The Beginner’s Guide to GTO Poker

Last Updated on April 15, 2020 Author:Adrian Sterne

Game Theory OptimalGTO in poker stands for Game Theory Optimal. It’s a complex set of rules that helps the player make the best possible move in a game of no-limit Hold’em and protects them from getting exploited.

In this article, I am going to go over the basics of GTO poker and try to explain it to some of you who are just starting to explore this wonderful game.

By reading my guide, you will be able to inform yourself on the following:

Applying the GTO poker strategy to your game will take some time, but it will definitely make you a better player. Read on to learn more!

What Is Poker GTO?

Poker GTO is a strategy applicable to no-limit Texas Hold’em poker. It stands for Game Theory Optimal, and it can be described as a near-perfect way to play no-limit Hold’em.

The advantage of this strategy is that not a lot of players know how to use it. Therefore, players who implement GTO in their game will allow their opponents to make frequent errors, which will result in more profit over time.

Playing as optimally as possible is all but an easy task. Not even all poker pros fully grasp the complexities of GTO, and you can’t really blame them. This is a very detailed poker strategy that requires a lot of math.

That’s why, as a beginner, you need to use the so-called GTO poker solver, downloadable software that calculates the right moves for you. I will talk about these solvers a little later on.

GTO vs. Exploitative — Which Poker Strategy is Better?

GTO is a defensive strategy, but it’s far from being the only poker strategy in no-limit Hold’em. Players who prefer a more aggressive approach use what’s called exploitative strategy.

It’s hard to say which one of these two is better. They are two completely opposite styles of play, with each having its perks.

Exploitative Strategy

An exploitative strategy is used when you want to maximize your profit by raising your expected value in any given situation. It’s very effective when you’re playing against opponents that make suboptimal plays with weak tendencies.

Of course, playing aggressively like this will leave you exploited as well. However, since this strategy is often used against weaker players, they will usually do little to change their game and you will still be able to maximize your profits in the long run.

Game Theory Optimal

GTO is almost completely opposite to exploitative strategy. It is used to protect yourself rather than attack other players. If you play perfectly and your opponents make occasional mistakes, you are destined to be the best player at the table in most situations.

You might wonder what happens when two or more players use GTO at the same table. Well, in that case, no one has the advantage, and there are equal chances for each GTO player to end as a winner.

However, rarely will you see that someone fully follows through on the GTO strategy. Even the best poker pros often mix between GTO and exploitative approach, continually changing patterns and making their game unpredictable.

Although GTO is a better strategy on high-level poker tournaments, an exploitative approach might pay off more if you’re playing on an amateur level.

GTO Poker Strategy: Pre-Flop

Depending on your position in a given round, you will need to use a chart that displays which hands to open with.

The further you are out of position, the more you will need to open with tighter hand ranges. Of course, this can only be used after the action has been folded to you.

On the chart below, you can see the starting hands that you need to open-raise within each position. This chart is for online play where the maximum of six players is allowed at the table. Different colours represent different positions (see colour codes below).

GTO preflop Beginner Poker Chart for Starting Hands

Again, this chart only represents the hands you should open-raise with if the action has been folded to you. Some other charts also show what to do when facing a raise, which hands to 3-bet, which to call, and other situations.

For these more complex situations, you should really use solvers, as charts can show only so much.

GTO Poker Strategy: Pot Odds

Understanding pot odds and making a decision that will result in a profit in the long run can be easily calculated. You just need to know what your equity is in any given situation.

Let’s use an example where you have J , 10 , and the board is 9 , 8 , 4 , 2 . So, we have a straight flush draw that’s open-ended.

However, let’s say that your opponent has you covered by going all in and that you need to put in all your chips to call. Would a call give you a positive or a negative expected value?

Let’s assume that any queen, seven, or club will give you a winning hand. There are 15 such cards left in the deck, but let’s say that the other player already has a set and that 4 or 2 gives them a winning combination. The number of outs will then decline from 15 to 14.5, for a total equity of 31.5%.

