Is Online Poker a Level Playing Field?

By Sky Matsuhashi
August 17, 2022

A student of mine emailed me recently:

I don’t like that online play is not a level playing field, since people with tracking software have an advantage over those who don’t.

Well, I would say that those who use tracking software have a potential advantage, but that doesn’t mean online poker is an unlevel playing field.

level playing field

I believe it’s still a level playing field because anybody can get and use a HUD and poker tracking software if they want to. If someone chooses not to use a HUD (or doesn’t know about it), their lack of using it doesn’t change the fairness of the game, it just puts them at an informational disadvantage.

This is the same informational disadvantage that happens, and is acceptable, in LIVE games. If your friend Bob tells you how to exploit Suzy’s tendencies, but doesn’t tell anyone else at the table, now you and he have an informational advantage over Suzy… and everyone else. That doesn’t now make the LIVE game unfair for everyone.

And I’m sure you wouldn’t say to Bob, “Whoa, hold your horses, Bob. Don’t tell me how to exploit Suzy, I don’t want to know what everyone else at the table doesn’t know.”

Unlevel Playing Field?

I imagine many of you have been playing at your local casino or in your online games for years. You know many of the players and have put in thousands of hands against them. You have an informational advantage over the dude who sits down at your game for the first time. That’s just part of poker. And the tables are turned when you go to Vegas for your first time and play at the Wynn, all those cardroom regulars have an informational advantage over you, and you’re fine with that.

Let’s think about a non-poker game; football. A great strategy to gain information on your opponents is using game tape of the other team’s games. This is where you watch recordings of your opponent’s games to analyze and find weaknesses.

But what if one team has a lack of funds and can’t pay people to analyze their opponent’s game tape. Or, what if they choose not to do it? For one, it would be foolish to not take advantage of a great way to analyze your opponents and look for weaknesses.

For another, that doesn’t make the game of football “unfair” for the non-game tape using team. A choice to NOT take advantage of a tool (either willfully or through ignorance of it) gives you an informational disadvantage, but it doesn’t make for an unlevel playing field.

At the top of this article, I said that players have a potential advantage with poker tracking software. I say potential because just having the software doesn’t help one iota. It’s what you do with it that matters. Tracking software is a tool and in order to have an advantage, you must learn to use it in a way that gives you an advantage.

Gaining a Study Advantage

Poker tracking software can give you an incredible study advantage. Everyone at your table, LIVE or online, has the same access to books, videos, podcasts and training articles.

But it’s only the online player who has access to their entire database of hands. And, if you learn to use it properly, you can analyze every aspect of your game, and your opponent’s games, to improve your skills.

Poker tracking software builds a database of every hand you play, all the actions, players involved, bet and pot sizes, hole cards and board cards, positions… everything! This makes it so you can go back and learn from your hands to find mistakes, plug your leaks and find exploits to use against your opponents.

How do I use my database of hands? Many ways, and I’ll touch on a few here:

  • Look for exploitable tendencies in my statistics. Statistics give you the unvarnished truth of how you play. For example, maybe I c-bet the flop 70% of the time, but only 25% on the turn. I’m super turn honest! My opponents can easily exploit me by calling every flop and betting when I check the turn. Now that I know this, I can work on making myself less exploitable this way by c-betting more on the turn.
  • Look for losing win rates. I can filter in my database for certain plays to see how much I’m winning or losing. Maybe I run a filter for calling preflop raises, and find that I’m losing 2.5BBs on average with each call. Now I know I need to build my preflop calling skills to turn this from a losing to a winning play.
  • Look for mistakes in big losing hands. With every detail of a hand recorded, I can review hands to find the mistakes I made that led to huge losses. Maybe I lost 80bb’s with AQ on the XXXQX board. I can review the hand to find any preflop, flop, turn or river mistakes I made. Now that I know my mistakes, I can work to NOT repeat them.

In-game HUD Advantage

Having a HUD (heads-up display) is only as useful as you learn to make it. If it’s just a jumble of numbers to you (“His VPIP is 45%, what’s that mean?” or “He 3bets 2%, what’s that mean?”) then it’s just clutter on your screen.

You need to learn to treat your HUD like your friend Bob who tells you useful bits of information on your opponents. He’s whispering in your ear:

  • See Sky over there? He loves c-bet bluffing the flop but he’s totally turn honest (C-bet Flop = 70%, C-bet Turn = 20%). Call every flop c-bet he makes and bet when he checks the turn.
  • See Suzy on the BTN? She loves 3-bet bluffing from that position (3bet = 9%). And in case you call, she’s capable of barreling the flop and turn (C-bets = 70% and 66% respectively). Be ready for it.
  • Whoa, you’re running a 7/7 for VPIP/PFR? You’re playing super nitty right now. Use this nitty image against your opponents to earn pots with bluffs.

If you want to gain an informational advantage over your online opponents with PokerTracker 4, you need the Get More From PokerTracker 4 Course.

  • Over 7 hours of PokerTracker 4 video instruction through 5 parts and 26 videos.
  • Parts 1-3 cover the Statistics Tab, Learning Your HUD and the Best Other Useful Features.
  • Part 4 covers Tournament-specific uses of PT4.
  • Part 5 is for Additional Videos where new content is added over time and PT4 questions get answered.




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Sky Matsuhashi poker author
Written By.

Sky Matsuhashi

Sky Matsuhashi is the creator of the Smart Poker Study Podcast. He has authored 4 poker books including ‘How to Study Poker Volumes 1 & 2’, ‘Preflop Online Poker’ and ‘Post-flop Online Poker’. As a poker coach, Sky is dedicated to helping his students play more effectively, earn more money and be 1% better every […]

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