Good news readers – just by taking the initiative to read this beginner’s guide you demonstrated that you have a strong desire to maximize your earning potential, which is a critical trait for a winning poker player. Players that are using the tools discussed on PokerSoftware.com have a significant edge over the competition. More good news – the majority of players logging on are completely unaware that such tools exist. We at PokerSoftware.com are all about helping players of all skill levels improve their game, and with that thought in mind we created this Beginner’s Guide.
If you are completely new to the software world we suggest you read through the entire guide. If you already have some knowledge it may be more helpful for you to use the links below to jump to the chapters that interest you most. When you’re ready to try a new piece of software or play on a new poker site please remember to check out our Rakeback Page and the Free Software Offers! These promotions not only offer players the best value in the industry, they also keep us in business! Without further ado, we present our Beginner’s Guide to Poker Software. Enjoy!
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The first question we should address is why you should invest your time and money in poker software. We’re going to assume that you want to play online poker because if you don’t, then this guide doesn’t serve much purpose for you. After making that assumption, we can give a multitude of answers to, “Why should I be using poker software?”
• To track your wins and losses when you play
• To keep detailed statistics on yourself when you play
• To keep detailed statistics on your opponents
• To use statistics to uncover leaks in yourself and your opponents
• To automate many of the actions at a poker table
• To increase your ability to play more tables simultaneously
• To assist in the learning process to get better at poker
• To find the juiciest tables possible to maximize your potential win-rate
• To win more money
Clearly, there’s one single point of those nine that’s the most important, which I saved for last: You want to use poker software to win more money. The previous eight bullet points are all factors that will determine the ninth point. There are plenty of other reasons, but this should be more than enough to keep your interest in the subject matter.
In this guide, we will be looking at the following elements of the poker software industry:
Which Poker Room To Play At?
In this section, we’ll dissect which poker rooms you should consider playing at and which are friendly toward poker software.
Software That All Online Players Should Use
We will list software that we feel is absolutely mandatory for anyone, even recreational players, to be using while playing online.
Software That Smart Online Players Should Use
In this section, we’ll uncover some of the pros’ best-kept secrets and break down programs that all smart players employ.
All About Data Mining
We’ll dive into what data mining is and the merits of using this service. We’ll also discuss the ethical dilemma it poses and outline the major poker sites’ rules regarding data mining.
Other Software Programs of Interest
Here is where we’ll talk about some of the more specialized software that you might want to take a look at. Not everything in this section will be for you, but you just might find something that suits your needs.
These are the software-specific sections of this guide. Again, you are not going to need to be a software or computer expert to understand them and put them to good use.
In the introduction, I lightly touched on the subject of how traditional poker players are against poker software. I remember a quote from a well-known live tournament pro who said he questioned the mental state of people who use such programs. It’s also of note that this particular live tournament pro is an old school player who has accomplished nothing in the world of online poker. The old stigma, “Live poker should 100% equal online poker,” is out the door and it’s not something that you should hold on to.
What is important to think about is that online poker is played on a digital device that makes calculations. In theory, we could do the same things in terms of tracking stats and results live if we constantly kept a pen and paper with us at the casino. With a computer, we’re simply automating and digitizing that process and we’re not breaking any of the poker sites’ rules by doing so. You still have to make the same reads, know the same rules, and play a solid game to win.
There’s one final case to be made for using poker software. Since online poker sites allow them to be used, you can assume that all of the regulars will be employing them against you. The playing field is imbalanced against you; it’s up to you to get up to speed. The good news is that for many of our programs, you don’t even have to shell out money.
With that said, there’s a very compelling reason that you should be using poker software: It’ll help you maximize your earning potential while playing online poker.
If you live outside of the United States, then chances are you aren’t going to be restricted from playing on any of the poker rooms listed below. If you live in the United States, then be sure to check to see if that poker room will allow your business.
The first thing you need to think about is if you want rakeback or a free software program from us. If you plan to play a lot of poker on the new site you choose, then rakeback is the way to go because, in the long-run, you’ll get more money back that you can always set aside for a poker software purchase. If you don’t plan to play there very long, then opt for the free software, which will save you money. In the case of PokerStars, there is no rakeback, so you’ll definitely want to make the choice to get a free software program.
At the end of the day, you want to pick a poker room for the following reasons:
1. You trust them with your money.
2. You trust them with your information.
3. They have enough traffic to keep you happy when you come to play.
4. They have a rewards system for your loyalty.
5. You enjoy the layout and software.
Below is a list of the major poker rooms we work with along with their benefits and a paragraph highlighting their features.
