Why Learning GTO Will Help You Be A Better Poker Player
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If you read poker publications and forums these days, you will come across the term GTO (game theory optimal) quite a bit. But what is it really, and should you learn it? Opinions differ!
The truth is that there is no such a thing as GTO for No-Limit Texas Hold’em poker in a true sense. Even the heads-up game is too complex to be completely solved, so the term GTO is actually a misleading one.
However, it is used to refer to a gameplay strategy based on game theory that tries to come close to optimal and unexploitable solutions.
The debate between many players is whether a GTO strategy is worth learning and whether an exploitative poker strategy is actually the better way to play No-Limit Hold’em.
Whether or not the GTO style of play is superior to exploitative play depends on many factors, such as the game type and player pool you are playing in, but I want to focus on the reasons why learning the GTO strategy will make you a better poker player in either case.
Can GTO Beat Poker?
The question that many people have about the GTO approach to poker is whether it can actually beat the games. GTO poker can seem simple at times, causing many to believe it to be predictable and thus not profitable.
However, the truth is that players who play this way come much closer to being unexploitable than those who play exploitative strategies and thus open themselves up to exploits as well.
Today's games tend to be pretty tough with many solid opponents. Playing a GTO approach is often the only real way to be anywhere close to profitable at many tables.
GTO poker, unlike any other strategy, works against every single opponent and playing style. From preflop play to the river, the GTO strategy gives you the “perfect play” in every scenario.
Of course, things aren't really as simple as this in No-Limit Hold’em. Even though the GTO strategy is still far from perfect, it's much closer to it than what you might come up with on your own.
Learning How to Think about Poker
If you are someone who comes from a typical background of having learned poker rules and jumped right into playing, learning about the GTO playing style will teach you how to think about the game in general.
Many poker players approach the game on a hand-by-hand basis, which means they are only focused on how a certain hand will turn out.
The GTO strategy, on the other hand, focuses on winning in the long run and making the most profitable play in every situation, regardless of the outcome of that play.
GTO also teaches you about frequencies, which is a concept many players don’t really understand.
As you learn about poker through tools like GTOBase, you will learn to randomize your plays and check or bet at certain frequencies on certain flops, turns, and rivers with various starting hands.
Once you have been learning about GTO long enough, you will learn how poker actually works and exactly why solvers choose to make the plays they make.
This, in turn, will lead to making better decisions even when you are trying to play an exploitative style.
Lessons in GTO strategy will also teach you about important poker concepts such as blockers, overbets, and bluffing frequencies, all of which you may not have thought about in the past.
By the time you have solid GTO fundamentals, your overall poker game will have grown by many levels. You will be able to face even the toughest of opponents without the fear of being crushed.
Is Exploitative Poker Better?
The main factor people use when trying to prove that exploitative poker is a better way to approach the game is the fact it offers a higher theoretical profit cap.
While this may be true in general, and finding bad opponents you can exploit is better than playing optimally against great players, this is not always an option.
More often than not, exploitative players try to exploit opponents who are not nearly as bad as they believe them to be, which turns the strategy against them.
There are certainly merits to both GTO and exploitative approach to poker, but I strongly recommend learning as much as you can about the GTO approach, and especially its preflop concepts, before you try to play poker on any serious level.
The main thing you can take away from my experience is that having a strong base in GTO strategy will easily give you a great edge even when you play an exploitative style. You will have a strong baseline from which to deviate in either direction.
Learning GTO in 2021
If you want to learn how to play GTO poker, the one thing you should be willing to commit is time. You will not be able to learn about all the different spots that can come up in a few days, and learning about GTO is a process that will take lots of time.
The best and most effective way to learn how to play GTO is by running your own simulations in a solver.
This is going to take a lot of time but will give you the hands-on learning experience that is the most effective.
You could also choose to go the other way and find one of the poker coaching sites that offer lots of already solved common spots in poker, which is probably the best way to start learning about GTO poker.
Whichever approach you take to learning GTO strategy, I can promise you that getting at least the fundamentals of GTO poker will make you a much stronger player overall.
It will give you immense edges over weak players and a way to stand your ground against even the best poker players in the world.