GTO poker solvers have become virtually mainstream in 2021. They've even started being used to review popular poker hands shown on youtube for general audiences. However, the question of whether or not to use a GTO poker solver depends on the poker games you regularly play and your own personal poker goals. Whilst recreational players probably need not concern themselves with solvers, serious players run the risk of falling behind their rivals if they don't spend time learning GTO strategy from a GTO poker solver.
In this article, we'll break down what GTO solvers are and how poker players use them to improve their poker skill. Hopefully, this will help readers decide if their next purchase is going to be a GTO poker solver!
What Are GTO Solvers?
GTO solvers are basically like a super calculator for poker. They allow players to set up a hand scenario and find the optimal solution to that situation. You basically ask the solver a poker question and it gives you the answer.
In a simple maths calculator, a question might be what is '4 + 4'.
In a GTO poker solver, a question might be 'how often and what size/s should I c-bet on a 4♦5♣6♥ flop, after raising from early position and being called by the big blind in a cash game with 100 big blind stacks'. As you can imagine, the poker solver requires quite a powerful engine to accurately answer such complex questions!
Moving into 2022, with more and more solvers hitting the market and their engines constantly improving, we're seeing growing interest in players learning GTO poker strategy from a GTO poker solver.
It's likely the majority of online poker players playing in cash games where the big blind is greater than $1, have seen or used a solver at some point of their poker career to help them improve.
Does this mean poker has been solved? Turned into a game like Tic Tac Toe?
There are still some limitations to what GTO solvers are able to do. For example, they currently mostly only solve for heads-up confrontations.
Additionally, the following factors often deter poker players from purchasing a GTO poker solver.
- A steep learning curve
- Complex calculations can take a considerable amount of time to run
- Data files can be cumbersomely large
- Pricing ($250-$1000)
The majority of poker players worldwide play either recreationally or in low-stakes games, meaning a vast amount of the poker community are still 'winging it' when it comes to poker strategy. A fact many aspiring poker players are constantly looking to take advantage of by acquiring a solver. Since in poker, it's virtually impossible to learn a sound GTO strategy without having access to a GTO solver. Although, a few rare geniuses of the game may argue otherwise!
Do I Need to Learn about GTO to be a Winner?
Some players are still able to profit, even making a comfortable living from the game of poker without being GTO savvy. This is due to the complex nature of the game leading to many people who play making costly errors.
In other words, some player's minds are better equipped than others with the problem-solving skills required for poker, allowing them to gain a significant enough edge over their rivals to be consistent winners.
How Does a GTO Strategy Work?
In Tic Tac Toe as the player starting first, the middlebox is the best move as it gives you the best chance of winning. The player moving second should then select a corner box which will ultimately result in a tie if both players follow the principle of taking the best possible option in turn.
This is similar to GTO poker in the sense that there are optimal actions and then optimal reactions.
If in Tic Tac Toe the player to move second chose a side square for their move, a loss would result versus a knowledgable opponent. This is much like a game of poker, although, in poker, as an action becomes worse and worse it will typically result in a more costly negative result. Since rather than just winning or losing, bad plays in poker equate to losing more money (or chips), especially over time.
Is GTO the Best Poker Strategy?
Before discussing the merit of a GTO strategy, it's important to be clear how we see the term used in poker. Here are the two ways the phrase is commonly used to refer to poker strategy.
- As a master strategy that is unbeatable when applied (i.e. equilibria). This is irrespective of what other strategies competitors are using.
- The optimal strategy based on how our competitors are playing (assumes we know how others at the table are playing and therefor are able to act to exploit any mistakes they may be making).
The difference may seem subtle, but it's of huge importance. Applying GTO in the first instance, whilst never a losing strategy can fail to maximize on competitors making imperfect decisions.
Since in poker the objective is to win all the money or chips, the focus should be on whichever strategy can be used to attain the highest win rate. This makes the second usage of the term GTO above, applicable. However, this assumes we know the strategy an opponent is using which is rarely the case. In the game of poker, opponent cards are hidden, concealing information. Moreover, our opponents aren't going to be kind enough to share their strategies with us. Although, that would sure make for a profitable poker game I'd like to play in!
So basically, a master strategy, that is, one that is most effective against a player also trying to play an optimal master strategy, is what is meant when we say a GTO poker strategy. After all, we assume most people that play poker want to play the game well and try to win.
However, if we have information revealing an opponent is making a mistake that we can capitalize on, a new game theory optimal strategy can be applied. And so on and so forth as we observe our opponent tendencies and gain insight into their play at the table.
