Most of us strive for simplicity in our life, but is it something to strive for in poker too?
Short answer: Yes.
In this article, I am going to cover some pros and cons of simplifying your poker strategy so it’s easier for you to execute in-game. Then, I’ll demonstrate the (very low) cost of simplifying your strategy.
This is an absolutely crucial skill in our solver-driven poker world, so let’s dive right in.
This article is marked as advanced. If you’d prefer easier reading, check out our introductory articles here.
What Does Simplifying Your Strategy Mean?
Simplifying your strategy is when you reduce the number of options that you have on an earlier street. The goal of this is to reduce the size of the game tree.
For example, instead of using two or three different bet sizes on a certain flop, each with a unique range, you will only use one bet size.
In certain spots, you could even take this one step further and say that instead of betting with some hands and checking with others, you will only choose one of them with your whole range. For example, let’s say you run a PioSolver simulation and find that you should c-bet 93% of the time on a given flop. For simplicity, you could round up to 100% and bet with your entire range.
The Pros of Simplifying Your Strategy
Okay, so let’s see some possible good reasons for why simplifying your strategy could be a good thing:
Pro #1: You can play more volume
By simplifying your decision tree you will spend less time on small decisions such as c-betting on the flop. This means that you can both play more tables at the same time and play longer sessions due to getting less mentally fatigued.
Pro #2: You can play better on later streets
By simplifying earlier decisions you will have more mental energy to think about situations that are more important for your win-rate. I am talking about the turn and the river. The pots grow exponentially large as the streets unfold, thus mistakes get exponentially more costly.
Pro #3: In some situations, a simpler strategy is exploiting a player’s leak
If your opponent either folds too much and/or raises infrequently enough, then betting your full range might be incentivized.
Pro #4: You can more accurately keep track of your ranges on later streets
One of the most shocking and disheartening revelations that came with the discovery of solvers was that the GTO strategy is extremely complex and frankly impossible to implement by humans without software assistance/cheating.
Using a simplified strategy will help you keep track of how many combinations of hands you have on the next streets. This is easier compared to betting a certain hand 43.5% of the time for 66% pot, 19.7% of the time for 50% pot, and checking whatever goddamn frequency remains, and then having to calculate how many combos that is.
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The Cons of Simplifying Your Strategy
Now that we’ve seen some good arguments in favor of simplifying, let’s see some potential downfalls of such an approach:
(Note that none of these are big concerns in micro or low stakes games.)
Con #1: You can get exploited more easily
In theory, whenever you deviate from GTO, you open yourself up to being countered. If you’ve ever glanced over a solver-generated strategy, you’ve probably seen that it had more than one color.
You will very rarely see a GTO solution that includes only a single bet size being used and only one decision (bet or check) being implemented. This happens because the solution would be simple for a solver to counter. The solver thus uses mixed frequencies to complicate its strategy.
This isn’t too big of a con in practice because most players will not be capable of identifying and exploiting your deviation.
Con #2: Against strong opponents, you are leaving money on the table compared to a more “GTO” strategy
By definition, a GTO strategy has the highest possible expected value (EV) against an all-knowing opponent. So, if you’re playing against a very good player with a theoretically sound strategy, deviating from your own theoretically sound strategy can cost you EV.
Con #3: You may be simplifying wrong and losing a lot of EV
Without enough study, you will not be able to simplify correctly in all spots. Some flops might be acceptable as full range bets and others as full range checks, but some might not be simplifiable at all. If you try to simplify a spot that does not warrant simplification, you may lose EV.
Con #4: Simplifying is a possible trigger for auto-piloting
If you get to accustomed to playing a simplified strategy, you may start auto-piloting.
Auto-piloting is essentially when you start thinking less and relying more on instinct to make decisions. It’s a huge problem for many poker players, especially those who play many tables at once.
When simplifying, it’s important to make sure you avoid auto-piloting. Your brain is generally going to make much better decisions than your gut!
One Flop, Three Strategies
Okay, so we’ve laid out the pros and the cons. Now, I’ll use PioSolver to demonstrate how much EV simplifying loses compared to “GTO” — and how exploitable it is.
To explore this, I am going to take a very frequently occurring spot: the button raises preflop and the big blind calls. The flop I plugged into the solver is T♥ 7♠ 2♦.
I will run three different simulations for the player on the button, each with unique stipulations.
1. The complex solution uses three bet sizes on the flop, two on the turn, and two on the river.
2. The simple solution uses only one bet size on each street.
3. The super-simple solution uses only one bet size per street too, but the button will also bet with his entire range on the flop.
The EV of each strategy is as follows:
- Complex strategy: 3.81 big blinds
- Simple strategy: 3.75 big blinds
- Super simple strategy: 3.75 big blinds
The EV difference between the complex and super-simple strategy is 0.06 big blinds. Since the pot was 6 big blinds, this means that the EV loss against an all-knowing opponent is (0.06 / 6) * 100 = 1% of the pot.
Doesn’t seem like much, does it? That’s because it’s not.
This point is worth reiterating: Even if you absolutely nailed the impossible-to-execute complex strategy, it would only net you 1% more than the extremely simple strategy.
More rake might be better, but clearly more complexity is not. (At least not on T-7-2 rainbow.)
That’s all I have for this subject. I am curious about what you guys think about simplification, and I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on what I presented here. See you in the comment section below!
Want to keep elevating your poker strategy? Here’s what I recommend reading next: How to Destroy Your Opponent After Seeing One Showdown.
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!