Most poker players who make it past the beginner stage will eventually come in contact with different kinds of poker software.
There are utilities that deal with every aspect of the game - from simple odds calculators with hand ranking charts to powerful statistical tools that probe every detail of your game from all angles and hands it back to you with all the decimals you can handle.
Poker Tracker is on the latter end of the scale.
Today there are several similar software suites, most notably Holdem Manager and Poker Office, but Poker Tracker is the veteran with almost a decade in the game.
What this program and others like it essentially does is import hand histories from the poker rooms you play at and put them in a database.
The more you play, the larger the database and the more statistical relevance in the results.
How does it help me?
Having a statistically relevant overview of your own game is a must for any serious poker player - you need an accurate win rate (or loss rate) to know how you perform, taking into account rake, different variations, limits, across tournaments/cash games etc.
Doing all this manually would be time-consuming, bordering on impossible, unless you play the same game constantly. Also, taking notes on your opponents while you play is certainly helpful, but once you start to scale up your game to multiple tables it gets increasingly difficult to keep track of individual opponents.
A tool like Poker Tracker does this and more automatically.
Now of course analyzing your own game down to the smallest detail and plugging leaks is important, but arguably the biggest benefit of collecting hand histories is that you (eventually) get a very useful set of statistics on your opponents.
It gives an entirely new meaning to the worn saying that poker is a "game of information" - in combination with a Heads-Up Display (HUD) that overlays the statistics on the table as you play, you can instantly access detailed information on your opponents' playing style.
Besides the obvious advantages of having all this information on your screen while you play, it's a valuable tool for multi-tabling - even if you can't pay attention to all the tables you have stats on your opponents readily accessible when it's your turn to act.
Installing Poker Tracker 3
There are a couple of things to keep in mind before installing Poker Tracker. The system requirements are not that high (Pentium 4 CPU and 1GB of RAM), but you'll have a smoother experience with a reasonably fast dual-core processor.
The Poker Tracker team also recommends that you have a fast 7,200rpm hard drive because of the frequent writing to the database, but over here we had no problems running it on a 5,400rpm laptop hard drive so they might be referring to older drives.
The laptop used for this review was a relatively sluggish dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, which ran PT3 flawlessly, so anything above that should work just fine.
The installation is otherwise hassle free - once PT3 is installed you will be automatically prompted to install the database program PostgreSQL, an equally effortless process. A quirk for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users is that you have to run it as administrator.
That means right-clicking the shortcut and choose "Run as administrator." Alternatively you can right-click and select "properties," choose the "compatibility" tab and tick the "Run this program as administrator" checkbox and be done with it.
If you run into problems, there's a whole bunch of guides available to get you started and an active support forum.
Setting up Hand History Tracking
When you start up Poker Tracker 3 for the first time you'll have to configure it to import hand histories from your poker room clients to the database. PT3 supports nearly all of the big poker sites and networks and even most of the smaller ones.
The configuration process is a one-time process and then it should (hopefully) run automatically. For this review we used it at Full Tilt and the iPoker network (Titan Poker).
None of these two poker rooms worked right away with the standard installation, but from experience with previous versions of Poker Tracker and other poker software I'm aware that it may run into problems when the poker rooms perform major updates.
The solution to this problem is to simply update Poker Tracker as well. For the most part the developers are quick to respond to new updates and answer with their own.
The problem with updates isn't specific to Poker Tracker, but affects any software that interacts with the poker clients. Although Poker Tracker is allowed on the poker sites, don't expect them to take your statistics tool into consideration when rolling out updates.
With the latest update installed and auto-import settings active, player stats appear shortly on the poker tables via the HUD. Obviously, the first sets of statistics are completely useless until there's a decent amount of hands in the database, but after awhile you will start to see a pattern.
You also have the option to rate your opponents according to their stats and give them labels like loose-aggressive, tight-passive etc. much like the manual color coding that several poker sites are now offering.
Analyze, Evaluate, Improve
There are a ton of features built in to help you filter and analyze your results in PT3 - it's way too intricate to go through it all in this review.
To quickly summarize, you can filter the statistics any way you want, calculate how much rake you pay, what hands and positions are the biggest winners/losers and which players are your worst/best opponents.
On top of that you get a nice, tidy graph of your wins or losses.
A fair share of players will probably just keep the default settings and be content with the benefits of the HUD and a detailed report of their win rate. One new feature with the HUD in PT3 is that you can mark your hands for review right at the poker table, which is great since you won't necessarily remember them after a long session.
Another new feature is Table Tracker - a tool that uses your own database to find the most lucrative tables (i.e. with the worst players). You don't need to have a poker client running as it pulls table data off a server. Unlike Poker Tracker, however, Table Tracker requires a subscription
Summary and Conclusion
Calling Poker Tracker 3 "useful" would be a massive understatement - the question is whether it's better or worse than other, similar tools. Moreover, does it suit your playing habits?
For the casual player, who spends an hour or two at the tables every week just for fun, having all of the statistics on these few hours is marginally important. For professional and intermediate players, on the other hand, there is no question that PT3 can change your game for the better if used the right way.
If you are hesitant about its usefulness or need to know whether it runs on your computer, there's a 60-day trial available. If or when you want to register, you can choose between a limited "micro-stakes edition" for $44.99 that allows games up to NL$25, $0.25/$0.50 Limit and $10+$1 tournaments/SNGs.
If you play higher, the full version is $89.99.
Get PT3 from the official PokerTracker website.