If an opponent always bets huge when they bluff and small when they have the goods, the new optimal, or GTO strategy, becomes working around taking advantage of that useful information.
Here's a short video to help explain this further.
Adjusting to your opponent's playing style is known as 'exploitation', or, creating an exploitative GTO strategy. As poker is a complex game it usually leads to people at the poker table making everything from consistently small to monumental mistakes. So these strategy adjustments are still often at the crux of good winning poker.
This is especially true in 'softer' games played between less experienced players. So while a master GTO strategy is good to be familiar with, it's also important to understand how to adjust and use an exploitative GTO strategy. Proper knowledge of the former also allows for better application of the latter, since it's all poker strategy and involves building up knowledge of the game.
Here's a video explaining more about the relationship between a GTO strategy and an exploitative strategy, which also highlights the importance of utilizing both if you intend to play poker well.
Studying a GTO Playing Style and Custom Simulations
There's no doubt Poker solvers are great for players wanting to learn how to play a more general GTO-orientated style of poker. Additionally, we've discussed how they offer the ability to adjust the parameters to your liking, allowing you to see the best strategy to use against a specific foe. So why wouldn't every serious poker player own a GTO poker solver by now?
The truth is, many people find setting up simulations a tedious time-consuming process.
GTO software users also run the risk of being overly assumptive when entering data about how an opponent plays. Just because a player you labeled as a fish opened from middle-position at the poker table with 8♠4♠ doesn't mean they do it every time. Perhaps they had a reason for doing so that particular hand. If you start guessing about how your opponents act in certain situations you run the risk of producing poor inaccurate strategies as a result. Possibly even causing you to make your own blunders that opponents will take advantage of.
For the most part, students of the game using GTO poker software like PioSOLVER 2, tend to mostly eyeball master GTO strategies.
Benefits from Eyeballing Equilibrium Play
Being able to eyeball a perfect poker strategy is a really useful learning aid. It’s not always 100% practical for the specific game type and opponents you might encounter in your regular game, but seeing a perfect strategy can provide terrific takeaways. Not to mention being a very thought-provoking process.
Player's getting their feet wet with a GTO solver usually quickly find their style of play differs considerably to how the solver would play hands. This leads to players being forced to reflect on their own play and question why they exhibit the certain tendencies they do. Asking the question, "could I really be wrong?!".
Essentially, the solver is like having a tutor over your shoulder. Pointing out your bad habits and leaks and presenting you with better options to take.
Although do keep in mind it's illegal virtually everywhere to have a GTO poker solver running with your playing in a game of poker. In the case of online poker, most sizable poker websites strictly monitor and prohibit their use whilst you are playing. Of course, there's no rule against using them to study the game at other times.
GTO Poker Solver Example
Let’s take c-betting small pairs on the flop as an example of how someone might make an improvement to their game. Running a simulation to reflect this opportunity would point out that solvers like to bet very small pairs in a lot of instances on the flop. These marginal holdings benefit greatly from taking the pot down on the early street. They have few outs to improve, and so the board texture usually develops unfavorably for them.
It makes sense to protect them in a lot of situations but some players might frequently check back the flop rather than c-bet, figuring they just want to try to showdown with a weak hand.
Identifying these types of smart strategical patterns helps players modify and improve their own play. Here are a few more common investigations players make when first picking up a GTO poker solver.
- How big should I bet on the flop?
- Should ace high c-bet when it misses the flop?
- How are middling pairs played?
- Should I raise my draws or just call?
- How do blockers influence betting patterns?
- When do solvers use an over-bet?
- Was my hand strong enough to value bet the river or should I have just checked?
Players picking through simulations are going to regularly receive great feedback from the solver. Spanning across all possible scenarios, time permitting. Allowing them the ultimate way to modify and refine their poker skill.
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More on Setting Strategies or 'Node-locking'
As mentioned, frequently at the table we get the chance to observe opponents play over time and make inferences about the way they play. Typically noting good and bad tendencies they may have. Additionally, when playing online poker, some players use a poker HUD or poker tracking software to help them identify opponent weaknesses.
Once you’ve locked on to what you believe to be an opponent flaw, you can configure the poker solver to plot a new optimal strategy based on the information you have.
This approach of analyzing a GTO strategy for the specific opponent you’re playing against is a powerful tool solver's offer and is usually referred to as ‘node-locking a strategy’ or ‘setting a strategy’.
It’s the best feature for most solver users because it allows for relevant, specific hand analysis based on the real situations you encounter regularly. And you can gain insight into how a solver goes about adjusting and taking advantage of deviations from equilibria.
