Should I Play GTO Poker?

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of ‘Ask SplitSuit a question’. I’m James ‘SplitSuit’ Sweeney here for and today we’re going to answer one of your questions. Today’s question comes from Vlad V and Vlad asks “What are your thoughts about a ‘GTO Approach’ vs a ‘Hand Reading approach?”

That’s a great question and a question that I’m seeing a lot more nowadays so lets talk about it real quick. A lot of players don’t fully understand what the GTO Approach is. GTO is short for Game Theory Optimal and I think the easiest way to explain GTO is with a game of chicken. You have 2 cars driving at each other and the one that swerves loses. So what’s the optimal GTO Strategy for this game? Is it to always go straight? Is it to always go left, always go right, to balance it 1/3 a piece, or something else?

GTO poker cars

The actual optimal way to play chicken is to take your steering wheel off, hold it out the window, and force your opponent to do something. By doing this you cant do anything that gets exploited; your opponent has to do react to this information. In the longrun the only thing he can do here is swerve, because by going straight he’ll always die.

That’s what the GTO approach is in the game of chicken, but how does that relate to poker?  Take an overly-simplified situation where on the river there’s a $500 pot, we have $500 effective, and we decide to jam the river. We’re going to say that we have the best hand 2/3 of the time and we have total air 1/3 of the time. In this situation, we are actually shoving a very perfectly balanced range and our opponent can’t exploit us. He can only make mistakes by folding too much or calling too much with a second-best hand. Ultimately we are playing totally GTO in that spot.

Well let’s just say for a moment that our opponent is actually a total fish and hes ALWAYS going to call the river and ALWAYS going to call a second-best hand. Against him, why would we want to take the steering wheel off, make the shove and have this 2/3 value – 1/3 bluff type range if he’s always going to call with a worse hand?. Why shove the bluffs in that situation? We could make it so our river shoving range is only the nuts, then obviously we make a ton more value against that fishy opponent who’s going to make the calling mistakes whether we use a GTO strategy or whether we employ an exploitative strategy.

value and bluffs

In that situation, against a fishy opponent who’s going to make a lot of mistakes, using a more exploitative strategy is going to be best. This is often times what you’re going to find against bad players and against smaller stake players and microstake players; they don’t have enough knowledge to necessitate using a GTO strategy. Against them you can just play totally exploitative – find their leaks, find that their going to call rivers too lightly or that they’re going to be folding here too often or they don’t have enough bluffs in this range or that range…and then play an exploitative strategy against them. Too many players try to learn a GTO strategy and apply it against the wrong opponents, and in doing so get themselves destroyed.

Now having an understanding of GTO poker and understanding when a range is perfectly balanced, or how your range needs to look in this situation…is a great starting point. Having this knowledge is great if you’re playing in a situation where you need to be GTO. But if you’re playing in a game or situation where exploitative is going to be the best strategy, or is going to be more profitable, then you know when to veer away from GTO. Many spots require you to play totally explotative, which can easily generate the most value in particular situations.

The key point here is to understand when you need GTO and when you need to play more exploitative. If you’re playing in the smaller stakes games, micro games, or if you’re playing against bad opponents constantly…you don’t need GTO. If you’re playing against good players often, if you’re playing heads up a lot of the time against good players…GTO is going to be way way way more important. If you would like to learn more about GTO, I would check out Ed Miller’s book ‘Pokers 1%’, which is a great book to get you started on the topic.

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