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GTO Poker Strategy vs. Exploitative Play – How To Win The Most

Gto poker strategy vs exploitative

11 minutes

Posted by: Tadas

We hear the name of the GTO poker strategy every single day when playing and learning the game. However, most are not entirely aware of what it means and how it should be implementing it into actual play.

Game theory optimal (GTO) strategy means that we are taking optimal unexploitable strategy vs. our opponents, and we are guaranteed to make money against them.

However, we are playing a game of incomplete information, so it is very hard to reach the actual GTO strategy point. Moreover, this is probably one of the most misunderstood and misapplied concepts in the poker world.

To put it in simple words – you want to balance your value to bluffs ratio in the way that no one could exploit you. If you can stick with this strategy, you are guaranteed to at least break even against the best players in the world.

However, it is not so easy to follow, nor is it the best strategy in most cases.

To exploit weaker players, you have to deviate from the GTO poker approach and target their mistakes.

While neither of these tactics can give you a perfect poker strategy, both have advantages and disadvantages, so you need to understand how to implement both of them in your games to win the most.

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When you know your opponents well or play with the same player all the time, you know their mistakes and can make some adjustments to exploit it.

But what if you are playing online in an anonymous game, facing opponents that you have never seen before, or a new player joins your table and you have no information about him?

Your best bet is to concentrate on not being exploited and stick to the GTO poker playing style.

When a new player sits down at the table, you don’t know if he is a good regular or random recreational player and until you figure this out, GTO poker strategy is by far your best bet.

The same goes for anonymous games. Many poker rooms have started banning HUD’s and introducing anonymous tables to give recreational players a fighting chance to play vs. regulars. Sooner or later, you will need to adjust to this and learn efficient and balanced lines.

Your goal should be to learn how to play that unexploitable strategy (perfect poker), and it is not an easy task.

gto poker strategy starting point

You have a couple of options for it, and probably the most time-efficient one is to join a poker training site, where you can get all the information at once. Of course, you can study and do everything yourself, but it will take way more time, and time is money in poker.

Either way, you should start with preflop. It is close to impossible to play effectively, postflop if you are struggling to play good preflop. So, make sure to figure out:

  • an optimal opening and defending ranges
  • how to balance your 3-bet frequencies
  • perfect poker strategy for blinds play

One thing that many players miss is adjusting blinds defense strategy vs. different open sizing. If you are defending the same hands vs. minraise, 2.5x or 3x opens, you are leaving a lot of money at the table, and you should fix this mistake. If you want good guidelines on how to do it, grab my poker cheat sheet!

printable poker hands cheat sheet

The same goes for all other common mistakes, such as c-betting and barreling, blinds defense strategies post-flop, 3-bet pots play, and so on. Learn to balance your ranges and use this strategy as your starting point.

This way, you will become a very strong player, and no one will be able to push you around.

If you feel uncomfortable vs. anyone, just continue playing the GTO poker strategy, and you be good.

When to use GTO poker strategy:

  • When you are playing against good regulars;
  • Against new players you have no information on;
  • In anonymous poker games where you do not know who you are playing;
  • When you are not sure what line to take, stick with the perfect poker strategy.

Advantages of the game theory optimal (GTO) play

Like with all strategies, there are some pros and cons. We’ve already touched on some upsides of this approach – you will be able to play vs. good regulars and unknown players and guaranteed not to lose money against them, which is a big thing.

The biggest advantage of the GTO poker approach is that you don’t care about what others do.

If you were to play truly perfect poker, it would be impossible for your opponents to beat you. The best they could hope for is to break even. This is why so many top players these days talk about Game Theory Optimal strategy.

In the games they play, they can’t be making too many mistakes, or competent opponents will quickly notice it and will take advantage of any persistent leaks they can discover.

For example, if you start folding too much, these players will see it as an opportunity to push you around and will start betting more then they should in theory, but it will be a good adjustment because you are overfolding.

But as long as you stick to perfect poker strategy and play GTO ranges, they won’t be able to do anything to make your play –EV. The best they can do is play GTO poker strategy themselves, in which case you’ll both be breaking even.

Downsides of GTO poker strategy

Despite sounding great in theory, the GTO poker approach has its problems, and it may not be the perfect solution in every single situation.

gto poker strategy pros and cons

First of all, Texas Hold’em is a very complex game with many unknowns and variables.

So, at this point in time, there is no such thing as a perfect poker, despite what this name suggests.

Here are a couple of limitations:

  • Game is not entirely solved yet, so you can’t count it as truly “perfect poker,” but it is close to it
  • It is close to impossible to learn the GTO poker strategy for all situations. There is just too much info to process, so you can never really expect to know what the GTO play is in every spot.
  • The third issue with Game Theory Optimal is that its effectiveness diminishes significantly in multi-way pots. Decisions made by a third player can cause you to lose money while playing “perfect poker.”

All of this isn’t to say you don’t need GTO poker in your life. On the contrary, learning and understanding the underlying principles of this strategy can deepen your knowledge, but you also need to understand the limitations of this approach.

So instead of trying to memorize the GTO poker strategy for every situation, learn how to play different hand groups on various boards, and you will be ahead of vast majority players.

Learning perfect poker: Where to Start?