Free Software: Yes
Allows USA: Yes
PokerStars is the world’s largest online poker site and home to the biggest tournament action in the world. The cash games have the largest player pools available, which means around-the-clock action. The software at PokerStars is generally regarded as the best in the industry and its level of customer service and support ranks as number one. When you sign up at PokerStars, there is also a 100% deposit bonus up to $600 that can be made in three different installments. Although there is no rakeback program, the PokerStars VIP Club is a suitable substitute, with SuperNova members getting an equivalent of 41% of rakeback.
Free Software: Yes
Allows USA: No
PartyPoker is the largest among the ones that do not accept players from the USA. It does not have rakeback, but like PokerStars, PartyPoker has a VIP system that will get you what could be interpreted as 13% to 33% rakeback. If you plan to play PartyPoker - the games are juicy by all accounts - be sure to sign up and get free software through PokerSoftware.com.
There are some programs that all online poker players should use. Does everyone use them? No. Do you have to use these programs to be a winning player? No. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule, but if you want long-term success and to use the resources available to you, then these programs should be at the top of your list.
HAND HISTORY TRACKING PROGRAMS
At its core, a hand history tracking program is actually a full suite of statistic crunching programs. Every time you play a hand of online poker, the site will generate a small text file. This will be automatically imported into the tracker, which will crunch every possible ounce of information. This way, you will have detailed game play statistics on yourself and every opponent you face.
Another key feature of these programs is the Heads-Up Display (HUD). The HUD is a small box that appears on the table and shows numbers inside of it. These numbers are game play stats that allow you to make instant reads on a player. Some of the most common stats that appear in a HUD include Voluntarily Put Money into the Pot (VPIP), Pre-Flop Raise Percentage (PFR), Aggression Factor (AF), 3bet percentage, and number of hands played.
Using a hand history program like Holdem Manager or PokerTracker is an absolute must.
Holdem Manager has consistently ranked as one of the top three software programs from PokerSoftware.com members. Holdem Manager will track hands from any Hold’em or Omaha game and many of the reports are totally customizable. Both cash games and tournaments are supported for importing and the program generates a series of built in reports based on your results. There is also a graphing feature that will show your wins and losses as well as an add-on called Table Scanner, which we will talk more about in the next chapter. There are other integrated add-ons available for Holdem Manager including Leak Buster, Holdem Vision Pro and TableNinja. Holdem Manager comes with a free 15-day trial period.
PokerTracker has been around for years and has ranked at the top of our ratings systems consistently through all versions it has released. Because they've been around for so long they are regarded as a pioneer in the world of poker software. This tracking tool will import your hands (tournaments and cash games), allow you to build custom reports and even custom stats and is armed with a fully customizable HUD. Their free 60-day trial is superior to that of their competitors, which should make it your first download. You can get your feet wet with the program and getting used to a HUD and then decide if the program is for you over an extended amount of time. PokerTracker also recently released a Mac OS X edition and recently announced free support of importing Omaha hands which are both unique to this program.
We all want to make more money playing poker. Many people, after getting some experience, start increasing the number of tables they play on simultaneously. Being a slow starter, I tried out two at first while jumping into cash games. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but that was enough for me until I was on top of things and expanded to four. What happened was that my win rate stayed the same, but my hourly profits doubled. Thus, the pure power of increasing your maximum number of tables per session!
In order to multi-table effectively, you’ll have to employ a shortcut program. The most popular one, by far, is Table Ninja for PokerStars. It allows you to perform functions like automatically sit down at tables, open up new table, automate bet sizing on every street, color highlight tables that immediately require attention, hit the time bank button when you don’t have time to reach it, and more. The program doesn’t cost much to own and is used by major multi-tabling regulars. There’s also a new program called TableNinjaFT, which is the same set of tools, only designed to work at Full Tilt Poker.
AutoHotKey (AHK) scripts are executable programs that provide shortcuts as outlined above. The good news is that many of these scripts are absolutely free, but provide many of the same features that their commercial counterparts do. The only issue is that when one of the sites it’s designed to work for makes a substantial software change, the AHK script becomes worthless and you’ll have to look for an update, if one ever comes. It’s worth looking into, however, if you are on a tight budget and are curious.
Now that you know you’re going to have to make a choice between Holdem Manager and PokerTracker in addition to finding the right shortcuts program, what’s next? For many, that’s where the poker software journey will end, which is a real shame. There are other programs out there designed to help you maximize your earnings potential. Without further delay, let’s take a look at software programs that smart players use every day.
TABLE SCANNERS & BUDDY LISTS
When you log into PokerStars, for example, there can be as many as 350,000 people online during peak hours. When you play a session, how can you possibly decide which tables to sit at? Many use the tabs inside of most online poker rooms’ lobbies by selecting to sort by the biggest pots or most number of players to the flop. However, these stats are often skewed and only refresh every few minutes. Why not make the process of finding the right table a scientific one? That’s where a good table scanner or buddy list program comes in handy; it’ll let you know which tables you should be playing on right away.
