People have often remarked that poker isn’t just a game of cards; it’s a game of people. Psychology plays a massive role, often more than the math people usually associate with casino games. Reading and staying one step ahead of your opponents is critical to success and often one of the most fun parts of the game.
Some people feel their ability to read other players diminishes when playing online poker. You might think it’s impossible to read and exploit your opponents online without seeing the other players’ faces or using other physical tells.
We’re here to tell you that it isn’t. This poker guide will give you several concrete tips and ways you can read your opponents and adapt your strategies around them while playing online poker.
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The key to reading your opponents: Poker tracking software
Poker tracking software is the online substitute for physical tells and is frequently more reliable. These programs are designed to analyze your hand history, looking at your actions to provide insight into your gameplay. They can give you an overview of your playstyle and point out recurring mistakes or leaks that cost you.
While poker tracking software is exceptionally useful for analyzing your gameplay, it can do the same for your opponents. When you play enough hands against the same players, the software will analyze their gameplay, too. It will provide statistics you can interpret to understand their play style in-depth.
Tracking software recommendations
If you’ve heard of poker tracking software before, you may be a bit apprehensive since the most popular programs on the market, like Holdem Manager and Poker Tracker, are both paid. These programs are worth the price, giving you the insight you couldn’t get alone. If you’re considering a serious poker career, you should buy one.
That said, there are a few good free options for tracking software. Still, many of them, like Poker Tracker, offer free trials, allowing you to experience the software’s benefits and see how essential it is. Additionally, some websites have free, in-house tracking software. It’s up to you to explore your options, but we recommend Poker Tracker and Holdem Manager as good starting points.
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Using tracking software: The essential pre-flop stats
Now, once you’ve got your tracking software up and running and have played a few games with it, you need to know what the stats mean. We’ll focus on a few of the most important and easily interpreted pre-flop stats. The pre-flop is the most crucial round in poker as it lays the foundation for all the others, so these stats should be your top priority.
The first stat is Voluntarily Put Money In the Pot (VPIP). It is a percentage measure of how many hands you play. This can be through calling, raising, or anything else besides being forced to put money in as a blind. The average VPIP in 6-max Texas Holdem is within 20 – 25%, decreased to 15 – 20% in full-ring games with nine or more poker players. Take note of anything outside that range, as that’s an outlier meaning the player is exceptionally tight or loose.
The second stat is pre-flop raise percent (PFR). This is a good way to gauge aggression pre-flop, and most players’ PFR is within 4 – 6% of their VPIP. The PFR is best used with the VPIP to narrow down an opponent’s playstyle. For example, a VPIP of 32% means they’re a very loose player. If their PFR is only 14%, you’re looking at a loose-passive player who relies heavily on calling.
The final two stats are 3-bet percentage (3B) and fold to 3-bet percentage (F3). Both stats are easy to interpret; the higher 3B is, the more often they 3-bet, which could also mean they like to light 3-bet (3-betting without a made hand).
You should use F3 to decide which hands to 3-bet with and how frequently you do so. Against people with a high F3, light 3-bet with many hands, even mediocre ones. Against players with a low F3, use 3-bets for value with made hands.
Using tracking software: The essential post-flop stats
For post-flop play, there are four primary stats you can take note of.
The most critical one is the Aggression Factor (AG). Using the formula of (bets + raises)/calls, it shows how likely someone is to attempt an aggressive action versus a passive one. Since poker naturally favors aggression, most players fall within the range of 1 – 3. Anything higher or lower is a significant outlier you should keep track of.
The second is the went-to-showdown percent (WTSD). The average WTSD is anywhere from 20 – 32%. While you might automatically assume a low WTSD means the player often folds, that isn’t the case. They could also be getting others to fold, which is why you want to use WTSD in tandem with AG.
Finally, we have continuation bet percent (CB) and double-barrel percent (2B). Both are self-explanatory, with double-barreling meaning a bet following the continuation bet on the flop. You can use these two stats to see if a player frequently continues bets but gives up on future rounds.
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Get a poker tracker and start reading your opponents!
We hope you now understand just how vital a poker tracker is when playing poker games online. They are fantastic tools worth the investment, but if you’re still on the fence, just check out a free trial! Using one can take a bit of practice, but when mastered, it gives you an unmatched amount of knowledge you can use to exploit your opponents.