Understanding the Game Theory Optimal Strategy of Poker

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Understanding the Game Theory Optimal Strategy of Poker

‘GTO’ is an abbreviation used in poker that stands for ‘Game Theory Optimal’, and this is a style of play that most advanced players tend to use. As you may be aware of already, poker is a game of strategy where luck plays a role and skill guides the course. Much like chess, poker too has its dozens of variables, playing patterns and varied game plans. Being a multiplayer game, much of poker’s strategies and decisions comes down to many reasons. The style of tournament or cash game you play, its structure, the game variant, your skill level, and how your opponents go about their business, just to name a few. This is where the GTO strategy and other similar ideas are useful for players who are more serious about the game and play for a higher incentive.

Out of all the card games available today, poker consists of the most skills and money management. Players choose to be careful with their funds, and GTO is a great strategy to employ. The GTO play style basically means that you could cover all bases as a player and eliminate any room for errors. Your attempt here is to force your opponents into making as many mistakes as possible while you calculate your strengths and weaknesses, ideally, to create a seemingly invincible plan.

What to Expect from Poker GTO?

You will mainly find players use GTO in MTT styled poker games because it makes sense to be cautious with much investment. GTO has heavy mathematics in place, as it relies on a lot of calculations. Naturally, it is a defensive style of play compared to the exploitative strategy, where the goal is to exploit your opponents as much as possible. However, GTO is the way forward in terms of long-term playing. They aren’t entirely bulletproof as just like with everything else in poker; it depends on the situation where the AI could be wrong, most probably considering the dynamic human behavior displayed at the table.

During such situations, the GTO would only provide an option. It is on you to pull the trigger. That being said, GTO plans do tend to be consistent even though no player fully uses GTO across the board. Usually, you will find a blend of styles being used. GTOs are not easy to craft. They are incredibly complicated and are certainly not for those who do not wish to play poker in a sophisticated fashion. With all that in place, let us now look at a few different ways for you to use Game Theory Optimal.

Game Theory Optimal: Pot Odds

This is a slightly more straightforward calculation where you should know the pot odds at any given moment to calculate the level of profit you can make and play accordingly. All you need to know here is your equity. For example, let’s assume that you hold 10h-Jh, and the board shows 4c-2s-8h-9h. Here, you see an open-ended straight flush draw. Let us add a twist here by saying your opponent goes all in, which would mean that you would have to go all in to call. Would that be a good move? Would it give you a positive or negative EV?

Let’s look at another example where we assume that any Seven, Queen, or Club ranking card will fetch you the winning hand. Considering that there are 15 such distinct cards available in the deck, your opponent could end up with a winning combination if they hold a set already apart from getting a 4c-2c. The number of outs in such a situation will come down to 14.5 from 15 for common equity of 31.5%. You might be the one to bear a loss in most of such cases. However, making a call in such a situation would result in being profitable in the long run. You could download and install an equity calculator to always be accurate with your evaluations.

Game Theory Optimal: MDF

‘MDF’ is short for ‘Minimum Defense Frequency’, and it is a method to show the player the percentage of hand ranges that you must call or raise in a certain situation. This is more of a homework methodology as it is extremely difficult to use during the actual game. However, there is a simple formula that can be made use of to work against radically aggressive poker opponents. The MDF formula states: MDF = pot size/ (pot size + bet size).

Let’s assume that you open-raise from the high-jack position and your opponent calls from the big blind. Your opponent then makes a raise that is worth 50% of the pot. This means that you would have to continue with your hand 67% of the time since close to 170 combinations are exploitable. In this situation, you should proceed only with combinations like flush draws, gut-shot straight draws, open-ended straight draws, and overcards or any such combination that involves a pair or better.

Game Theory Optimal: Bet Sizing

Aiming for unpredictability and occasional bluffs is also essential for betting size compared to only trying to remain unexploitable. The size of the pot and your bet determines the number of bluffs you can attempt. Bet sizing in GTO applies only at the river since the previous rounds have some equity. The bluff-to-value bet ratio should remain 2 to 1 on the flop.

Game Theory Optimal: GTO Solvers

Like most other poker calculations, GTO always has its dedicated tools and software called ‘GTO Solvers’ to make your work easier. They’re designed to understand a poker situation and prompt the correct move. These are also suitable for off-table learnings since they can allow you to learn something new to implement in your current strategy. GTO solvers make poker a smoother experience, and they can be relied on. For those of you looking to play poker at a serious level, this is key. 

We hope this blog helped you in understanding GTO in its entirety. You could start putting it to good use by registering yourself with Spartan Poker right away. We spoke of GTO’s importance in MTTs, and Spartan offers a wide range of poker tournaments in India for you to enjoy and profit from. These daily poker tournaments provide competition at the highest level. For newer players, check out our helpful blogs to first learn how to win poker tournaments and play them more wisely. Use our mobile application to connect with your favorite poker games anywhere and anytime.

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