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Medium-Stakes Strategy: Using Poker Tracker

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Apr 01, 2008

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For anyone who wants to take online poker seriously, getting software to help you play is essential. The software performs a number of important functions. Most importantly, it will record all of your wins and losses, allowing you to easily keep track of how well you are doing (or making it impossible for you to ignore how badly you have been playing!). It also makes it easy to analyse your play, both preflop and post-flop. For example, you can quickly see how much money J-10 suited or A-K offsuit is losing you, or check how much money you are making when raising small pairs from under the gun. It also enables you to keep detailed stats on your opponents' play, and to use that in conjunction with real-time software to help you get a read on them. At present, the best and most widely used software is Poker Tracker. You can buy it online for around $55. For the last few years, this was the only product available, but a new product promising improved features, Hold'em Manager, is in the process of being released. Both have a free-trial version, so you can see which suits you better.

In this column, we will go through some easy ways to help improve your game, using Poker Tracker. Once you have your hands loaded and are looking at your stats, go to the General Info tab. In the middle of the screen, there is a section titled Player Summary. Here, you can see a summary of how you have been playing, sorted by game type. The most important stats are:

1. Total Hands. The more hands you have on a player, the more reliable your stats are. Some stats are more reliable than others. A player's Voluntarily Put Into Pot (VPIP) will be accurate after roughly 50 hands. A player's aggression factor from the button takes a lot longer to get an accurate figure.

2. VPIP. This is the exact percentage of the time that the player in question has voluntarily put money into the pot preflop. This figure more than any other tells you how someone is playing. In a six-max game, anything less than 14 percent is extremely tight; between 14 percent and 20 percent is tight; 20 percent to 25 percent is average; and more than 25 percent is loose. More than 35 percent is very loose.

3. Amount won. For obvious reasons!

4. BB/100 hands. This is your win rate, how many big blinds you are winning per 100 hands. To get your true BB/100 figure, you need to double this figure, as Poker Tracker uses big bets (a throwback to when it was designed for limit poker) instead of big blinds. So, if your PTBB/100 is five, your real BB/100 is 10. Anything positive here is good; for low or medium limits, one to three PTBB is OK, three to five is good, and more than five is great; 10 is about the most anyone could hope for. If your number is substantially higher than 10, you are running exceptionally well!

5. PF Raise Percentage. This is the percentage of hands with which you raise preflop. This should be at least one-half of the hands you play (see VPIP), and you should really be aiming for at least two-thirds.

6. Total AF. This is the sum of your aggression factors. This stat isn't as good an indicator as the others already mentioned; however, it should be more than 1.4. Anything less and you are almost certainly playing too passively.

Next, you should move to the Position Statistics section. This gives you a similar breakdown to the one we just looked at, but by position. This is very useful, as it allows you to keep track of exactly how you are playing in each position. The most important stat, again, is your VPIP. You should aim to play very tight from under the gun (which is shown as the last number off the button), and then a little looser from each position onward until the button. This is a great section for telling at a glance if a player pays enough attention to position. A common mistake is to treat the button and the cutoff, and under the gun and under the gun plus one, as the same position. There should be a noticeable gap between each if you are playing optimally.

Next, we will move to the Session Notes section. This allows you to see the results of individual sessions (although PT treats each table as a separate session, so this tab isn't as informative as it could be). There is a very important feature here, however. First of all, click the button in the middle right of the screen titled "Show True Hourly Win Rate." Then take a look at the row titled True Win Rate (it's in white in the middle of the screen). The MT Ratio tells you on average how many tables you play at once, and the first $ figure (under the column $ won) tells you how much you have been making (or losing!) per hour.

The next tab over, game notes, has a very useful feature. Click the "Get All" button on the top right of the screen. Then, click the top of the Net Column, where it says net. This will show you all of the hands you have played, sorted by the size of the net gain to you. So, this will have your biggest winning hands at the top. Click it again and you will see the same list, but this time with your biggest losing hands at the top. It's important to periodically go through the biggest pots you have won and lost, and see if you played them to the best of your ability. If you find yourself making the same mistake repeatedly, make sure that you break that habit the next time you are in a similar position.

To use this feature (or, indeed, any feature in Poker Tracker) to take a look at a specific set of hands, go to the Preferences tab and select your required date range. You also can filter by site and by stakes.

Probably the most important feature of Poker Tracker is the ability to display real-time stats on your opponents. You need to download a separate programme - either Game Time Plus or Poker Ace HUD. This software is invaluable, as it enables you to always have an accurate read on your opponents as to what type of player they are. Multitabling would be almost impossible without it!

Here, I have scratched only the surface of what is possible by using Poker Tracker. It is very rewarding to spend as much time as possible with the software, and see how it can help you. A good place to start is the filters in the main section. See what situations you generally lose money in, and think about how to avoid them. Good luck!

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the boards.ie poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.