When it comes to the best strategy for winning poker, there appears to be a lot of misunderstanding regarding what Game Theory Optimal (GTO) is and if it is a better alternative than exploitative play.

In actuality, you don't need to pick one of these possibilities. Instead, you need to comprehend the fundamental concepts of GTO play and when it should be used.

This article will attempt to go through every crucial element to clear up any misconceptions, and we'll start by discussing what GTO is and how it works in real-world circumstances.

What Is Poker GTO?

In poker, there are two primary sorts of winning tactics that you might employ in any given situation:

Exploitative play: This is when you play in such a manner that your expected value (EV) in any given circumstance is maximized by correctly offsetting your opponents' suboptimal actions and weaker inclinations. The fact is, playing this approach frequently exposes you to being abused, but the weaker opponents you're targeting with this technique will often not adjust their game to adequately offset this, allowing you to harvest maximum profits and continue to do so in the long run.

GTO (Game-Theory Optimal): This is a playing technique in which you aim to play excellent poker yourself, allowing your opponents to make mistakes against you (which is where almost all of your profit will be derived from). It always includes bluffs or semi-bluffs within your value bets, can assist explain bet sizings to utilize, and more.

What Is Poker GTO?
Poker GTO (source: Freepik)

In other words, GTO poker is when you try to play theoretically flawless poker so that your opponents make mistakes. This technique balances your value hands with bluffs so that you remain unexploited.

Because the term contains the word "optimal," many people believe that GTO is a perfect strategy that is superior to everything else available. However, this is not always the case.

To begin with, the GTO model relies on a style of play that renders you unexploitable. It indicates that if you were playing a real Game Theory Optimum, your opponents would be unable to exploit your approach. Regardless of what they do. At most, they might be able to break even.

On the other hand, the GTO strategy is very strict because it does not allow for any changes. You'll use the identical tactic against all opponents, regardless of what they do. So, although you can't be abused, you also can't exploit others.

A simple example is the easiest method to convey this. If the GTO model says the optimum 3-bet amount in a given scenario is 13 big blinds, you'll 3-bet to that number regardless of who your opponent is.

Even if you're up against a loose madman who'll cheerfully call a 30 big blind 3-bet when you have pocket Aces, you'll stick to your regular strategy and not leave money on the table.

So, clearly, there are some advantages and disadvantages to this strategy.

Which Play Style Is Best in Poker: GTO vs. Exploitative?

Before digging into the GTO poker strategy, it's critical to understand which of these two very distinct play styles will be more beneficial for you to adopt as a novice or more expert player. The primary solution is generally a blend of both, but with a more exploitable approach.

Simply expressed, most players do not play GTO poker and frequently expose themselves to being exploited in some aspect of their gaming and strategy, allowing greater profits to be gained from utilizing an exploitative approach. In truth, GTO ideas are only fully employed and observed in practice in some of the larger games with the greatest stakes, and even then, exploitative tactics are occasionally used.

That being said, learning, comprehending, and being able to use GTO poker concepts will undoubtedly help you build an exceptionally sound, solid foundation for your poker game. Furthermore, having that baseline of GTO knowledge allows you to know how to vary from it when necessary to optimize earnings correctly.

There also appears to be some misconception among players about selecting and adhering to one of two styles, which is entirely wrong. Obviously, knowing GTO fundamentals is critical for developing sound poker strategy foundations. After all, if you're going to switch up your methods and exploit your opponents, you need to know where they're going wrong, which you can't do until you have the best approach yourself.

Learning GTO (at least to some extent) is also incredibly handy when you find yourself at difficult tables or against unfamiliar players. In a tournament, for example, you can be put at a challenging table with players who are better than you. In this case, GTO may be your best option because the exploitative strategy would most likely damage your chances of winning.

As a result, these two ideas are not mutually incompatible, and you should study both. This will make you a much tougher opponent overall since you will be prepared to deal with many circumstances and will be able to adapt to new conditions at the tables.

In fact, you do not need to memorize the full GTO. It would be excessive and nearly difficult to do. Instead, you should examine several common instances to better grasp the balanced play in these situations. This should give you a good sense of what you should do in such scenarios to maintain your ranges balanced and your play near to GTO.

Poker Basic GTO Strategy for Beginners

According to Ed Miller's book "Poker's 1%," the most fundamental idea that only the most elite poker players know and understand is that of frequency, which might be connected to bluffs, folds, callers, raises, and so on. In fact, GTO poker solvers frequently provide answers for how to play as optimally as possible in any given situation, and they frequently propose utilizing a mixed strategy based on specific frequencies.

In a particular river position, for example, a solver may instruct you to call with a specific hand inside a range 70% of the time and fold 30% of the time. It may also advise you that in a certain situation, you should call 50% of the time, fold 35% of the time, and raise 15% of the time with a specific range of hands.

