What is GTO?

GTO, or game theory optimal, is the ultimate objective of poker players. Though mathematically, there is a solution to No Limit Texas Hold’em, it remains a mystery. Instead, players strive for an approximation of GTO strategy through simulations using a solver.

To illustrate GTO in action, let’s take the classic game of rock paper scissors. Two players each select one of rock, paper, or scissors. If both players choose the same option, the game ends in a tie. However, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. The GTO solution to this game is simple: pick each option one third of the time. This guarantees a long-term win, despite the possibility of short-term losses.

Imagine if your opponent in this game was a child who adores choosing rock and has a pet rock named Mr. Rocky. In this scenario, the optimal play for you would be to always pick paper, guaranteeing a win. However, if you employed the GTO strategy, you would only break even with the child over a large number of attempts.

Rock paper scissors is not a complex game, and even a child will eventually realize they are being exploited. They will likely change their strategy to beat your paper, prompting you to change your strategy as well. This cycle of adjustment and exploitation continues until both players settle on the equilibrium strategy of choosing each option a third of the time. At that point, there is nothing either player can do within the rules of the game to improve their strategy. This back-and-forth adjustment is similar to how poker solvers reach equilibrium.

How does a solver help you play GTO Poker?

A solver is a powerful tool for understanding GTO poker strategy, but it’s important to understand that it doesn’t provide a definitive answer for how to play the game. Instead, a solver is a model of an incredibly complex game that can help players understand how different strategies might perform in specific situations.

While a game like rock paper scissors only has three possible options, poker has an almost endless number of possibilities – from the 1326 different starting hands, to the 19600 different flop combinations, to the endless betting options on each street. No computer in the world can solve such a complex game.

What solvers do is allow players to create a model of the game by limiting the bet sizing options on each street. Some solvers, like the ones we use, are more complex than others, mapping out more of the game tree and using more RAM. This allows us to discover interesting bet sizes that other solvers might not consider, giving us a more comprehensive understanding of the game.

How do I leverage the insights of a solver to elevate my poker game?

Instead of blindly mimicking the plays of a solver, the key is to comprehend the reasoning behind its decisions. While it may be difficult for a human to remember every move a solver makes, by understanding the logic behind the model’s outcomes, you can greatly improve your poker skills.

By understanding why solvers make certain moves, you will develop a more solid basic strategy that you can use when you don’t know anything about your opponents. It’s important to remember that using a GTO style of poker and using an exploitative style of poker are not mutually exclusive, but actually complement each other. When you have a good understanding of GTO basics, you can more easily spot mistakes made by even skilled players. For instance, on A72 in BB vs BU 2-Bet Pots, the BU should not c-bet their entire range. However, many players will do so anyway, and the reason is that it tends to be effective. The underlying reason for this is that most players in the big-blind do not check-raise enough. The way to exploit this is by simply check-raising more frequently. Without knowing the optimal c-bet frequency on that board, you may have missed this exploit.

There will be situations where using a solver’s strategy would not be the best idea. For example, in rock-paper-scissors, if our opponent always picked rock, we wouldn’t use the GTO strategy, we would always pick paper. In poker, if you’re playing live against a recreational player who rarely raises without a very strong hand but will call large bets with weak holdings, the correct play is to always fold to their raises unless you also have a very strong hand and bet very large for value when your hand is strong. Our play can be exploited because we’re folding too often against their raises, and when we bet small or check back the flop, our range is very weak. However, the important thing is that the recreational player will likely not be able to exploit us easily. It would take a lot of time and careful consideration to do so, and by nature, recreational players are playing for fun and aren’t thinking about the game at that level.

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