What is GTO Poker?

A Quick Introduction to Game Theory Optimal Poker

Intro to GTO Poker StrategyGTO stands for Game Theory Optimal. This is a style of play which sees you get as close to mathematically perfect poker as possible – and let your opponent’s make mistakes against you.

Game Theory is not new in poker. What is new is deliberately taking the GTO betting / raising lines and ranges and using them as a ‘defence’. At lower buy-ins, your opponents will make so many mathematical mistakes, that simply playing GTO lines / ranges will make you money over time.

Keep in mind that this is a sure and steady money maker. To maximise your profits, you can switch from GTO to ‘Exploitative’ play. As you move up buy-in levels, this becomes more and more important.

The best way to maximise profits is to play against the least experienced opponents. Whether you choose GTO or any other strategy, hunting down the fish is a major factor in making money. I recommend America’s Cardroom Poker. Not only are these the softest games around, but the promos are also industry leading. Use bonus code SNGPLANET to grab a 200% welcome bonus with crypto, over at www.americascardroom.com now!

GTO versus Exploitative Poker

Game Theory Optimal and Exploitative Play are the Yin and Yang of poker styles. Understanding the differences, and when to apply each style, is the best starting point on your GTO journey:

  • GTO: This method of playing ensures that you are making no major mistakes in your play. Profit comes from your opponent’s mistakes. GTO strategies are based on ranges, outs and bet sizes. Most situations are mathematically simple. More complex situations (multi-hand spots) can be run through ‘solvers’. These math tools run all possible outcomes, showing you, which will be the most profitable over time. You can’t use these math tools at the tables, though running common spots through them help you build up skills to spot common themes / situations.  
  • Exploitative Play: This strategy takes a more player-specific approach. You are focused on your opponent’s weaknesses, actively looking for them and adjusting your play away from the math to profit from them.  For example, if a player is folding to a 3-bet way too often, you will want to 3-bet them relentlessly (until they wake up to what you are doing).

Pros and Cons and Mixing Strategies

Both of the two methods have their advantages. If you are playing at a table with five others good, thinking players, GTO would be your starting point. As you get stats and reads on those opponents, you can adjust to their specific weaknesses.

If you are playing at a low stakes table, such as an NL25 cash game or a beginners poker tournament where the buy in is less than $20, mistakes will be plentiful. Here GTO poker will make a small, consistent profit. This is great for multi-tabling. In this scenario, you have the opportunity to take advantage of your opponent’s mistakes by playing exploitative poker. This can make a big difference with inexperienced opponents, who may well lose their entire stack in a way that an experienced opponent would never do.

It could be said that GTO poker becomes more important the higher stakes you play. If you do play GTO poker at lower stakes, you will still be a winning player due to the solid foundation of your game - but it’s probable you won’t win as much as an exploitative player. At higher stakes having a working knowledge of GTO will stand you in good stead, though it is hard to get an edge when all your opponents are playing GTO lines.

It could be said that perfect GTO strategy should be the baseline of your game but having the ability to deviate from that to exploit players gives you the best of both worlds.

GTo vs Exploitative

How does GTO Work in Practice?

Game Theory Optimal Poker will give you a mathematically ‘correct’ solution in any poker situation. This solution will be generated by a solver and tell you exactly what do in the spot you are in. Sometimes the decision that is generated is straightforward, such as call, fold or raise. However, in some spots, it gets more complicated, as the solver will give different options.

The information you have at hand is the cornerstone of GTO. The better you know an opponent’s ranges from each position and betting lines, the more accurate the output.

Simple Examples of GTO Math

For example, in a 6 max cash game when sitting in the big blind with AJo. It is folded to the button who bets 2.5x the big blind and the small blind folds. In this situation the solver might tell you to 3-bet 24% of the time and to flat call the other 76% of the time. That is the solution if playing against the perfect player. You could deviate from GTO if that player raises from the button 100% of the time (you’d want to 3-bet far more often), or if they only raise 10% of the time (you’d want to call more, or even find a fold occasionally).

There are similar GTO strategies for tournament play. For example, you might have a stack left of 20 big blinds and it is folded to you on the button, and you are holding 10-8 off. In this situation, GTO strategy might dictate that you raise 2.5x the big blind 40% of the time, you limp 12% of the time and you find a fold the other 48% of the time. If you were holding A4s in the same spot, the GTO advice would be to shove all-in 100% of the time. When holding AA, you are raising 2.5x the big blind 92% of the time and limping the other 8%.

The reason behind the different percentages (instead of a solid recommendation) is that if your opponent knows what you are going to do in a given spot 100% of the time, you can be exploited. Playing this way doesn’t allow you to be exploited. This is obviously less important if your opponent is not aware or adjusting to your frequencies. In this case, switch to the play that exploits their weaknesses the best. Another reason why finding the fishiest poker sites makes such a big difference. 

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GTO Poker – Summing Up

Knowing and being able to use Game Theory Optimal Poker is a key skill in the ever-evolving poker landscape. As time has gone by, the tables at all levels are becoming tougher, and having that GTO strategy in your pocket gives you the perfect baseline. Knowing when and how to deviate from that baseline will only stand you in better stead.

Whether you play GTO, exploitative, or a mix of the two – finding the fishiest tables is the way to maximize your profits.

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