Poker Basic GTO Strategy for Beginners

Frequencies are a fundamentally essential and frequently overlooked aspect of poker, although the following five poker GTO concepts share the notion:

Preflop Starting Hand Ranges

Depending on your position in a particular round, you will need to utilize a chart to determine which hands to open with. The further out of position you are, the more you need to open with narrower hand ranges. Naturally, you can only employ this after the action has been folded to you.

The starting hands required to open-raise inside each position are shown in the chart below. This chart is for online play with a maximum of six players at the table. Different colors indicate various positions.

Again, this chart only illustrates the hands with which you should open-raise if the action is folded to you. Other charts indicate what to do when faced with a raise, which hands to 3-bet, which to call, and so on.

Because charts can only reveal so much in these more complicated scenarios, you should genuinely employ solvers.

Pot Odds

Understanding pot odds and making decisions that will result in a long-term profit are simple calculations. You just need to understand your equity in any given circumstance.

Let's say you have J ♣, 10 ♣, and the board is 9 ♣, 8 ♣, 4 ♦, 2 ♥, respectively. So we have an open-ended straight flush draw.

However, suppose your opponent has you covered by going all in, and you need to put all of your chips in to call. Is the anticipated value of a call positive or negative?

Assume that any queen, seven, or club will provide you with a winning hand. 15 such cards are remaining in the deck, but suppose the other player already has a set, and 4 ♣ or 2 ♣ gives them a winning combination. The number of outs will subsequently decrease from 15 to 14.5, resulting in total equity of 31.5 percent.

Although you will lose the majority of the time, making a call, in this case, is lucrative in the long term.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)

The minimum defensive frequency (MDF) is an exploitation-proof approach that gives us the percentage of hand ranges we must call or raise in a particular circumstance.

This strategy is usually employed in off-table investigations, and using it during the game is quite challenging. There is, however, a basic formula that you may utilize that is quite useful against really aggressive opponents.

The following is the MDF formula: Pot size / (pot size + bet size) = MDF

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


Assume we opened in the high-jack position, and our opponent called us in the big blind. The opponent then raises for half the pot, implying that we must continue with our hand 67 percent of the time, as about 170 possibilities are unexploitable.

In this case, we should only proceed for flush draws, open-ended straight draws, straight draw, overcards, or any combination with a pair or greater.

Finding Balance: Poker GTO Bet Sizing

Bet size is a critical component of the GTO poker strategy. Of course, the fundamental goal is to avoid being exploited, but you should also aim for unpredictability and make occasional bluffs.

The number of bluffs you make will be determined by the size of the pot and the amount of your bet. In GTO, bet sizing only applies on the river, as all prior draws retain some equity.

On the flip, the bluff to value bet ratio should always be around 2 to 1. The frequency of bluffs you should make on the river is shown 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 graphic is based on your opponent's pot odds. While betting half the pot, your opponent's pot odds are 3 to 1, which means 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 have the same effect.

Cbetting Frequencies and Bet Sizes

GTO beginning principles and methods include more than just bluffs and value plays. They will also show you how frequently you should be betting in particular areas and which bet amount to utilize! Poker solvers have significantly aided elite players in these areas, as evidenced by GTO Poker Software.

Solvers are programs that aid in the learning and understanding of poker GTO strategy. They cover a wide range of topics and can help you make the best decision in any given situation.

Off-table studies are also conducted using the program, allowing poker professionals to learn something new and alter their existing techniques. PioSolver and PokerSnowie are the two most popular solvers currently. 

So, if you want to become a more serious player, you must first learn the game of poker using GTO solvers. They will gradually raise your level of thinking and increase your revenues.

Is GTO Always the Best Strategy? 

Professional poker player Daniel Negreanu recommends using GTO poker as your basic approach but deviating from it to abuse your opponents. The objective is to abuse your opponents with subtle changes, so they are unaware of your plan.

To maximize your profit, you must devise a hybrid strategy combining GTO and exploitative play, but remember that GTO play is not required against weak opponents. Weak opponents will constantly make mistakes. Therefore, you should always target them with modifications rather than worrying about being defensive.

For more poker strategies, you can visit our poker guides

GTO Poker Summary

In the ever-changing environment of poker, players are constantly honing their abilities to grow and get an advantage in the game. While utilizing an exploitable strategy will almost always result in larger profit margins than adopting a GTO-based method, recognizing and comprehending GTO beginning and more advanced ideas will surely help you gain an advantage.

This essay only scratches the surface of GTO ideas and poker theory. Continue to study the tactics presented, and carefully consider investing in the GTO poker solver software indicated above, as these may help you make tremendous winnings in your casino games.

Published: 15 August 2022 10:54