It seems that every few years or so, a new product arrives on the poker scene and quickly pushes the game forward into never-before-seen territory. I have been around the game for long enough to see a lot of innovations, from the original Poker Tracker and equity/ICM calculators, all the way through the video training site era, to today’s powerful hand tracking software and equity calculators. Never before though has a product come along that has threatened to forever change the poker landscape quite like Poker Snowie.
I first heard about Poker Snowie a couple of months ago while chatting with a student. I was working on a similar project of my own at the time so I figured that I should check it out. I read some discussions on 2+2 and various training sites and saw a pretty wide range of reactions. Some were calling the program a useless, hack piece of software. Others were bemoaning the imminent death of online poker. As a very diligent student of poker game theory myself, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of Poker Snowie and I wasted no time in downloading the software and signing up for a free trial. For the past month or so, I have been using Poker Snowie on a fairly regular basis and I think it’s finally time to give my initial impressions.
First, a little background info though…
Poker Snowie is not an EV calculator. It does not seek to calculate the profitability of folding/calling/raising like some sort of advanced version of CardrunnersEV by evaluating the future outcomes of decisions. Instead, it looks to its own past experiences, comparing the situation at hand to countless other identical or very similar situations that it has encountered throughout the course of its own play.
Poker Snowie is a neural network program. At its inception, it was told nothing more than the rules of poker and given a few possible bet sizes as inputs. With these very minimal guidelines, the program then proceeded to play poker against itself. Over trillions of hands spanning nearly a decade, Poker Snowie “learned” poker strategy in a sort of trial and error process. It took different lines and make different bets with various hands and noted the outcomes that occurred. After every hand played, Poker Snowie updated itself with the latest experience of what did or did not work. Over time, this trial and error process eventually grew to resemble intelligent poker strategy. Poker Snowie continuously played a game of cat and mouse with itself, trying to exploit the strategies that were already familiar to it by developing innovative ones and then, in turn, trying to re-exploit those new lines. After years of this process, the play of Poker Snowie grew to be stronger and stronger until eventually, Poker Snowie could no longer evolve strategies to gain an edge against itself and the program’s play approached something that closely resembled game theory optimal.
When Poker Snowie analyzes a hand for you, it is evaluating that hand with the sum of all previous knowledge it has acquired, categorizing and grouping similar board textures, bet sizes, and other elements of the hand to make its decision. This is done in much the same way that a human player makes decisions on the fly, albeit, much more accurately, as no person can recall and evaluate the necessary variables for decision making with anywhere near the speed and accuracy that a computer can.
To get started with Poker Snowie, you simply register an account at www.PokerSnowie.com and download the software. The Poker Snowie software itself is fairly clean and usable, though it does feel a bit like a first generation product. First time users will probably be quick to notice that, although Poker Snowie is extremely advanced as a poker player, as a pure piece of software it can be a tad buggy. Importing can be extremely frustrating at first. I had to go through quite the lengthy trial and error process to figure out how to import hands. Poker Snowie apparently does not like importing multiple sites at the same time. Whenever I tried to do this, the import would fail or miss most of the hands I fed it. I also was unsuccessful in exporting hands from Holdem Manager and then importing those hand history files into Poker Snowie. Poker Snowie also breaks down if you try to import hands with antes. Just one ante hand will derail an entire import.
I eventually had success with importing hands directly from the poker sites’ hand history folders, one site at a time. With this method, imports ran smoothly and I encountered no errors (except, as mentioned before, with ante hands). I also discovered that I could copy and paste hands from Holdem Manager that were filtered for one poker site into notepad and then simply import those files into Poker Snowie. The developers have assured me that they are well aware of the problems the software has with importing at the moment and that correcting them is a top priority. Although the importing process is definitely annoying, it is certainly not a deal breaker and I have faith that these issues will be resolved shortly. Some bugs are certainly to be expected in a new product launch like this and I think I speak for most poker players when I say that I am willing to tolerate a few design flaws if the product delivers on its promise as an analytical tool.
