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GTO vs. Exploitative Poker

When it comes to developing an overarching poker strategy that you can take to the table, there’s two sides to the coin that you need to look at. On one end, we have game theory optimal, or GTO, strategy, where we try to stick as closely to a “solved” game as possible. Essentially, this means making the move that, in the aggregate and against any opponent, will result in a winning game.

On the other hand, we have exploitative poker. In this case, we’ll deviate from that default strategy in response to our opponents’ weaknesses. So, even though a GTO strategy may still beat a weak opponent, we can take even more chips from them by playing exploitatively.

Here’s how to implement these strategies into your game.

GTO Strategy GTO is all about math. If you sat a computer down at the poker table, didn’t give it any information about the people its playing against, and asked it to make decisions for whether to bet or fold in given spots, then it would come up with the GTO answer.

This means that playing GTO strategy requires a lot of off-table study. You’ll need to understand fundamental concepts like pot-odds and ranges, as well as the principles of balance. Since GTO strategy will involve situations like “bet this flop 60% of the time,” then you’ll need to figure out a good way to accurately adhere to those guidelines.

Ultimately, GTO strategy is a great baseline. It’s a default that we can use against any unknown or strong opponents without leaving yourself vulnerable to exploitation.

Exploitative Strategy

On the other side of the coin, exploitative strategy utilizes our opponents’ weaknesses against them. In this case, we’ll deviate from our baseline to make plays that are situationally better because they take advantage of someone else’s flaws.

For instance, if you’re playing against a really tight opponent who never 3-bets anything but their best hands, you can easily fold good hands that would be a great call according to GTO strategy.

The key to pulling this off is observing your opponents’ frequencies, figuring out what

they’re doing wrong, and then pushing to win chips off their mistakes. As a result, we can win a lot more by exploiting weak players than we can by playing any GTO strategy.

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