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Comments on tracking software and poker books

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Oct 15, 2010


Steve ZolotowI intended to devote this column and at least one more to recommending some excellent new books. But before I get to that, I want to discuss a rule that is common on most of the popular poker sites, and in my opinion, it’s a bad rule.

You are allowed only limited use of hand-tracking software. Using software containing data derived from hands that didn’t occur while you were at the table is forbidden.

There are several reasons why this rule is bad. Historically, it has been common for players to discuss how other players play. Obviously, these discussions focus on hands that the player who was there thinks are important to share with the player who wasn’t there. There are also discussions of who is a tough opponent (avoid his games) and who is a fish (try to get a seat at his table). With tracking software, the computer takes the place of our more experienced buddy. It tells us whom to play against, and may even make some suggestions regarding how to play against him. There is no reason that the information given to us by our friends is legal, but the info provided by a machine isn’t.

The second reason why this rule is flawed is that it can’t be effectively enforced. I regularly get e-mail offers of huge databases. This leads me to believe that some people are buying them and using them. If that is the case, the rule breakers are gaining an advantage over those of us who observe site policies. This just doesn’t seem fair.

Before I leave the topic of tracking software, I should add that I don’t use any of the sophisticated tracking software, like PokerTracker. I’m sure that I would do better online if I implemented its use. It helps you learn your opponents’ weaknesses
and tendencies. Perhaps even more importantly, it may enable you to find some unsuspected weaknesses in your own game.

Phil Ivey is one of the most successful players at all forms of poker, including online. At one point, I asked him if he used tracking software. He said that he didn’t, and that people who use it had told him that he played too many hands out of position. I thought this should worry him. So, I asked if he didn’t feel that this left him at a huge disadvantage when his sophisticated opponents were using it. He had a great response: “When they start beating me, I’ll start using it.”

Why should you read poker books? There is hand-matchup software like the CardPlayer Odds Calculator online, and there are numerous articles and posts on websites like So, why do you need the books? There is a vast difference in quality between online advice and the advice found in books. Online advice may not come from someone who is very knowledgeable or successful. It probably hasn’t been edited and scrutinized very closely. Books, especially those by the better authors, are carefully constructed. There is a continuity to the ideas, concepts, and situations. Hands and chapters are often related to things previously discussed. Suppose that you were to purchase a book for $30, and managed to learn only one important thing. Yet, that one thing might enable you to win or avoid losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the next year.

There is another reason for reading about poker. It gives you an opportunity to study situations in a quiet, leisurely fashion. This is something you can never do during a game. Most of us aren’t disciplined enough to do it later when not at the table.

Those players who do often spend time using convoluted logic to justify some horrendous blunder. With a book, you not only get to think about a hand in an unbiased fashion, you also get to compare your decisions with those that the author recommends.

One last reason for reading about poker is that it enables you to find out what types of plays are popular. If you had never read about “floating,” you would make a lot of wrong decisions before you realized that some players call with nothing on the flop, hoping to steal the pot later.

I have used up a lot of this column without getting to my main topic — some excellent new books. There are two that I want to focus on. One is Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time, Volume 2, by Eric “Rizen” Lynch, Jon “Apestyles” Van Fleet, and Jon “Pearljammer” Turner. The other is Harrington on Online Cash Games, by Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie. Even though these books are very different in the way that they cover their material, they both are truly excellent. While one focuses on tournaments and the other on cash games, both focus on online play. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t learn things that will prove useful in live games.

They also refer to using tracking software, as its usage is becoming more common. Harrington provides a detailed treatment of how to use it in a practical fashion in your daily play. The authors of the other book occasionally state that their database shows that players have certain tendencies, and to act accordingly. It is especially interesting to see the way that a player can combine his personal observations of a player’s recent history with the computer’s unbiased record of what the player has done over a longer time period. I will give more detailed reviews of these books in subsequent columns. ♠

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. He usually spends much of the fall hanging out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s and The Library near Houston, and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.