The beauty of poker comes from the infinite ways there are to play. Poker strategy is highly complex, giving players many tools. You can be aggressive, taking many risks to pressure your opponents into making mistakes. You can try a more conservative playstyle, analyzing your opponents and waiting for the right time to strike.
Since poker’s been around for almost two centuries, strategy has evolved and been refined quite a bit. Two dominant schools of thought have emerged: Game Theory Optimal (GTO) and Exploitative poker. This poker guide will go through GTO and exploitative, explaining how they work and which style you should choose.
Photo by Pixabay
What is GTO poker?
As technology has evolved, stronger computers can now be used to “solve” games by determining the optimal action in every possible scenario. Simple games like blackjack have already been solved, but more complex games like poker still can’t be, even with the strongest computers in the world.
Game Theory Optimal poker is a strategy that treats poker like a solved game. It does not care about how your opponent plays. Instead, it has you make the “optimal” or least exploitable play in every scenario. GTO poker involves perfectly balanced bluffs and value bets, so your opponent can never know what hand you have by analyzing your gameplay.
Strengths of GTO poker
GTO poker is an overwhelmingly well-rounded and balanced style. It’s practically impossible to predict, since you’re playing all kinds of hands equally. It’s the best style for consistent profits as it doesn’t change much depending on your opponents, which is great for playing against all kinds of players with different playstyles, like in a poker tournament.
GTO also provides a solid foundation for beginners to learn the fundamentals of the game. Most of the time, beginners make a few critical mistakes that lose them tons of money, referred to as “leaks.” By learning GTO poker, beginners can easily fix these leaks and see significant improvement. Learning common leaks and mistakes helps spot them in your opponents if you switch to exploitative poker.
Weaknesses of GTO poker
GTO poker might sound great, but it isn’t perfect. The first significant weakness is that poker isn’t a truly solved game. This means that real GTO poker doesn’t exist, at least yet. No matter how close you get to playing an optimal strategy, it won’t be perfect in every scenario. This may make you want to focus on adapting your strategy instead of playing a one-size-fits-all style.
Another weakness of GTO poker is that it sacrifices potential profit for consistency. Playing a balanced amount of bluffs and value hands sounds good on paper, but against a super tight opponent who folds frequently, it won’t be as profitable as bluffing more often. If you can spot weaknesses in your opponent’s playstyle, it might not be a good idea to stick to GTO.
Photo by Pixabay
What is Exploitative poker?
Exploitative poker is the opposite of GTO poker. Whereas GTO wants to play a balanced amount of bluffs and value bets, exploitative poker deliberately avoids doing so. Instead, you switch your strategy to exploit your opponent. For example, if you notice your opponent is a loose-passive player that over relies on calling, you can exploit them by avoiding bluffs and just value betting every time you have a strong hand.
Strengths of Exploitative poker
Exploitative poker has a couple of strengths compared to the “optimal” GTO style. It has a higher potential profit, as if you get a good read on your opponent, you’ll be able to win a lot more. GTO can cause you to miss out on potential wins if you’re too focused on playing a “balanced” strategy.
Exploitative poker is also handy for learning the psychological part of the game. It heavily relies on understanding and reading your opponent, as the optimal exploitative style changes depending on their play. Your GTO strategy will be mostly the same regardless of your opponent’s playstyle, so exploitative poker gives you a better learning opportunity.
Weaknesses of Exploitative poker
Exploitative poker is high-risk, high-reward. Ironically, this style puts you at a much bigger risk of being exploited. Skilled players can catch on to how you adapt to their strategy, and from there, it becomes a back-and-forth of who can predict what the other will do.
Exploitative play also makes you more affected by variance or random chance. You take many more risks, especially when you base your assumptions about your opponent on incomplete information. This can lead to more losses, which you sometimes can’t risk, like in a tournament where going broke means you’re out for good.
Photo by Pixabay
The most profitable style is:
Well, technically, the most profitable style is exploitative poker once you get a good read on your opponents. However, the GTO and exploitative poker styles have distinct strengths and weaknesses, with no clear winner. Most of the time, the best way to play is actually a combination of both.
Sticking to a GTO style when you first encounter your opponents is a good idea, as you don’t know enough to exploit their weaknesses. GTO lets you play patiently and focus on analyzing them, and when weaknesses begin to show, you can switch to an exploitative style for maximum profit.
Both styles require lots of practice, so try them out in your own poker games. We recommend playing online since it has numerous benefits like promotional offers, a faster pace, and access to tracking software which makes it easier to conduct analysis.