Poker GTO

GTO Poker Strategy Made Easy – 3 Simple Techniques

Let’s start with a simple definition of GTO Poker or Game Theory Optimal strategy:

GTO poker is the scenario where both players are playing perfectly, and neither one can improve his strategy any further.

While it’s true that you will rarely be up against an opponent who is playing perfectly, if you’re not careful, he might still choose a better strategy than yours! Thus, another way to thing about this, is that you want to choose a strategy that is hard for him to exploit.

Assume for this discussion that you’re up against someone good, though GTO can apply to many situations.

Also note: I’ve included a quick video on GTO check-raising at the end.

A Simple GTO Poker Example

You raise preflop and only the player on the button calls. Let’s consider two possible strategies:

  • Strategy A – you only bet when you make top pair or better
  • Strategy B – you only bet when you miss

If you always use Strategy A, what will your opponent eventually do? If you only bet when you have something good, then he’ll mostly fold when you bet and just wait for really good hands.

If you always use Strategy B, what will he do? He’s going to bluff you every time you bet!

The best strategy then has to fall somewhere in the middle. GTO poker would dictate that you use the perfect mix of strong hands and bluffs. Figuring this out precisely on the flop can get pretty complicated, so I’m going to give you some practical advice that you can apply to move in the direction of the GTO solution.

1) Bluff a lot on the flop!

So many players don’t bluff enough on the flop versus other good players. Assuming you’re using bet sizes that are 60 to 75% of the pot, you should be betting with roughly a 60/40 split of bluffs to value on the flop.

To accomplish this, it usually means you need to be checking those “medium strength” hands. These are your 2nd pair types or top pair weak kicker. Obviously you’re not folding, but instead checking and calling if you’re out of position, or checking back if you’re in position. It’s hard to get three streets of value with these hands anyway.

If you want to hone this skill, you need to improve your range-based thinking. Practice this by writing down your entire range that sees the flop. Count the number of bluffs that bet (this includes semi-bluffs). Count your made hands that you bet. Then figure out the ratio.

2) Smaller bets with strong ranges

Let’s say that you count out your ranges using technique 1 above, but you find that you still have many more value hands than bluffs. This can happen when your preflop range is very strong like in 3-bet pots.

That’s fine. To move towards GTO, simply make a smaller sized bet. You can go closer to 50% of pot. Or in extreme cases it could make sense to bet between 30 and 40% of the pot.

This commonly occurs on the river. Let’s say you call your opponent’s flop and turn bets. Then he sighs and checks the river when EVERYTHING gets there. Now when you bet, it’s hard for you to have a bluff. It probably makes sense to bet almost every hand in your range, but to use a very small sizing: perhaps 30 to 40% of the pot.

3) BIG bets and raises for the win!

In the Mathematics of Poker, two really smart guys (the authors) solved for the best strategy to use across the three post-flop streets when you have the nuts. What was that strategy? Get all the money in by the river by making 3 equally sized bets in relation to the pot.

For example, if you have the nuts, and betting pot, pot, pot gets you all-in on the river, then that’s what you should do! If you’re in a single-raised pot, then it would usually take overbets on each street to get all the money in.

Now overbetting is not considered “standard” and can cause your opponent to react in unpredictable ways, so be careful with using this strategy in practice. Just realize that the theoretical approach does indeed suggest doing so.

There’s one more awesome thing about betting big. The bigger your bet, the more bluffs you can (and should) have in your range. I mentioned using a 60/40 split of bluffs to value in technique 1. If you’re potting or overbetting the flop though, you can push this to over 75/25! Notice these are hands that you would have otherwise folded, and now they’re making you money.

Lastly please consider that when you DO get to the river, while you should still have at least some bluffs in your range, MOST of your range should now be value. With a pot-sized river bet for example, 2/3rds of your bets should be value and only 1/3rd should be bluffs.

Bonus – a GTO Poker video on check-raising

Here’s a special quick lesson I gave on a GTO approach to check-raising flops.

If you enjoyed this article on GTO Poker, here are some suggestions for further study:

  • R0b5ter

    Nice article Mike! Easy and correct analysis of GTO.

    One corrextion though. In the simple example, if you use strategy B (only betting when you miss). Your opponent shouldn’t be raising you. He should instead call with anyhand with SD value to let you contniue bluffing on further streets and he should bluff anything that doesn’t have SD value.

  • Good clarification Rob. Your opponent in this case should be re-bluffing you when he has nothing (by raising …or calling and bluffing later) but with stronger hands that are not vulnerable (i.e. afraid of many turns) he can slowplay a bit by just calling, and hope you keep bluffing.

  • Diogo Luís

    You said: “I mentioned using a 60/40 split of bluffs to value in technique 1. If you’re potting or overbetting the flop though, you can push this to over 75/25”
    I don’t understand this statement.
    If you bet 1 to 1 on river, the villain have to call 1 to 2 (or 1 to win 3). So he will need to win 33% of time to breakeven, so you should bluff 33%, or 1 bluff for 2 value hands.
    Accordingly, if you bet 2 to 1, you should bluff around 40%.
    So what do you mean by “push this over 75/25”?

    Hope you can enlight me on this. Keep up the good articles and videos.

  • Mike

    If I’m jamming the river with either a nut flush for instance with 100% to win or bluff with 0% to win I want my opponent to be indifferent to calling or folding. So if I bet half the pot with some mixture of nuts and air my opponent needs to call me about 2/3rds of the time based upon bet size.

    I should bluff to make my opponent break even on bluff catching calls. My opponent will be calling half pot to win 3, so he only needs to be right 1/4 times. Therefore, I should have it 3/4 times. With a pot sized bet my opponent should call half the time to force me to break even on bluffs. He only needs to be right 1/3 times so I should have it 2/3 times.
    As you increase the bluff size the bluff to value ratio will approach 50%. Is this correct?

    I believe this is why I can bluff more with larger bets but it feels a little counterintuitive.
    If I bet big I will lose a lot more when wrong so it feels like I should have more value and fewer bluffs.

    Maybe it feels wrong because exploitive play would be to only bet big vs someone that calls too often and thus bluffing at all is a bad idea. And bluff vs someone that folds too often and thus trapping is usually better than value betting and so bluff very often in small bets.

    It seems like if someone is going to make a mistake it’s a far better risk/reward to bluff more frequently in small pots and bluff less frequently in big pots, particularly against opponents that don’t properly adjust based upon bet size.

    Can you rectify this conflict in my head so I more intuitively understand the differences?
    Or is it okay to play less GTO and not worry about it if enough of my opponents aren’t going to adjust enough to bet sizes and still think along the lines of “I can’t ever fold top pair and I always have to fold no pair”?

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