This of course brings us to the million dollar question: Does Poker Snowie deliver on its promises?
In a word: yes.
I was very skeptical when I downloaded Poker Snowie for the first time. I have a lot of experience trying to translate the game of poker into an algorithm that can be analyzed by a computer and let me tell you, it is no cakewalk. I have also played around with a number of programs that claim to play the game of poker well and each and every one of them has been a joke of a design that could not beat the average 100NL fish. Poker Snowie does not disappoint where so many others have. In fact, it blows every other A.I. poker tool that has ever existed completely out of the water.
Once you figure out how to actually import your hands and run an analysis you will be taken to the summary screen. Here you will find an overview of your biggest “blunders” and a nice little scoring algorithm to tell you how awesome or terrible of a poker player you are. In my admittedly somewhat short experience with Poker Snowie, I have to say that this error rate score actually seems quite accurate. I’ve tried it out on 4 players other than myself, ranging from a very good player to a struggling low stakes grinder and this initial page offered a pretty good snapshot of their abilities. I don’t think anyone should be expecting to get much better than a 6 though. If you are playing EXACTLY the way Poker Snowie wants you to in an effort to maximize your score, then you are almost certainly giving up EV at the table by playing “GTO” in many situations where there are clear opportunities to deviate from Poker Snowie strategy in order to exploit your competition.
The only other screen on the main page that I find to be useful is the “Balance” section. This is a pretty cool feature that gives you a snapshot of your bluff/value ratios in a number of different betting/raising scenarios, as well as how often you are optimally calling overall on all 3 streets. I have used this section with great success on a few students to get a quick snapshot of their overall play style and as an indicator of where their leaks may lie.
If you click on any of the highlighted links on the Statistics page, you will be taken to the analysis page. This is the bread and butter of Poker Snowie. Here you can look at any individual hand you have uploaded across multiple streets to get advice from Poker Snowie on all decisions you made. You can also run some basic filters on your hands, sorting them by blunders/errors, street, and bet type. I find the filtering to be extremely lacking at the moment. If you are like me, you will probably find yourself wishing to specifically look at 3bet pots or hands you played in the BB, etc. Fortunately, you can do this sort of filtering yourself beforehand in Holdem Manager but it is definitely cumbersome and additional filtering features would be much desired in later versions.
Poker Snowie’s advice is pretty self-explanatory. On the evaluation section, it lists the three options available to you: fold, call/check, and raise, and tells you the expected value of each of these 3 moves. Sometimes, it is optimal to balance two moves and in these instances, Poker Snowie will give you the percentage breakdown on how often you should make each play. Lastly, Poker Snowie also will give you the bet sizing that it has determined to be the most +EV for your entire range in that situation. Keep in mind, Poker Snowie only considers bet sizes of .5 pot, pot, and 2x pot.
One other feature that is definitely worth mentioning is Poker Snowie’s ability to give you pre-flop advice for any hole cards you may have in a particular scenario. When you are faced with a pre-flop decision, simply right click on your poker name and select “Pre-flop advice table”. Poker Snowie will generate a table that gives recommended calling and raising ranges for that particular scenario. Impressively, this table is extremely dynamic and will actually adjust itself accordingly depending on the particular opening raise size that your opponent has chosen. It is a pretty fascinating intellectual exercise to examine how “optimal” ranges can change dramatically across different scenarios.
To evaluate the accuracy of Poker Snowie’s advice, I examined a database of about 40,000 of my own hands. I ran several imports, evaluating the sample size as a whole, and also by breaking it down by various positions, pre-flop scenarios and stack sizes. Overall, I was extremely impressed with the advice Poker Snowie offered in about 90% of the “errors” that it identified in my play. There were a number of hands where Poker Snowie advised making a decision that I was initially skeptical of but ended up agreeing with upon doing my own analysis. This kind of accuracy out of a computer program is nothing short of remarkable. Poker Snowie is fantastic, not only for checking up on your big hands, but evaluating the hundreds of small decisions you make each and every day, from cold calling a hand pre-flop to continuation betting a board that you have missed after raising.
