What is an optimal poker strategy? Game theory optimal poker vs exploitative approach

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When it comes to crafting a solid poker strategy, there are two main approaches you can take: one based on GTO (Game Theory Optimal) and the exploitative one. The first one is based on math, and in theory, it can't be beaten. The second one focuses on the tendencies of people you play against. Which one is best and why? Here are our thoughts.

If you want to read more about the Game Theory Optimal itself, check out our article: Game Theory Optimal. Why should poker players bother with it?

You have to pick one way. Or do you?

The game theory should always be a base for any sound poker strategy

Why's that? Because game theory optimal strategy is based on a scientifical approach. It's proven to be unexploitable, which means unbeatable. How do we come up with such poker strategies? They are constructed by poker solvers. Solvers are the newest poker software, but they are the most powerful poker tools to study the game.

How do they work? Solvers provide the GTO poker strategy based on the circumstances input by the user. In short, if you enter the preflop ranges, the board you are interested in, stack sizes, and you set up the game tree (which consists of action available to both players), you'll get the optimal strategy based on the GTO poker theory.

Optimal strategy means well balanced strategy

There are a few things to consider when applying a poker GTO

Firstly, you must remember that the "perfect poker strategy" provided by the solver assumes that both players play perfectly. In reality, it is almost impossible for it to be the case. It's true that the best poker players out there play quite close to the optimum in many situations. However, it's literally impossible for any human to know the ideal lines for every situation in such a complex game as poker. There are simply too many variables to consider.

Secondly, the output of every poker software out there is closely related to the data provided by the user. Sometimes a tiny change in the preflop ranges of both players can change the optimal strategy significantly. That's why whenever you use GTO solvers, you have to try to estimate the data you input as accurately as possible.

Thirdly, and that's especially important if you are a tournament player, solvers do not consider other circumstances at the poker table. For example, when you are deep in the tournament, the ICM (Independent Chip Model) should be an important part of your decision process. It's not always possible to incorporate that factor into the solver's calculations.

So, what to do when the GTO strategy is not necessarily the perfect strategy?

There's an ongoing dispute between two groups of players. Some of them firmly believe in playing purely GTO poker. Others put exploitative strategy over playing by solvers' recommendation.

Which group is right? We believe that both of them have some valid points. In our opinion, the GTO solutions, while not always the most profitable, are a solid baseline for thorough poker training. Think about it this way; if you are able to identify what is supposed to be done in certain situations, you will be able to recognize when your opponent plays sub-optimally. From there, it's way easier to incorporate exploitative moves in your own play.

One of the most outstanding features of poker solvers is node locking. It allows you to force particular moves into the strategy. You can, for example, force a check-only strategy on a specific street at any point of the hand. When you rerun the calculations, the solver adjusts the GTO strategy with the changed input you provided.

It's a very powerful option, which allows you to merge the GTO poker approach with the tendencies of real players.

Don't forget that you play against humans, not machines

GTO poker tools are essential in today's online poker environment

The development of poker software helped players to understand how to craft profitable poker strategies faster than ever before. It's especially true for cash games, where the results of solvers' work are easiest to apply.

In fact, in today's online games, almost every winning player studies with powerful poker tools. If you do not want to fall behind, you should hone your own strategy with poker software too.

You can do so with Deepsolver, the leading app from the newest generation of solvers. Deepsolver allows you to calculate even the most complicated spots in a matter of seconds without owning a powerful PC.

Deepsolver also lets you: use thousands of premade GTO ranges, solve almost any heads-up situation, construct your own game trees, train with a GTO trainer and many more.