Although the majority of the time you will lose, making a call in this particular situation is profitable in the long run.

To make sure that your equity numbers are correct, I advise that you use an equity calculator that can easily be downloaded on PC or Mac computers.

GTO Poker Strategy: Minimum Defense Frequency

The minimum defense frequency (MDF) is an exploitation-proof method that shows us the percentage of hand ranges with which we must call or raise in a given situation.

This method is mostly used in off-table studies, and it’s very difficult to implement it during the game itself. However, there is a simple formula that you can use, and that is very effective against super aggressive opponents.

The MDF formula is as follows:

MDF = pot size / (pot size + bet size)

To better understand how this works, here is a simple chart that shows which minimum defense frequency rates correspond to which bet sizes.

Bet size relative to the pot size MDF
100% 50%
75% 57%
66% 60%
50% 67%
33% 75%

Let’s say that we open-raised in the high-jack position and our opponent called us in the big blind. The opponent then makes a raise worth 50% of the pot, meaning that we must continue with our hand 67% of the time, as around 170 combinations are unexploitable.

In this particular situation, we should continue only for combinations like flush draws, open-ended straight draws, gut-shot straight draws, overcards, or any combination with a pair or better.

GTO Poker Strategy: Bet Sizing

Bet sizing is a very important part of the GTO poker strategy. Of course, the main goal is to remain unexploitable, but you should aim for unpredictability and make occasional bluffs.

The number of bluffs you make will depend on the size of the pot, as well as the size of your bet. Bet sizing in GTO is only applicable on the river, as all previous draws will still have some equity.

The bluff to value bet ration on the flop should always be approximately 2 to 1. For the river, the frequency of bluffs you should make is presented in the table below.

Bet size Value bets Bluffs
¼ pot 83% 17%
⅓ pot 80% 20%
½ pot 75% 25%
⅔ pot 72% 28%
¾ pot 70% 30%
Full pot 67% 33%
1.5x pot 62% 38%
2x pot 60% 40%

This chart works based on the pot odds of your opponent. While betting half the pot, the pot odds of your opponent are 3 to 1, meaning that they will win the pot 25% of the time when calling.

However, if you include bluffs in 25% of your combinations, your opponent’s calls and folds make no difference whatsoever.

Poker GTO Solvers

Programs used to help you learn and understand poker GTO strategy are called solvers. They cover various situations and can assist you in making the right play in every possible scenario.

The software is also used for off-table studies, giving poker pros a chance to learn something new and adapt their existing strategies. The two most popular solvers today are called PioSolver and PokerSnowie.

Studying the game of poker through GTO solvers is the necessary thing to do if you want to become a more serious player. They will improve your level of thinking and increase your profits over time.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you enjoyed reading my beginner’s guide to GTO poker.

Remember that this strategy is very complex, so don’t worry if you’re still somewhat in the dark and don’t quite understand how to use it.

Some players take months, if not years to learn how to effectively play using Game Theory Optimal.

With persistence and the right software, you can bring your poker game to a whole other level and see yourself become a poker master.

If you want to ask me any questions about the GTO poker strategy, I will be more than glad to answer. Use the comment section below and feel free to write anything that’s on your mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does GTO work?

GTO is a strategy that protects a player who uses it against an all-knowing opponent. In other words, GTO brings the most profit over time even when applied against players who play perfectly.

Click To Open

No, it can take a very long time for you to learn Game Theory Optimal. This strategy is very complex and not advised for beginner players. You should learn some simpler strategies before moving to GTO.

What are GTO solvers?

GTO solvers are computer software that help you learn Game Theory Optimal and how to play poker perfectly in any given situation. You can also use these solvers for an off-table poker study.

Does GTO guarantee you will always win?

No, GTO cannot assure that you always win the pot, but it will help you make the right moves and minimize your risks. It’s the best possible way you can play.

Is poker a solvable game?

Poker is a game that uses imperfect information and can not be solved, unlike some other card games like, for example, blackjack.

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