I have some additional extra faith in Poker Coach’s ability that others may not have because I have been beta testing Poker Snowie’s not-yet-released tablet-based app, “Poker Trainer”. With Poker Trainer, you can play against Poker Snowie in everything from 6 max cash games to heads up freeze-outs. The same engine that powers Poker Coach is driving the play of Poker Snowie bots in Poker Trainer and I must say, Poker Snowie plays extraordinarily well in all of the game types.
As I mentioned before though, Poker Snowie is certainly far from perfect. Its biggest flaw at the moment is its inability to consider more than 3 bet sizes. I think a future version of Poker Snowie that has the ability to bet ¾ pot would produce some extremely interesting results. A Poker Snowie that can bet ¼ pot and 1.5x pot as well would be even more powerful. Another glaring weakness of the program is how noticeably poor the “explanations” it gives are. I can certainly appreciate the difficulty translating a mathematical result into worthwhile text from a programming perspective but the reality is that any decent player will find 80% of the worded reasoning Poker Snowie offers to back up its advice to be fairly useless. You are much better off just taking in the EV numbers and ignoring this part of the program altogether.
Perhaps surprisingly, Poker Snowie seems to be a bit weaker when it comes to proper short stack strategy than it is playing deep stacked, where it plays exceptionally well. Of course, it could also be the case that the Poker Snowie is actually correct and the tens of thousands of CAP/SNG/MTT players out there are just playing an inferior strategy! (I have actually been giving a lot of thought to this idea lately but I am not quite sure how I feel about it so I will have to leave it to a later post…)
In conclusion, I cannot imagine that literally every single person who plays Hold’em poker for a living would not want to sign up for Poker Coach. For what essentially amounts to the cost of one hour of coaching per quarter, you can get extremely useful feedback on EVERY session you play. It is, without a doubt, the single most valuable piece of poker software on the market right now and if I had to choose between only having Holdem Manager or Poker Snowie, I would take Poker Snowie in a heartbeat. I have never been able to plug so many leaks in my own game so quickly and efficiently and I can honestly say I am feeling the best about my play that I ever have. I have also used Poker Snowie on a few students with great results so far. If you have been giving thought to the idea of getting coaching but cannot really afford it, Poker Snowie would be a much cheaper and, in many cases, BETTER alternative for you. I would be shocked if any struggling player did not vastly improve their game within a couple of months of using this program on their own and if they were to use it simultaneously in tandem with the right coach, I am certain the results would be remarkable.
Technology has drastically changed poker over the years in much the same way that it has reshaped every other area of our lives. This however, is probably the biggest leap forward that the game has ever taken. I have long held the belief that poker is one of the purest and most complicated forms of intellectual competition that exists in this world and until recently, it seemed like it might be the only mathematically-based game in which the human brain could still reign supreme over computers. It is pretty apparent now that our days as kings of the poker domain are numbered. Seeing Poker Snowie gain such mastery over such a complicated game is pretty awe inspiring and it makes me wonder what applications these neural network programs could have in other fields such as trading.
Over the last few decades of the computer revolution, millions of people (and businesses) working in countless different fields have suddenly found themselves confronted with disruptive technology. A familiar pattern seems to play out: Those that embrace this new technology thrive and survive to the next generation while those that sit by idly clinging to their old ways of doing things are quickly made irrelevant. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but I do not think that poker is going to be one of them. I, for one, welcome our new Poker Snowie overlords and I suggest you do the same.
Feel free to comment if you have any Snowie-related questions.
If you enjoyed reading this review or my blog in general and you are interested in signing up for a Poker Snowie account, it would be cool if you signed up using my referral link! Just make sure you CLEAR COOKIES FIRST! And if you already have a free trial, just sign up for a paid subscription under a new email! Thanks!
EDIT: Just in case it was not obvious from the above, I am an affiliate for Poker Snowie. I was not, however, paid in any way, shape, or form to write this review. The opinions above are all my own and they are 100% truthful.