GTO Poker Strategy
The concept of GTO poker means “Game Theory Optimal”. In simple words, this term means the most unexploitable approach. It is the strategy that will prevent your opponent from exploiting you. But there is one feature: there is no specific definition concerning what exactly it should be, but it will beat anyone who doesn’t follow this strategy. This approach doesn’t adapt to the opponents’ play. That implies the following: you should make such a strategy that will impede your opponent to exploit you.
The knowledge of the poker GTO concepts gives you an opportunity to find the workable strategies that will help you to cope with the opponents and protect you from the situations where you can be exploited by the other players.
In this article we will consider simple game techniques of this strategy, the advantages and disadvantages of this method, how to use it at low and high limits, and also the problems related to the game based on this style. It is necessary to understand that the principles of the optimal game are important for any discipline, so that thanks to the study of this topic, your tournament poker strategy will also improve at the same time.
Concept of GTO in Poker
Let’s start with a simple question: “What is GTO poker?”. This is the scenario where both players play perfectly but nobody can improve their strategy in the future. The founder of this concept is the famous mathematician John Nash.
It is obvious that you will seldom play against the opponents who play perfectly, but if you are not careful then they will be able to choose the strategy that will be better than yours! So you should select the strategy that will prevent your opponent from exploiting you.
Let’s assume that you are playing against a good opponent and let’s consider an example to get a better understanding of GTO poker meaning.
You raise on the preflop and only the player on the button makes a call. Let’s consider two possible variants:
- Strategy “A” – you bet only in the case if you have a top-pair or better.
- Strategy “B” – you bet only in the case if you don’t hit the board.
If you always use the strategy “A”, then what will your opponent do? If you make a bet only in the case where you have the good cards, then most often he will fold against your bet and will wait for really good hands.
If you always use the strategy “B”, then what will your opponent do? He will bluff every time you make a bet!
The best option is to steer a middle course. GTO poker encourages using the perfect combination of the strong hands and the bluff. It can be a difficult task to cope with, that’s why you should acquaint yourself with the several practical tips that will help you to move in this direction.
Three Simple GTO Techniques
GTO poker strategy is built on the balanced (unexploited) ranges, according to which your opponent won’t be able to play his hands profitably against you in the long run. Take, for example, a situation in which you raise on the flop. If you do this from time to time only with value or bluff hands, then it will be very easy for your opponents to adjust to you. However, if you have a clear idea on how to mix the hands for value/ bluff raising in order to prevent your opponent from profitable play against you in the long run, then it will mean an optimal poker game.
There are many different lines of play that can be applied with a specific group of hands in your range. When making only one decision, your overall strategy can become either too passive or too aggressive in comparison to the relative strength of this range. When eliminating the variants sequentially, you usually end up with one single line of play. With some hands, this will be a simple line: you always want to value-bet the nuts in position on the river. However, it will be much more difficult to play some hands, for example when you have to make a decision between a value-bet and check, which will always be controversial. Don't worry. If the hand is marginal, then mathematical expectation from making a wrong decision will be at least a break-even one. In addition, when playing such marginal hands, you should adjust.
Let’s talk about some simple techniques that can help you with the concept:
Many players bluff not enough on the flop against the other good players. Let’s assume that you are using the bet sizes of about 60-75% of the pot. You should bet about 60/40 with a bluff in order to extract the value on the flop.
In order to achieve this goal you should check the hands of a medium strength. These are such hands as the second pair or top-pair with a weak kicker. It is obvious that you won’t fold – you check or check/call without position or you will make a check-back in position. In any case, it is difficult to get value on the three streets with these hands.
If you want to hone your skills then you should develop the range thinking. You should practice and record the entire range on the flop. Calculate the quantity of the bluff bets (including semi-bluff). Calculate your ready-made hands with which you bet. Then determine a coefficient.
Let’s assume that you calculate your range by using the above-mentioned technique and find out that you have much more value-hands rather than the bluff ones. This may happen if your preflop range is very strong as it is in the 3-bet pots.
So, in order to move in GTO poker direction you should make the smaller bets. You can get close to 50% of the pot and in the extreme cases there is a sense to bet in the range of 30-40% of the pot.
Usually it happens on the river. Let’s assume that you call your opponent’s bet on the flop and turn and he checks on the river. Now, when you make the bet it is difficult for you to bluff. Probably there is a sense to bet practically with every hand in your range and use a little size: perhaps 30-40% of the pot.
