GTO in poker, how it works

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Updated 09.04.2024
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GTO in poker

What is it? GTO in poker is the usage of game theory optimal play. Meaning a player performs certain mathematically correct actions. In the long run, this approach implies the best outcome.

What is the idea of GTO? Using GTO in poker involves a variety of actions, maintaining a balance between aggressive and passive play. An important factor here is adaptation to the opponent.

The essence of GTO in poker

Poker is a popular card game. Participants compete at the table trying to find the best combination of cards or to make others believe that they have one. Different types of poker involve different strategies.

Each type has its unique features, so a player needs specific skills and tactics, and has to focus on his own priorities. Some people prefer a more aggressive style of play, while others lean to a more conservative one, using “slow and steady wins the race” approach.

GTO in poker

Over time, people started using the concept of optimal strategy or GTO (Game theory optimal) strategy. The key principles of this strategy are the principles of optimal game theory and Nash equilibrium.

What is GTO in poker? A Game Theoretical Optimum (GTO) poker is a game where all the participants use this strategy. Whatever opponent does, he cannot reach positive expected value. However, you have to keep in mind that EV (Expected Value) does not necessary reach the highest point here. Using GTO strategy means playing with a balanced range.

Playing your range successfully involves finding a middle ground between, for example, bluffing to gain equity from hands our opponent folds and value betting to benefit from calls with worse hands. Let’s say that after raising preflop you can:

  • Always bet when hitting top pair and better;
  • Regularly bet when you miss the flop.

It can lead to the following things:

  • After playing like this for some time our opponents will just fold weak hands and continue only with good ones
  • Having grasped the essence of your play, villain will make sure to bluff against your bets.

Conclusion: The GTO strategy in poker is a balance between these actions. In other words, you need to find a combination of nuts and bluffs in your range to gain the most equity.

Principles of GTO in poker

The GTO strategy in poker is based on principles of game theory optimal play and Nash equilibrium. By taking into account all the possible actions and decisions, the strategy becomes brilliant.

GTO in poker, how it works

The optimal situation when using GTO is achieved if you can find a good combination of aggressive and passive plays. It is possible to find this balance based on an analysis of many different situations at the tables and the ability to predict your opponent’s moves and respond well to them.

The GTO strategy takes into account the current situation in the game as well as upcoming moves and possible counterattacks of the opponent. GTO is aimed at reaching Nash equilibrium, where none of the players is able to improve his EV by changing the strategy. Thus, if a person uses GTO strategy, even a more experienced opposition cannot influence him in any way.

The GTO strategy is characterized by the following:

  • Many different actions: a player has to be able to use both strong and weak hands. Villain should not be able to guess his next move.
  • Mathematical approach. In other words, poker players use math calculations and probability models.
  • The ability to adapt to the opponent’s game. If a player is watching his opponents’ actions closely and is able to draw conclusions from it, his chances of getting a winning combination are higher.
  • Achieving Nash equilibrium. A case where no player at the table is able to gain EV by changing his strategy. This helps to protect oneself from the potential influence of opponents and to gain perfect results in the long run.

You cannot call GTO strategy in poker simple or easy to implement; you need to have a good understanding of its intricacies and be able to use a mathematical approach.

Is it profitable to use GTO in poker?

It is impossible to an unequivocal answer to the question of whether it is reasonable to play according to GTO strategy always; since there are several points, you have to keep in mind.

Statistics show that under perfect conditions using the GTO strategy in poker allows a player to protect himself against opponents who can identify and take advantage of his weaknesses. This way we are aiming at the best result in the long run.

The success of the chosen GTO strategy depends on several circumstances:

  • Level of opponent’s preparation. He weaker the opponent, the less ability he has to adapt to our actions and tendencies. In this case, the more experienced player has a much greater chance of beating a less skilled player.
  • Certain circumstances of the current game. Unusual situations may arise, which force players to adjust their GTO tactics.
  • Games with more experienced, professional poker players. People who know more about the intricacies of the game are able to exploit weaknesses of the less experienced players. In this case, the chosen strategy may turn out to be losing.