I’m a little partial to Table Scanner within Holdem Manager because I feel it’s the most comprehensive and flexible of all the programs I’ve ever tested. The cost is $45 for the Small-Stakes Edition (scans limits up to $0.25-$0.50 No Limit and up to $22 buy-in tournaments) and $64.99 for the Professional Edition (scans everything). The scanner goes through the entire lobby (both server-side and local scanning possible) and cross-references every player at every table against your database within Holdem Manager. Once it’s done scanning based on preset standards or ones you set up, it will rank each table. You can sort by any of these stats and, straight from the program, click the “Join” button to go directly to a table. This is the most objective and scientific way to table select for a session.
TableTracker is the table scanning utility from within PokerTracker. It offers exclusive server side scanning which is fastest form of scanning available and will cross reference it with your PokerTracker database. It will go through the lobbies of all the poker sites that PokerTracker supports (which is 100% of all the top sites) and find the best tables for you to play at. This scanner works on a tiered subscription model which can be turned on or off at your convience and ranges from $14.99 a month to $34.99 per month. If you prepay for the year, the top tier level drops to $22.99 per month. Again, this scanner represents the best way to truly table select during a session.
The good news about PokerTableRatings.com is that its services are, for now at least, completely free. Just sign up at PokerTableRatings.com and you’ll have access. Check out the site’s Table Finder, which will allow you to filter by site, stakes, game type, and table type. You’ll then be given a list sorted by rating and, from there, you can manually go through the lobby and join.
Smart Buddy is exactly that, a buddy list that works intelligently to let you know when people log on to play online poker at any of the major sites. It works very similarly to AOL Instant Messenger and all you do is enter the screen names of friends, top pros, sharks, and fish. If you see that a huge fish is at a table, for example, you can immediately log in and sit right next to them.
This is another website-based tool that works off of a subscription system. The cool part about this site is that alerts can come in the form of an Instant Message (AOL, Windows Messenger, or Skype), e-mail, or SMS text message on your phone. The subscription plans range from $7.99 per month all the way up to $29.99 per month.
Data mining is the act of obtaining bulk hand history files and importing them into your Holdem Manager or PokerTracker database. They are hands that you did not play and were instead obtained for the purpose of loading up your database with opponent reads. The use of data mined hands is a controversial one, as there are arguments for and against their use. Whatever side of the debate you happen to be on, you should be aware of the policies that your home poker site has in place.
For PokerStars players, here is the official stance of the company as stated on their website:
In general, what kinds of tools and services are prohibited?
The practice of datamining (observing games without playing in order to build up a database of hand histories for future reference) is prohibited.
This comes from Full Tilt Poker’s website:
The following classes of programs are unconditionally prohibited:
Shared hand history databases and "data mining" software, including subscription services and the exchange of personal databases. The use of shared hand histories provides detailed information on opponents a player has little or no personal experience playing against, and is deemed to be an unfair advantage. Violating this policy is subject to the maximum penalties for prohibited software use. Players are not permitted to use the hand histories for hands that they have not personally participated in.
The moral of the story is that data mining is a big no-no in terms of following the policies of your poker site. Now, has that stopped many of the regulars who play online poker? Of course not. That said, we are in no way advocating doing something against the terms of service of any of the poker sites. With that wonderful disclaimer now set in stone, we can talk about the process of data mining.
Many of the sites in our data mining section pretty much do the same thing: observe hands played at cash game tables in Omaha and Holdem at all stakes. They archive these hand histories and, when you are ready, sell them to you in bulk. There are typically two ways to purchase bulk hand histories:
Option 1: Bulk Purchase. You log into the site, select the site, stakes, table type, and number of hands you want. Typically, the smallest bulk purchase you can do is 200,000 hands and, at most, five million. Once you’ve made your payment, the site will take about an hour to compile your order and send you a download link.
Option 2: Subscription. You log in and make a monthly payment while selecting what site, stakes, and table type you want hands on. The next day, you are e-mailed a zip file of hand histories from the previous day. Every day, like the morning newspaper, you are given a file of hand histories.
Once you’ve received your hand history purchase order, you’ll import your loot into your tracking program. The idea is obviously to not track your own progress, but to get as much information as possible on your opponents. You can make much more accurate reads on players if you have 3,000 hands on them instead of 300. The table selection process also gets a lot more accurate when you have a lot more data in your program.
This is basically the entire data mining process in a nutshell. Again, we’re not telling you to go out and buy hand histories, violating the terms of service of your home poker site. We’re simply telling you what data mining is, the process behind it, and where the top two major poker sites stand on the issue. What you do is up to you.