Having said that, as we pointed out, it's a lot of work and usually, an activity only undertaken by the most dedicated players in the game. Setting up and running a simulation in such a way may even take hours before you are happy with its accuracy and have pawed over it enough to get the learning takeaways you want. Let's see some examples of how you can benefit from using a GTO poker solver in this way, using the most popular GTO poker solver on the market, PioSOLVER 2.
GTO Solver Example #1 : Rarely Check-raising
Let's look at a situation where an overly passive opponent rarely check-raises us on the flop after we bet. Since we'll get to realize our equity more often, we can c-bet at a high frequency. Taking advantage of the fact we rarely get blown off our hand on the flop. Which was the situation a student asked me about recently, discussed in the video below.
GTO Solver Example #2: C-betting Too Frequently
Or perhaps you’ve spent some time playing with an opponent and they seem to be c-betting 100% on the flop. You can input this tendency into the solver and work out the best response.
Whilst it might be obvious to some that check-raising a player over c-betting is likely to be a good strategy, solvers provide more than just an ideal fold percentage, call percentage, and raise percentage.
Additional valuable insights will often include the following.
- What parts of your range should fold/call/raise
- The best raise sizing to use
- Your equity and EV for the situation (for specific hands and overall range)
- How you should proceed on various turn and river outcomes
On top of all of this, you can see what your opponent’s correct responses should be to your moves. In fact, the extensive amount of data presented can be a little overwhelming for beginners.
Players modifying solvers to better represent their opponent’s behavior nearly always express overall improvements in their game from the knowledge they gain.
Seeing how a solver adjusts to different situations prepares players for the next time they encounter a similar situation.
Moreover, solver users tend to get a better handle on how they should be playing their entire range of hands as opposed to a specific hand. Which makes any player savvier on the felt.
GTO software users also frequently find they start to see the game more in-depth, specifically by being able to visualize decision points like branches on a game tree. For example, a strategy you use on the flop may alter how you decide to play on the turn.
Furthermore, poker players expanding their game knowledge in this way often find it assists with recognizing opponent leaks and identifying opportunities to exploit. Ultimately, leading to players consistently making better decisions than their opponents over time, which leads to more winning sessions.
Limitations Of Poker Solvers
Again before you rush out and buy a solver, keep in mind it is a lot of work learning how to use it properly and getting the most out of it. If non executed properly, erroneous data could even be detrimental.
The most challenging part is probably locking strategies. This requires more than just basic knowledge of the solver.
The use of this feature requires you to be able to fairly accurately gauge your opponent’s tendencies. And this is where a considerable ‘human element’ still remains.
In fact, from the get-go when you are selecting hands to include in your opponent's range, and setting bet sizes, the more accurately you can set the parameters in the solver to reflect a real game situation, the more reliable your calculations will be.
If you're playing poker and you still don't even know what starting hands to play from each position, that naturally should be your first priority (check out our playable hands guide here). Even for those who do purchase the popular PioSOLVER 2, make sure you have the right hands to enter in for the various confrontations you're going to face at the poker table (available here soon).
Computing time is also something that often comes up on the list of the drawbacks of working with a poker solver.
Especially when setting multiple bets and raise sizes. As the game tree expands, so does the memory required and processing time. Whilst simpler solutions might only take a minute or two, having several betting and raising sizes, as well as the option to lead bet, might take the better part of an hour to process. And that’s presuming your PC is relatively up to date.
For extremely complex calculations, such as running scripts (automated solves), or doing heavy preflop work, people sometimes rent servers or use cloud computing. Or you could let your computer run overnight.
Fortunately, to help with this, you can actually purchase pre-made simulations. So you can skip the tedious setup stage and jump right into the meat and potatoes of the learning. Just be sure you acquire reputable simulations that relate to the situation you are interested in and feature the parameters you'd like to see. For this, we recommend our custom-made GTO poker simulations for PioSOLVER (available here, or, try out our free practice pack if you own PioSOLVER already).
For do-it-yourselfers, you can always speed up regular hand calculations by making small strategical compromises. Such as reducing the number of betting options. Another feature of PioSOLVER 2 is it allows you to set your desired accuracy. For small concessions inaccuracy, considerable time can often be saved.
In short, if you are dedicated enough, the skies are the limit with what you can do with a GTO poker solver (and a good human brain to go with it doesn't hurt either!).
I'm Ready, Which GTO Poker Software is Right For Me?
