gto idiot

How to NOT Sound Like an Idiot When Talking About “GTO”

The term “GTO” gets thrown around a lot in the poker world.

But while it’s become a part of many players’ vocabulary, many people seem to misunderstand its true meaning.

To bridge this knowledge gap, here are 7 insights from Doug Polk on Twitter to help you “not sound like an idiot when you are talking about Game Theory as it applies to poker.”

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1. If someone is playing GTO, it means they are playing 100% perfect, unbeatable poker.

Playing GTO entails making 0 mistakes, from preflop decisions to c-bet frequencies to river bet sizing, and everything in between.

A GTO strategy is completely unbeatable regardless of the opposing counter-strategy. It doesn’t matter if you have Phil Hellmuth’s “White Magic,” you simply can’t be profitable against a perfect GTO strategy.

So, does this mean that GTO-focused players like Doug and Dominik Nitsche are unbeatable? Absolutely not, because…

2. No one in the world plays GTO.

There are some pretty great players out there, and they are getting better every day.

But as of now, all players are essentially on a sliding scale in terms of how close to GTO they are playing.

The best bots and GTO trainers are relatively close to playing perfectly, but even they aren’t there yet. The best humans are getting closer as well, but no one will ever get there until the game is completely solved.

If anyone tells you that they play a perfect GTO strategy, just smile and nod.

3. Solver solutions aren’t the same as GTO

Solvers have a key constraint: They can only use a certain number of bet sizes. If you give the solver too many bet size options, the required amount of memory is too large to produce results in a meaningful time frame (or it simply takes too much computing power).

Solvers actually solve for an abridged version of the game in which players must choose from only a few bet size options. This is different from how poker is played in real life, where you can always bet as little as 1 big blind, as much as your entire stack, and every bet size in between.

A true GTO player would destroy a solver’s strategy in an actual game, as the latter is limited to a small number of bet size options in each spot. But, again, such a true GTO player does not exist.

With all that said, solvers are useful for approximating GTO strategies, among other things.

4. Humans cannot easily implement solver strategies because of the massive depth and granularity of the solutions.

There are 1,326 different combinations of starting hands in Texas Hold’em, all of which should be played differently at various frequencies depending on the action, board and bet size used.

Because of the sheer number of possibilities to account for, playing GTO is far beyond the scope of the human brain.

5. You can use solvers, and leverage the work of strong players who use solvers, to learn valuable heuristics and strategies that you can actually execute.

In many instances, simplifying your strategy with consistent bet sizes and actions on certain boards makes your strategy easier to implement in-game. Even though these simplifications push you further away from perfect GTO, you’ll end up with a strategy that you are actually capable of executing, which is absolutely crucial in practice.

You can either run the solver sims yourself or study sims in a course like the Upswing Lab, in which the coaches share their own personal solver solutions to help you improve your game.

gary blackwood sim screenshot

In the Upswing Lab training course, pros like Gary Blackwood run solver sims for you!

6. It takes an incredible amount of time to learn how to use and interpret solvers properly.

Getting real value from a solver takes a tremendous amount of time. The best players in the world spend tons of time every week studying solver outputs to make their strategy more robust and profitable.

Anyone who offers a “get rich quick” type solution for GTO is just lying to you. You have to be willing to put in the study time, regardless of what tool, course or app you use.

7. Stop saying GTO so often. It makes you sound like a noob to knowledgeable players.

Don’t be the person at the table (or in the hallways of the Rio) trying to impress everyone with your poker vocabulary. It can intimidate the weaker players who you want to stick around, and it will make you look like a noob to players that actually know what they are talking about.

Wrapping Up

Poker is incredibly complex and is evolving every day.

But while the games are as tough as they’ve ever been, every player in the world still makes tons of mistakes. The best way to keep up is by continuing to study and get your reps in so that you are armed with as much insight as possible.

That’s it for today. Good luck at the tables this week.

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About the Author
Patrick Harvey

Patrick Harvey

Graduate student trying to make money in poker so that I don't end up having to drive Knish's truck.

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