We’ve covered some of the major areas of the industry already, but there are many more worthy tools you should take a look at. We've got every type of software reviewed, from Odds Calculators to Hand Replayers. Explore the category listings and video reviews here on PokerSoftware.com to find the software that fits your needs. Below are a few more we want to highlight:
Magic Hold’em is a poker odds calculator that aids players by giving them mathematical information that would be difficult for them to calculate on their own. As such, Magic Hold’em is the perfect tool for beginning and intermediate players who want to improve the mathematical aspect of their games. A slick and easy-to-use application that will attach itself to your table, Magic Hold’em makes calculations and even recommends optimal actions. Pots odds, outs, and relative hand strength are clearly displayed and updated on every street, so all you have to do is put the stats to good use!
This is a very small and unobtrusive program that will assist a player in examining situations of whether to go all-in pre-flop or fold in a tournament or sit and go. Knowing when to push or fold with a specific range and position is paramount for success and Poker Push Bot can help you master the art.
This program is a training tool consisting of an ICM calculator and automation shortcuts to help make you a lean, mean sit and go grinding machine. It has built-in tutorials to help you learn the program and a very simple graphic interface. There are even quizzes to help you tackle the sit and go learning curve. A lot of sit and go players cut their teeth learning their craft with the aid of this program, so if you want to specialize in this form of poker, you’ll want to take a look at SNG Wizard.
In 2009, we saw an explosion in the number of poker training sites available to players. These sites develop videos for their subscribers to watch in order for them to learn important poker concepts. These training sites are typically considered a “must-have” for any serious online poker player. Since many of the top pros dedicate time to study, you should too. The ones we’ve reviewed on PokerSoftware.com are all reputable sites that offer something for everyone. Many of them have free trial periods, so take a look at which one you think is best for you.
Playing online poker can be a very lonely and isolating experience. It’s just you against everyone else, which can be a very sad proposition if you face it alone out there in the giant sea of sharks. The good news is that there are plenty of people just like you who are willing to meet new people and talk poker. I was very lucky when I started my online poker hobby by finding a forum that was very friendly and had quite a few good players willing to help me out.
For tournament players, the forums at PocketFives.com are a great one to join. The popular website has a leaderboard, daily content, and a solid community that all tournaments players benefit from. You can discuss strategy, see the latest online poker rankings, and converse with other players.
The biggest poker forum of them all is at TwoPlusTwo, which is the company that publishes a ton of poker strategy books. Unfortunately, TwoPlusTwo isn’t considered to be very friendly and, for every post, you’ll find two snide replies. If you can handle wading through the muck, then there’s a ton of helpful posts about strategy for cash games and tournaments. There are even micro-stakes sub-forums with players looking for study groups that you can seek out.
Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention our own forums at PokerSoftware.com. All of the staff writers hang out here and if you have any questions, one of us will usually reply pretty quickly. We have sub-forums for software discussion, AHK programs, poker chat, and even a developers’ corner. It’s definitely worth joining since it’s free and we’d love to chat.
The important thing you take away from this is that you should find a poker forum where people are friendly and there’s useful content for you to go through. What you do not need is a forum where all people do is post their bad beats because that isn’t going to help you get better. Find one where there are multiple strategy sections, breakout threads for particular stakes, and even member video depositories. All of the poker forums I’ve ever seen have been totally free, so it’s a no-brainer.
I’d like to thank you for going this far. Below are points to focus on for life after this guide. Remember, there are plenty of resources out there, but come back to PokerSoftware.com regularly, as we are always running stories on the newest programs and latest updates. We have a great group of people in our software forums that are more than happy to assist you.
The first thing to do is decide where you want to play poker. Make sure the site is open to people of your country. Make sure it offers the games and stakes you want. Ensure that the site is reputable and trustworthy.
Decide whether you want to take advantage of a rakeback program. Pick a room for rakeback if you plan to play there for an extended time. The rakeback you earn, along with the first-time deposit bonus, will be worth more in the long-term than simply getting a poker software program for free.
If you plan to play on a room that doesn’t offer rakeback, then it’s a no-brainer to pick a piece of software you want for free from us. You still get the first-time deposit bonus, plus we’re adding in the opportunity to get a valuable piece of poker software at no charge.
Get to know which hand history tracking and HUD program you like best and make it yours. Follow afterward with a shortcuts utility.
Figure out what other software you might need. For cash game players, this might mean a good table selection software program. Sit and go and tournament types might want something like Poker Push Bot or SNG Wizard.
See if there’s a poker training site you want to join. Think of it as a health club membership for your poker I.Q. Similarly, join at least one, if not a few, poker forums. Don’t waste time there by simply going over coolers and bad beats; search out threads that can improve your game. Make friends with players whose games you respect.
Most importantly, remember to have fun! Poker is a game of a skill and should be enjoyed.
Written by Sean Gibson
Edited by Dan Cypra
Copyright 2010, PokerSoftware.com