It's hard to look past the most popular GTO solver, PioSOLVER 2. It was released in March 2015 and received a major update in mid-2021. However, Simple Post Flop is also a popular poker solver we would highly recommend. Here's a list of the main four solvers available today.
|OUR RANK||GTO SOLVER SOFTWARE||OUR RATING|
|4.||GTO Range Builder||☆☆|
A discussion comparing PioSOLVER and GTORB can be found in this post with responses on Two Plus Two.
Here's what people are saying about poker GTO solvers on the poker training website, Run It Once.
PioSOLVER 2 offers great functionality that consistently gets good reviews. And for some of the more difficult capabilities, there are always tutorials and videos available, all backed by excellent support. There’s even a discord group new customers can join.
Importantly, PioSOLVER 2 and Simple Postflop include the must-have GTO Trainer tool. This is a tool that allows you to practice GTO strategy and get real-time feedback. Perfect as a pre-session warm-up or to drill your knowledge of GTO strategy. Check out this PokerNerve article for more about this important tool (PioSOLVER 2 GTO Trainer Guide and review).
For those who do purchase PioSOLVER, one of the first important things to do is purchase preflop GTO ranges. This will ensure you're not only playing the right ranges yourself, but have accurate ranges on-hand for your calculations (to learn more about this, cash game players check out our 6-max cash ranges here, or for tournament players visit our GTO MTT ranges page here).
For more on PioSOLVER, including how to simulate a hand, analyze the data, and take-aways from using a GTO solver, join me (Acesup) in the following 26-minute premium content video below:
The price point is also competitive for solvers, with the PioSOLVER basic version coming in at $249.
There’s also a pro version for $475 (which offers 2 installs, and scripting capability), as well as an edge version for $1,099. Pricey because it includes a preflop solver.
Can It Really Help Me? Will It Be Worth It?
If you don’t do study away from the tables and are hoping for a wonder toy calculator that will make things easy for you, it’s unlikely you’ll get that much out of owning a solver. As has always been the case with poker (and learning in general), the more effort you put in the more you’ll get out of it.
To be able to get a lot out of a solver, you do need to put the work in (or you could hire a coach, or purchase simulations already created for you). Ultimately, from learning to use the solver's various functions properly to interpreting results and implementing positive changes to your game, a lot of the onus is on you.
If you’re willing to put in the work, you'll be sure to greatly increase your poker skill. This includes cash game players, MTT’ers, or SNG players. Especially If you’re a serious player trying to move up in stakes, the time to get a solver is now. If you’re focused on winning, the opportunity to expand your knowledge of the game and implement strong winning strategies is attainable.
The use of poker GTO solvers is certainly on the rise. It's software that more and more players are using to help them improve every day.
Getting in sooner rather than later might provide you with the edge you're looking for over your rivals.
Get the Most Out of Your Poker Solver
Although the learning curve can be steep, GTO software companies have youtube channels with plenty of tutorials.
Poker training sites also have videos where GTO solvers are frequently used, demonstrating their awesome ability. There are several videos at sites like RunItOnce and several tutorials are part of the PokerNerve library.
Poker coaches too often use solvers like PioSOLVER 2 to gain more insight when analyzing situations with their students.
Be sure to use all resources available if your goal is to improve at poker.
Here’s a glimpse at a PokerNerve tutorial. This video demonstrates one of the awesome ways people are benefitting from using PioSOLVER for study!
Conclusion About GTO Poker Solvers
GTO poker solvers have become extremely popular and a must-have for any player competing at a serious level. Despite GTO poker solvers having the following limitations.
✗ Steep learning curve
✗ Calculations are slow to process (typically large files)
✗ Pricey for the lower limit player
GTO poker solvers provide studious players with a powerful learning tool.
✓ Ability to learn GTO strategy for cash games or tournaments
✓ Calculate optimal strategic responses to specific situations you encounter at the table
✓ A GTO Trainer tool where you can practice
✓ Abundant resources are available to help you push past roadblocks, including pre-made simulation packs for those looking to save time
Examining GTO solutions allows players to identify and learn strong strategical concepts. Such as how often to c-bet, what size, and with what types of hands. How often to check-raise, donk bet, and lead bet. As well as what cards to barrel on, and much much more.
It’s not a quick magical solution. But if you’re willing to put in the effort to learn and get accustomed to using a solver, the reward is having a powerful poker computing device that will help you improve your poker skill. Giving you an edge at the tables.
One of the quickest ways to improve your poker game is to take on a course or join a poker training site; if that is something that interests you be sure to check out the PokerNerve Road to Success Tournament Poker Course.
Last updated: 26/08/2021