Overall, GTO strategy is an effective tool in poker. However, in any situation you should take into account specific circumstances around you and act according to them.

Advantages and disadvantages of GTO tactics in poker

GTO tactics in poker have many positive aspects:

  • Adhering to GTO strategy a player is not exposed to any influence of opponents. The reason is the focus on reaching Nash equilibrium.
  • With the help of math models and the ability to anticipate opponent’s moves, it is possible to eliminate some mistakes in poker.
  • A person that implements GTO strategy in poker learns to quickly and flexibly adjust his actions according to changes in opponent’s tactics.
GTO in poker
  • When applying GTO tactics one cannot do without math calculations and probabilistic models. Using GTO a poker player can achieve the highest winnings and beat opponents without any risk to himself.
  • The poker player has a lot of variety to his game, despite adherence to one tactics. Therefore, in the eyes of the opponents he looks like a mysterious figure whose actions are tough to predict.

We should not forget about the disadvantages of using the GTO tactics:

  • Not suitable for inexperienced players, as it requires a deep understanding of the game, ability to make math approved decisions and analyze the situation at the table. For those who are making their first steps in the game it is difficult to dive into the nuances of GTO tactics.
  • Those using GTO strategy strive to find balance. Therefore, the personal characteristics and playing styles of the opponents fade into the background. Sometimes adjusted strategies become more profitable than GTO tactics.
  • The strategy requires you to act on certain assumptions about your opponent’s tactics. However, hypotheses may be incorrect, and then it is difficult to avoid your own mistakes.
  • Following only the GTO strategy without taking into account specific circumstances (subtleties of opponents’ thought process, table dynamics and so on) makes it hard to make the best hand.
  • Contrary to the player’s great desire to achieve big results the GTO strategy does not always lead straight to it. In poker, unexpected circumstances can always arise.

The GTO strategy cannot be the optimal one for every case. To achieve big results poker players have to be able to combine different tactics well, use adapted approaches and analyze current situations of the game.

Frequently asked questions about GTO in poker

How to use GTO in poker when bluffing on the flop?

Most people are bad at bluffing the flop when they play against tough competition. Let’s say you use bet sizing of 60-75% of the pot. In this case, you should have a bluff to value ratio of about 60/40 to get some value on the flop.

Poker strategy, how it works

Therefore, we have to check some medium-strength hands like weak top pairs and or second pairs.  Of course, you will not fold those hands later; you would check/call out of position or check back in position. It is hard to get three streets of value with these hands anyway.

To improve your skills you cannot do without thinking about the game in ranges. It is a good idea to practice in going over your whole range on the flop. Find out which hands you want to bluff (including semi-bluffs) and which you want to value bet. Then find the ratio.

What problems can you face when using GTO tactics in poker?

You cannot call any strategy in No-Limit Hold’em perfect. No matter how much you want your strategy to be absolutely correct, there is always the possibility of discovering inaccuracies that are susceptible to exploitation.

GTO strategy is not so popular because it is impossible to implement it perfectly without a help of powerful computer. No-Limit Hold’em is a very difficult game. Therefore, we can try to model this game mathematically using theoretical knowledge and then put effort in making it non-exploitable.

How did the concept of GTO in poker come around?

It came around thanks to the work of John Forbes Nash, who did not play poker, but was an excellent mathematician. The man suffered from schizophrenia but was able to become a Nobel laureate.

He convinced everyone that if players adhere to the perfect strategy, they reach equilibrium. In other words, no one will end up victorious. For example, if one poker player wants to deviate from GTO, but the other one keeps playing according to it, he will never increase his winnings. Later, poker players started to show interest in Nash’s theory, subsequently introducing it into their game.

Today, a very small number of people understand the GTO strategy really well; many have very poor understanding of what it actually is. However, you need to learn this strategy because otherwise it will be really hard for you to exploit your opponents and triumph in the game.

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