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Modern Poker Theory Pros & Cons – Exploring New School of Thought

modern poker theory

8 minutes

Posted by: MPC Team

Nowadays, if you are talking about modern poker theory the term that you are guaranteed to hear is GTO. GTO is one of the most commonly used poker terms in general and it stands for “Game Theory Optimal”.

Modern poker theory describes the modern approach to the game heavily based on in-depth mathematical calculation.

In this article, we will explain what game theory optimal means when it comes to poker. We will also discuss why and when players use GTO in poker and how you can use the modern theory of poker to direct your decisions.

What Is GTO in Modern Poker Theory?

Game theory optimal or GTO is a poker strategy based on a brand of applied mathematics called game theory.

It is used to create the perfect solution in each situation and prevent your opponents from exploiting you.

In No-Limit Texas Hold'em, GTO has become increasingly more popular in the last 10 years and the majority of professional poker players have adjusted their playstyles to be as close to GTO as possible.

Players that play GTO essentially try to play perfect poker and make a profit when their opponents make mistakes.

Because GTO focuses on protecting your actions in each situation rather than exploiting your opponents' actions it is considered a defensive strategy.

The main focus of GTO is to always leave your opponent wondering do you have a strong or a weak hand by taking the same actions with both your weak and strong hands.

This is considered a balanced approach and it represents the very foundation of modern poker theory.

gto poker

Here is an example.

You are playing NL100 6max.

You open under the gun to $2.5, and the action folds to the button. He 3-bets to $8, SB and BB fold and the action is back to you.

In this situation if you only 4-bet with premium hands (such as AA, KK, QQ, or AK), call your medium hands (TT, JJ, AQ), and fold the rest of your range, you become extremely easy to play against.

Players who play GTO will balance their range in this situation by adding some of their weakest holdings into their 4-bet bluff range as well as adding some of their premium hands in their calling range.

With this approach, your opponent will have a much harder time putting you on a range of hands which will prevent him from exploiting you.

What Is Exploitative Poker?

An exploitative strategy in poker is a strategy in which players take suboptimal actions in order to take advantage of a player or a situation and increase their EV in that spot.

It means that a player is adjusting his or her approach based on the situation and the opponent rather than trying to play perfect poker in every situation.

Let’s take the same example as before.

You are playing NL100 6max.

You open under the gun to $2.5, and the action folds to a button who 3-bets to $8, SB and BB fold and the action is back to you.

In this case, you will base your decision on your opponent:

If your opponent likes to 3bet a lot but folds to 4bets you should call with all your premium hands to keep his bluffs in the hand and 4-bet the weaker part of your range to pick the pot before the flop.

With this approach, you will maximize your EV in this situation against this opponent.

However, applying this approach against every opponent will probably be a bad idea because not all opponents have the same tendencies.

The Advantages of Playing GTO in Modern Poker

There are four main reasons why poker players should lean towards playing a GTO strategy:

  • It makes thinking about the hand easier
  • You don’t need to assume anything
  • Prevents you from being results-oriented
  • Potential adjustments are made much easier

GTO Makes the Thought Process Easier

Players who play GTO poker focus on their hands and their hole cards and think about what is the most optimal way to play their hands in that situation.

By approaching each poker hand in this way they don’t need to think about how good is their opponent (leveling wars) because no matter how good they are, by making the correct GTO play they are making money in the long run.

game theory optimal

The modern poker theory prefers this approach over the exploitative one as it makes things easier to handle in the long run – provided you’re able to master all the intricacies of the GTO approach first.

GTO Approach Eliminates Assuming

By trying to play perfectly in each spot, players can stop making too many assumptions. Most players start making assumptions about their opponents after playing only a few hands.

This can be a costly mistake.

To make correct assumptions in certain spots, a player needs to play thousands of hands against that opponent.

However, by playing a GTO strategy, you can start making good decisions from the first hand you play without having to make any assumptions.

GTO Prevents Players from Being Results-Oriented

Learning and applying a GTO strategy helps players remove doubts and prevents them from being results-oriented.

To understand how the modern theory of poker helps players with their confidence and deal with downswings you can think about it this way.

If you are not confident in your decision during a hand you can become results-oriented meaning that you will assume that you made the right choice if you win the hand and vice versa.

But if you know that you made the right decision because your decision is part of a correct GTO strategy, losing the hand will not discourage you from making that correct decision next time.

If you are facing an all-in preflop with pocket aces, you will call every time.

Even if you lose 10 times in a row you will call the 11th time. Why? Because you know that is the right play.

Learning a correct GTO approach will help you learn what the right play in more complex situations is.

Playing GTO Poker Makes Adjustments Easier

Knowing the correct GTO lines and tendencies helps players recognize when their opponents’ make mistakes and allows them to adjust much easier.

You can look at it this way: If you don’t know that your opponent is making a mistake you will not try to exploit him because you will think that there is nothing to exploit.

GTO will not only help you learn how not to get exploited but also teach you what are the correct moves in which situation and this will help you recognize when your opponents are making mistakes.

The Disadvantages of Playing GTO Poker

You might be wondering how is it possible that this modern poker theory named Game Theory Optimal has disadvantages.

modern theory of poker

GTO prevents your opponents from exploiting you even when they know your strategy, but the reality is that in most cases your opponents won’t know your exact strategy, which makes playing GTO overkill.

The main cons of playing GTO poker are:

  • Poker is not solved and so a true GTO strategy doesn’t exist, especially in multi-way pots
  • It is impossible to learn GTO without help from poker software
  • It is impossible to play GTO in every situation
  • Playing GTO poker against weak players means that you are leaving money on the table

Should I Learn & Play Modern Poker Theory

Before we answer this question, let us just clarify a few things:

  • You don’t have to play GTO to win money at poker
  • If you think that you need to learn GTO to win in the games you play you are probably playing in bad games
  • Learning GTO will help you develop as a player and think about poker on a deeper level

If you are serious about poker, you should probably dedicate time to learning as much modern poker theory as you can because of the reasons we mentioned before.

Not even the best players in the world play a perfect GTO strategy and they are still making money.

If we take into account that you are probably playing in much weaker games you should be making money even without applying a GTO strategy.

However, if you are pretty confident that you need to learn GTO because other players in your games are exploiting you, you should find better games it is much easier than learning GTO.

GTO has both pros and cons but one thing is for sure, learning GTO poker will help you develop as a player and think about the game on a much higher level which will increase your bottom line drastically. The only thing you need to decide is whether it is worth your time.

What Is The Best Poker Strategy?

The short answer is the one that makes the most money.

If you ask yourself what actions makes the most money every time you are facing a decision you will see how the answer changes depending on the situation and the opponent.

Making the same moves again different opponents is rarely the best play and you should always have this in mind.

For example, let us take two scenarios and compare them

You are playing NL100 6 max.

  • Scenario 1: You raise UTG to $2.5 with AA and a loose aggressive opponent 3bets you from HJ.
  • Scenario 2: You raise UTG to $2.5 with AA and a tight passive opponent 3 bets you from the HJ.

If you always play these two spots in the same way, you are leaving money on the table.

Instead, you should ask yourself what action makes the most money and proceed accordingly.

This is why it is important to understand that GTO is a strategy that players implement so they wouldn’t get exploited.

GTO is not a strategy that makes the most money in every situation unless you are playing against players that know your strategy inside out.

The best thing you can do from a practical standpoint is to learn the modern poker theory but not to use it in every scenario.

You should know when and how to deviate from it so you can make the most money. If you are able to learn GTO and also do this, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a winning player!

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