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GTO Poker Strategy: A Beginner’s Guide

Home » Guides » GTO Poker Strategy: A Beginner’s Guide

GTO Poker Strategy: A Beginner’s Guide

An image of a person's hand on a keyboard while watching a live poker game on a computer screen.

Texas Hold’em Poker strategy has evolved a lot over the years. One of the most important changes is the shift from exploitative play to Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy. The old-school poker stars made their millions mainly by exploiting the mistakes and imbalances in their opponents’ games, often with a good deal of luck on the side. Those were the days when poker primarily took place at live tables, where reading an opponent’s “tells” played an important role in the game. 

That all changed with the arrival of online poker. The modern style of play is based on the idea that there’s a mathematically optimal way to play in any given poker situation. Today, a basic knowledge of GTO is essential for anyone who wants to learn how to play poker. For beginners, it’s an opportunity to start applying strategy immediately. For seasoned players, it’s a chance to dominate the table. Let’s take a closer look.

What Is GTO in Poker?

GTO strategy is the attempt to play poker in a mathematically perfect way. If you play perfectly against players who make occasional mistakes, you will dominate most situations, and your opponents will be at a loss for ways to exploit your style. However, true GTO play is widely regarded as something of an impossibility, so it may not be the best beginner poker strategy. Every situation in Texas Hold’em Poker has too many variables for even the most mathematically gifted human being to solve. 

Don’t get the wrong idea. GTO is handy for learning to play poker online because it provides deep insight into the game and helps players understand why some plays make more sense than others.

GTO vs. Exploitative Poker

In an exploitative poker strategy, the goal is to find holes or mistakes in other players’ games and use counter strategies to use these mistakes to your advantage. GTO poker, on the other hand, is a mathematical approach to poker that, if executed successfully, would be the perfect way to play the game. Instead of focusing on the habits and tendencies that your opponent may have and employing counter strategies to target these weaknesses, all strategy decisions are made on mathematical probability. So, if executed successfully, GTO would completely protect you from any other player exploiting you. 

Basic GTO Poker Concepts and Strategies

Actually, learning Game Theory Optimal for poker may seem very daunting. After all, poker is a tremendously complex game where every decision can influence your win rate, from the specific hand you open with to whether you check or raise in a given situation. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a mathematical savant. You just need to use a few tools and understand why you’re using them.

The most basic GTO tool is a preflop opening chart. Depending on your position, it shows what hands to open-raise with when the action folds to you. The further out you are, the tighter your hand ranges need to be. There are also poker GTO charts for more complex situations, such as responding to a raise, what hands to call, or what hands to three-bet.

Understanding pot odds is also a must to figure out what calls are profitable in the long run and what calls aren’t. This requires you to know your equity in any given situation, so you’ll want to use an equity calculator.

Then there’s the minimum defense frequency (MDF). It’s very effective against aggressive opponents because it shows the minimum percentage of times you have to call or raise to stop your opponent from exploiting you by over-bluffing when they bet. To work out your MDF, divide the pot size by the pot size plus the bet size and multiply the answer by 100.

Learning To Play With Poker Solvers

A hand holding cards in front of a screen where people are playing a live poker game around a table.

If you’re serious about learning and understanding GTO strategy, the most valuable investment you can make is to buy a poker solver. As the name suggests, you can use a poker solver to analyze various situations and find the right play in any scenario. Applying yourself to your studies will gradually build up a fundamentally sound strategy for practically any situation. You can also use a poker solver for off-table studies. You should see an improvement in your level of thinking – and your profits – over time. The two most popular poker solvers currently are PioSolver and PokerSnowie.

The Limits of GTO

As impressive and important as GTO strategy undoubtedly is, it isn’t a silver bullet. That’s because applying GTO strategy against all opponents, regardless of their style of play, can be a fairly rigid approach. They may not exploit you, but you won’t get to exploit their weaknesses either. This may result in you losing your money. For example, the GTO model may prescribe a three-bet size of 13 big blinds in a specific situation. If you’re up against a very loose player with a tendency to call bigger three-bets, you’ll want to deviate from the standard GTO strategy. The same goes for an opponent who only bets big when he’s holding the nuts. If he raises, you can safely fold if this opponent bets on the river, regardless of the mathematically optimal play.

Mixing Strategies

Many players think you have to choose between GTO or an exploitative strategy, but that’s a false dilemma. The truth is that the best poker players mix them up. Without the solid foundation in poker strategy that GTO can give you, you won’t understand when your opponents are making mistakes, so you’ll never understand how to exploit them.

GTO can also be beneficial when dealing with a tough table of players who are better than you, as often happens in online poker tournaments. To prepare for this kind of situation, analyze some frequent scenarios to understand balanced play in these positions. That way, you can play close to GTO in similar spots. You’ll improve your poker tournament strategy and enjoy the confidence of knowing what you’re going to do without caring about what others are doing.

Should You Really Be Using GTO in Cash Games?

From a mathematical perspective, poker is extremely complex – every decision, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, influences your win rate. No Limit Hold’em is complex as it is, so with all the variables in the game, there are simply too many probabilities, and it has meant that there is actually no truly known GTO poker strategy that a human could use – at least not without the assistance of a computer. 

Understanding the basic math behind Texas Hold’em and general poker game theory is usually enough to help you develop a strong strategy for the game. If you’re looking for ways to win more at cash games, you don’t need to go as far as trying to implement GTO. The reality is that it would be near impossible for any human to utilize a perfect GTO poker strategy without the help of a computer. There will always be exploitable weaknesses in any strategy, regardless of how well-balanced it may seem. That is not to say that you shouldn’t at least try to learn GTO to improve your poker skills. While it shouldn’t be your core strategy, understanding GTO concepts can improve your poker math and greatly improve how you approach your poker games. It can help you understand what you should do in difficult situations and can improve the comprehension of your default range in different scenarios, all of which can be beneficial for a more effective exploitative poker strategy.

Optimize Your Online Poker Experience At BetMGM

For great opportunities to play poker online, simply register at BetMGM. Whether you’re a serious GTO player or just want to have some fun with like-minded players, you’ll find what you’re looking for in our growing online poker community. Enjoy cash games, Sit and Goes, and daily online poker tournaments to suit your budget and skill level. Our online casino has a broad range of online slots and casino games such as roulette, blackjack, and baccarat for extra entertainment.

Build a solid foundation of poker skills with Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy. Read our blog to discover the advantages of this modern approach.