational players have more chance of winning.

PokerStars reacted by also changing their policy on the use of third party software. HUDs are still allowed on PokerStars, but with some minor restrictions on how they are used during play. PokerStars did announce that they will introduce new restrictions on third party software in 2016, which could further limit the use of HUDs.

The End of HUDs?

It remains to be seen if there is a future for HUDs in online poker. So far, of the big poker rooms, only PartyPoker and Unibet have decided to prohibit the use of all tools during play, including HUDs.

All eyes are on the biggest poker room now: PokerStars. They announced new rules on the use of third party software in 2016 and if they do decide to prohibit HUDs, it is likely that most of the other rooms will follow suit. An exciting year ahead for HUD users and developers!

A Level Playing Field

The idea behind prohibiting HUDs is to give recreational players a better chance to win. HUDs would give professional grinders an unfair competitive edge over their opponents. Although I use a HUD myself and wouldn't like to see them banned, I agree for the most part with this reasoning.

A HUD doesn't give the enormous edge though, that a lot of people think it gives. Yes, it is a very useful tool to get more insights on your opponents. But it's just one piece of the puzzle and it doesn't beat observation, specific reads, and note taking.

For example, knowing your opponent's raw flop check-raising percentage is nice, but a player note that he typically likes to check-raise draws is much more useful. Or, a player could have very tight-passive stats, but when he just lost a big pot and goes on tilt he will probably play a lot looser and more aggressively than his stats suggest.

Most of the professional grinders are multi-tabling and can't observe the action as closely as someone who is just playing one table. HUDs compensate for this difference, but overall don't result in an enormous edge for multi-tablers who can't focus on the action at all of their tables

Alternative Solutions

An alternative solution would be to give everyone the option to use a HUD free of charge. A HUD would then be part of the poker client and every player would get to choose whether he wants to use it or not. The HUD would contain basic opponent stats and those who would want more stats could take out a paid subscription.

This seems like a good solution to level the playing field while still giving players the option to use a HUD. Rumors are that PokerStars may go this direction and there is some speculation that they may be planning to take over Jivaro, a new HUD developer on the market, and integrate their HUD with the PokerStars client. This is all just speculation, but who knows! (PS: I've tried out Jivaro and it's pretty slick!)

An integrated HUD would not be such a bad idea. It would level the playing field and it also gives beginning players more of chance to learn the game and get better.

Moving Forward

Should grinders be worried about increased restrictions on HUDs? Well, as with most new developments, you can't stop these changes. There's little that players can do about the rules set by a poker room. It's simply a matter of adapting. A HUD still doesn't beat observation, note taking, hand reading, and intuition. If HUDs were to be banned, players would have to focus more on those areas to get their edge. Besides, there are plenty of professional grinders who have never used a HUD and still do very well.

Also, the poker rooms that have decided to ban HUDs actually offer an interesting opportunity now. The grinders are moving away from those sites, making the games softer than ever! So if you're looking for some juicy games, these sites might be just the place to be.

The Future of Poker Tools

Poker tools, including HUDs, are an important aspect of learning, improving, and finding an edge. There are still plenty of tools that you can use and they will continue to play an important role in the world of (online) poker. Poker rooms can't prohibit the use of software for post-game analysis (nor would there be any reason to do so). So a program like SitnGo Wizard for example, will remain an indispensable tool to learn and improve your ICM.

Tools that are used during play such as HUDs, however, could be further restricted in years to come. If that is going to happen, it's simply a matter of adapting for those who have always used them. Remember that a HUD is just an aid and will never be more useful than the power of observation and hand reading.

Several poker rooms have issued new rules on the use of third party software. If you're not sure whether the tool you intend to use is allowed or not, always check first!

For a quick overview of which tools are allowed on the different poker sites, go to SitandGo Planet.

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