If you happen to know a little something about Game Theory Optimal play, you probably have an idea that it’s hard to learn. To be completely honest, it isn’t easy. It isn’t something you can pick up along the way.

The only way to master the GTO poker strategy is to devote your efforts and spend quite a bit of time studying it.

If that doesn’t scare you and you’re determined to give it a go, there are a few software solutions that can be very helpful in understanding this concept and implementing it in your games.

Simple GTO Poker Trainer

If you’re new to GTO poker, I’d suggest you start your learning curve with Simple GTO Trainer.

This software lets you play against AI (artificial intelligence) GTO opponent and see how much you deviate from the perfect poker strategy.

simple gto poker trainer

This APP is very easy to use and can help you understand the actual GTO poker implementation in various situations and quickly advance your play. With plenty of graphs, range examples, and detailed analyzes, it is bound to help you improve.

Get a FREE poker trainer trial!

Poker Snowie

It is a “lightweight” piece of software (at least when compared with the rest) that can still give you a very good understanding of GTO.

One of the biggest downsides to Poker Snowie is that it isn’t as detailed or in-depth as other GTO solvers. While this may be of importance to someone trying to beat the best players on the planet, it doesn’t make that much of a difference in most regular live or online games.

GTO poker snovie

Suggestions and solutions for different spots are very close to perfect poker strategy, and that’s all you need if you’re just getting started.

The added benefit of this lighter approach is that Snowie calculations are virtually instant. You won’t have to sit around and wait for complex reports, which can take a while.

Get a FREE Poker Snowie trial!


Once you get the grasp of the GTO strategy and perhaps want to move on to more complex stuff, PioSolver is the number one software you can get your hands on.

It is the poker software used by most high-level pros and is capable of producing detailed, highly accurate analyses for most spots you can think of.

GTO poker strategy PIO solver

It will cost you a few hundred bucks, but if you’re determined to learn GTOpoker, this is the best way to go about it.

The user interface is not very intuitive, but you’ll be able to learn your way around it. However, if you want to get the most out of this app, you’ll need to develop some very solid foundations before even trying it out.


Everyone makes some mistakes, and if you spot that, your best bet is to use this information and start pushing hard on his mistakes. That’s why the GTO poker strategy is not always the best option.

This is where exploitative strategy comes into play. You should take your time and learn how to deviate from GTO poker and exploit other players.

One way to do that is by having stats on your opponents. A good poker HUD could be a tremendous help to you if you utilize it efficiently. It could be a deciding factor in making you a winner, so make sure to get tracking software along with other poker tools to help you out.

holdem manager 2 banner

To take one more step forward in learning how to exploit other players, I highly recommend reading my article about poker statistics and learning, which are the most important ones you should target.

  • If you see someone folding too much to 3-bets, you add more bluffs in your range
  • If your opponent is calling way too light on the flop, you add more medium-strength hands to your value betting range and do not bluff so much.
  • If you find a player who is folding a lot on the river, but bets if you check to him – you bet your bluffs and check strong hands to get more value. You get the idea.

If you change your GTO poker strategy based on your opponent’s mistakes, you will end up winning much more money, which is, of course, your end goal.

However, if you do not have an option of using HUD, i.e., if you are playing live or on anonymous tables, you have another weapon – population tendencies.

This is a very underestimated topic, and to be honest, you can build an entire strategy on that. Be aware that these trends will change depending on the poker room that you play or even on different stakes, so do not follow it blindly.

To get more accurate information, you should learn to analyze your database, and of course – you should always observe your opponents.  No matter whether you’re playing live or online, doing this will let you quickly spot some of the mistakes in their game and put pressure on them.

Even though the GTO poker strategy gives you the possibility to play almost perfect poker against everyone, an exploitative approach is how you make the most money.

Therefore, whenever you can and have enough information – try to adopt it. But to do that, you need to understand the GTO approach in the first place.

GTO Poker vs. Exploitative Play: NEITHER OF THESE IS BETTER

In reality, it is impossible to play a fully GTO poker strategy, but you can get quite close to it.

However, you need to take into consideration that your opponents will not be playing GTO strategy as well, and you should do all you can to spot their mistakes. As soon as you know, what they are doing wrong, concentrate on exploiting them, and you will surely increase your win rate.

I cannot pick which one is better. As I explained, it serves different purposes, and learning both the GTO poker strategy and the exploitative one will give you an edge over your competition.

GTO poker strategy is superior vs. good regulars and unknowns, while exploitative play will help you to maximize your win rate when you know how to adopt it against weaker players.

The best way is to use a mix of both – GTO poker strategy until you get some reads and then change your game to exploitative play and try to win as much as possible.

Remember, you can be playing both strategies at the same time. You can be adopting a GTO poker strategy vs. one player and an exploitative game vs. another opponent at the same table. It is exactly what you should be doing to become a solid winner, and joining one of the training sites will speed up this process!


  • There is no such thing as one perfect poker strategy
  • GTO play should be used as your starting strategy, and only then you should adjust versus different opponents
  • GTO poker approach is the best against unknowns or solid players
  • Deviating from it when you notice some mistakes can add you extra profits
  • You do not need to choose between GTO and exploitative play and should understand both strategies

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