Texas Hold’em is an ever-evolving game, and over the last couple of decades, we have seen an incredible change in the way the best poker players in the world approach the game and play it.
Even a decade ago, most players were playing an “exploitative” style of poker. They were constantly trying to adjust to what their opponents were doing and play the best possible way against that particular group of players.
Today, we see more and more of the best players move towards the GTO (game theory optimal) model.
The model is designed to be great against everyone without trying to exploit the particular tendencies of individual players.
This, of course, is not always the optimal way to play poker, as there are situations in which exploiting certain players’ tendencies can be extremely beneficial, especially against very weak players.
However, whether you want to play the GTO style of poker or not, learning the optimal GTO preflop ranges is something you should dedicate some time to.
There are several reasons that the optimal preflop ranges and understanding them will help you play better poker regardless of how you actually approach the game.
GTO as a Starting Point
Many poker players, especially those playing at the live tables, will often tell you that exploitative poker is better than GTO. This is because it gives them an opportunity to capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes.
This is often true, and there is no question that if you can find good ways to exploit very weak players, you will be making more bb/100 than you would by playing a GTO strategy against solid players.
However, the GTO approach is a nearly perfect way to play poker that a computer would use if it were playing against other computers. For that reason, the optimal GTO preflop ranges are an ideal starting point to build your game from.
When you first join a game, you won’t know your opponents’ tendencies, their bluffing frequencies, or how wide or narrow their poker hands ranges are in various spots.
At this time, playing the optimal GTO range will mean you cannot make a big mistake that will cost you more money than you should be losing in certain spots. This may not be the best way to get the most out of your opponents, but it is a great way to protect yourself against unknown players.
Using the GTO preflop ranges as your initial strategy in every new game you join is the best way you could go about things. As you learn more about certain players and the game dynamic overall, you can start adjusting and exploiting tendencies if you so choose.
Playing Against Strong Players
Whether we like to admit it or not, there are better poker players out there. An important trait of a good poker player is knowing when someone else is playing great poker.
When I find myself in a tough poker game, I find that the best way to play is being as close to GTO as humanly possible.
Trying to play exploitative against great players can be dangerous, as they have a tendency to catch on to what you are doing very quickly. They will then proceed to exploit you right back, making your plays massively unprofitable.
What’s even more, many solid poker players these days play a poker strategy that is very close to GTO in the first place, which means there isn’t really a way to exploit them.
Trying to play exploitative against a GTO strategy will only leave you vulnerable and making mistakes left and right, without any real opportunity to capitalize on your opponent’s mistakes.
The truth is that few players are able to play a true GTO strategy through later streets, but many can play it quite well preflop. This is exactly why knowing the optimal Texas Hold’em preflop ranges will serve you well in tough poker games.
Are Your Exploits Really Working?
One of the most difficult things to know in poker is whether or not the plays you are making are actually effective or not, and how much of an impact variance is having on your results.
When deviating from the GTO plays, even before the flop, it is not always easy to understand if you are getting outplayed by your opponents, if your plays are profitable in the long run, and whether or not you are just running bad.
For example, let us consider a scenario in which you are trying to exploit your opponents by 3-betting a wider range because you believe they fold too much to 3-bets. If you get 4-bet several times in a row, it will be impossible to know whether your opponent is making a play on you or if he just has very good cards.
This is one of the reasons that a GTO range is always good to know. You can simply go back to it and play the optimal game that can’t be exploited no matter how your opponents are playing and what kind of a strategy they are using.
Learning the Optimal GTO Ranges
It is easy to say that you should learn the optimal GTO preflop ranges, but the question of just how to do it remains.
In my personal experience, GTOBase is one of the best tools to help you learn the right ranges to use in various scenarios, whether you are playing heads-up or six max poker.
The preflop GTO charts are not too difficult to learn as there are not too many scenarios that will come up before the flop is dealt.
However, remember that it is not only the opening ranges you should focus on but also the 3-betting and 4-betting ranges, as well as your defending ranges against 3-bets and 4-bets.
Once you have learned how to play optimally before the flop, remember that there are also different stack sizes to consider. If you are playing cash games, you should be aware of how to play at different stack depths as well.
Combine this knowledge with a proper bankroll management, and you’ll undoubtedly see significant improvements in your poker results.