The poker term GTO, or Game Theory Optimal, is frequently used to describe the ultimate strategy for increasing your win rate and becoming unexploitable. But is it all that some players claim it to be?
Another question that comes to mind is how to use GTO in live Texas Hold’em games? Can you take the ideas and concepts of GTO and actually apply them to live games? Keep on reading to find out.
Why Use GTO in Live Poker?
Before we dig deeper into the proper approach for GTO in live poker games, let’s get another question out of the way. Should you use this approach in live games, and why?
In short, there are a couple of main reasons why you should consider using GTO in live poker. The first and more obvious one is that you’ll simply win more money in the long run by focusing on a well-balanced GTO strategy.
The second and equally important reason is that GTO will allow you to make better adjustments on the fly. From this perspective, GTO should enable you to know what moves to make for every possible combination, not just the hand you were initially dealt.
With that in mind, GTO will bring you some great benefits, including:
- Objective Examination – Objectively analyzing outcomes and results can be challenging, especially in live poker games. But, GTO can come in very handy when it comes to this. Once you know what the GTO strategy is for a specific spot, you can determine if you’re making decisions profitable in the long term.
- Avoiding Assumptions – A well-devised GTO tactic eliminates assumptions and confusion against unknown opponents. In return, it helps you develop more successful long-term results.
- Easier Adjustments – When you’re following GTO, you can more quickly adjust through smaller and bigger exploits and get the best value for each bet you make. Plus, if your opponent isn’t familiar with GTO, this will make the adjustments even more effective.
This strategy will be especially useful in live games where you don’t know anything about the players. You’ll have a very solid foundation to resort to until you get a better feeling for the game.
Utilizing GTO Solutions in Live Poker Games
GTO strategy is all about frequencies. They are an inseparable part of every GTO strategy, as you can see from the fundamental approaches we’ll talk about in a second:
GTO and Preflop Hand Ranges
The further you are out of position, the tighter you’ll have to open up the game. Of course, since there are many possible combinations, the only way to know this is to memorize or use a chart. Of course, this strategy only applies if the action has been folded to you.
With that said, a good rule of thumb is that you should always look to have a solid and balanced poker hands range, no matter your position.
You should have at least a few hands that provide you with the possibility of lining up a strong hand, regardless of the flop’s texture.
When you’re playing live poker and aiming for GTO, it’s best to use a mixed strategy when opening from the small blind position. This includes combining open-raises with some open-limps, something that your opponents won’t predict or see a pattern in.
GTO and Pot Odds
One of the basic principles every poker player should go by is that you should always be looking to make +EV decisions.
Understanding pot odds and equity and knowing how to apply them in your favor will go a long way in ensuring higher expected value.
This applies to both preflop and post-flop pot odds. However, when it comes to preflop pot odds, you should also consider additional factors that impact GTO. These include implied/reverse implied odds, positional disadvantage, and the so-called “Villain’s hand range.”
That said, in some live games, you’ll often pick up very reliable reads on someone’s tendencies. They might be a type of a player that never folds to a 3-bet or someone who always 3-bets when they’re stuck and looking to get even.
When you find yourself in this situation, it’s fine (and quite profitable) to deviate from GTO. While the GTO approach will still make you money, adjustments based on your reads of the situation will actually increase your profitability.
GTO and Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
MDF is another exploitation-proof method that provides you with very useful information. It allows you to know the percentage of hand raises with which you should call or raise, depending on each situation.
To help you approach MDF more easily here's the widely accepted formula for calculating MDF rates:
MDF= Pot Size / (Pot Size + Bet Size)
Going with the formula from above, you’ll be able to calculate the frequency rates that directly correspond with the bet and pot sizes.
Generally speaking, you should be committing to the hands with the highest equity and best playability against the other player’s range.
Keep in mind that this method is very difficult to implement in live games, so don't get discouraged if you get mixed results at first.
Online, you have the benefit of different poker software solutions, giving you access to all sorts of information about players. In a live setting, you have to rely on your memory and your best guess about what someone’s range might look like.
Minimum Defense Frequency is a fairly advanced concept, and if you're just starting to implement GTO to your live play, you shouldn't get too stuck on it. Unless you're playing in a very tough game, this won't matter all that much.
GTO and Bet Sizing
Last but definitely not least, bet sizing is an equally important aspect of GTO as each of the three we’ve previously discussed.
GTO allows you to see which bet sizes you should use. In return, this will ensure you’re unexploitable but still keep you unpredictable enough to allow you to trick your opponents with bluffs from time to time.
Again, it’s a good concept to stick to in games where you have very little information about your opponents. As you gain more information about everyone’s tendencies, you’ll probably look to make exploitative adjustments against particular opponents.
GTO or Exploitative? – The Bottom Line
In the end, which strategy should you resort to when playing live poker games? Should you focus on GTO or exploitative play
In short, regardless of how much or little experience you have, the answer is that you should rely on a combination of both strategic concepts.
Most casual and even many advanced poker players simply don’t play GTO poker. You’ll likely see this strategy primarily at high-stakes tables, but even then, exploitative tactics are still very much in play.
That said, understanding all of the aspects of GTO strategy will undoubtedly go a long way in making you a successful player in live poker games.
It will allow you to avoid being results-oriented and focus on objective aspects that can make a difference.
The information you learned on this page is enough to provide you with a solid foundation on GTO. Ultimately, look at the GTO strategy as a baseline you’ll build upon to become unexploitable.
When you have a solid baseline, you can commit to studying your opponents’ tendencies, absorbing further poker tips, and adjusting for the best results.