Some time ago, two really clever men (the authors of poker math books) decided to use the best strategy on three postflop-streets when you have the nuts. What was the strategy? To invest all the money to the river by doing the three equal size bets in the pot.
For example, if you have the nuts and make the bet with a pot size three times and then go all-in, that should be so. If you are in the pot with one raise, then as a rule the over-bets are made on every street in order to invest all the money.
Nowadays, over-betting isn’t considered as a “standard” solution and it can provoke an unpredictable reaction from your opponent, that’s why you should be cautious while using this strategy in a practice. Just understand that a theoretical method really suggests such a variant.
There is another awesome thing concerning the large bets. The larger your bet is, the more bluffs you may have (and should have) in your range. It was mentioned about the bluff usage in the range of 60/40 in order to extract the value by playing with technique №1. If you make the bet of a pot size on the flop or over-bet, then you can do it over 75/25! Please note that these are those hands you would fold but now they give you money.
The last thing you should remember: when you get to the river and since the bluff percentage should be in your range, then most of your range should have the value. With a pot size bet on the river, for example, 2/3 of your bets should be for value and only 1/3 should be the bluff one.
Let's get acquainted with the opinions of poker pros concerning GTO and their attitude to this strategy.
We offer you to watch the video by Daniel Cates:
Poker GTO at Low and High Limits
At the low stakes, GTO is rare, as the play pool is uneven and there are many weak opponents, whose actions in most cases depend on the strength of cards available. Bluff at the micro stakes is much less common. Therefore, at the low stakes, the effective strategies are considered the ready-made ones with playing a good hand. At the high stakes, GTO poker strategy is most relevant, since the play pool is balanced and there are more opponents of equal strength.
This is a profitable concept that generates income regardless of how your opponents act. Despite this, it does not allow getting the maximum profit, which leads to the necessity to identify the opponents' mistakes in order to receive additional income from situations when our rival deviates from the optimal line of play.
It is difficult for beginners to find a balanced range of actions due to the lack of knowledge and practice. However, there are professionals who are always ready to explain all the nuances and even talk about which strategy is better. As an example, you can watch the video by Doug Polk:
Solvers and Charts in Online Games
Solvers fundamentally changed poker since they became widespread. As a result, the strategies and the way of working on the game outside the tables saw a dramatic change.
How does a poker GTO solver work? The program allows setting the initial data, such as ranges, sets of bet sizes and so on. Then it processes this information and displays a balanced strategy for a specific situation in hand and a completely ready GTO poker chart. The player gets accurate information concerning the necessary action with each hand from the range, as well as the ideal bet size.
Many players strive for a balanced optimal strategy, however this is not an easy task in practice, due to the huge amount of information that needs to be remembered. To obtain sustainable skills, you need to spend a lot of time at work outside the tables. Not every professional can do it, let alone the beginners.
Pros and Cons of This Approach
Poker GTO as a strategy has a number of practical advantages.
- It is difficult to exploit the game based on this strategy.
- The play based on this strategy is a winning one against any opponent.
- This is a perfect strategy by default.
However, this approach has one quite serious disadvantage: the game won’t always be the most profitable, because GTO poker doesn’t consider your opponents' tendencies.
No-limit Texas Holdem is still an unsolved issue that’s why there is no right and exact strategy. No matter how good-balanced strategy can be according to your opinion, there will always be weak places that can be exploited.
Even if the game theory optimal strategy was well-known, it would be almost impossible to use it without a computer. At this moment the best you can do is to simulate GTO in poker games and try to do it unexploitable based on the well-known theoretical concepts.
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You can try using this strategy at any limits. It is also necessary to remember that it is not prohibited by the rules of using poker rooms, which means that it is absolutely legal. However, GTO poker is more suitable for medium and high stakes. On micro and low limits, you can find a large number of beginners and weak players who make serious mistakes in the game. Therefore, an exploit is better suited against them.
The GTO poker strategy is a balanced approach that offers a clear combination of bluffs and value bets. The game of opponents, their skills and actions are not taken into account here. And the exploit is primarily aimed at the opponent's game and its analysis. When using exploitative poker, the player finds the leaks of opponents and adapts his game to them.
This is special poker software that helps develop charts and strategies for GTO poker. Similar programs provide information for preflop and postflop. They are often used by experienced players to work on their game.