You might have heard of game theory optimal (GTO) or GTO poker solvers before. You might have also heard that you shouldn't try to play GTO, that you should only play an ABC poker strategy - a simple yet effective that should beat your incompetent opponents. However you would be wrong.
GTO solvers are basically a super calculator for poker which allows players to set-up a hand scenario and find the optimal solution to that situation.
Has poker been solved and turned into a game like Tic Tac Toe?
There are still limitations to what GTO solvers can do. For example, they currently only solve for heads-up confrontations. But there’s a lot of benefits to using a GTO solver. They aren’t cheap. And often the learning curve deters people. This article we’ll weigh up the benefits and pitfalls of using a GTO poker solver. And reveal how to get the most out of using a GTO solver.
Is GTO the best strategy?
When it comes to beating poker, the term ‘GTO’ often gets thrown around like it’s an ultimate cure. The idea of pure game theory optimal solutions (i.e. equilibria) works when players are playing perfect strategy. However, that isn’t often the case.
I HAVEN’T studied Tic Tac Toe, but I’m confident as the player going first, selecting the middle box as the first move would be optimal.
I HAVE studied poker for years, and sometimes I’m still not sure of the best play in a certain situation!
Poker is a complex game. As human players, we don’t consistently make optimal decisions. Some rarely do! So what good is an equilibrium strategy when our opponent is deviating far from using an optimal game plan? After all, the importance of adjusting to your opponent and the mantra of ‘play the man’ has been at the crux of winning poker strategy since Cowboys on tilt were drawing pistols in saloons.
Here's a short video that addresses the role GTO plays in the poker world.
The power of GTO poker solvers
Well firstly, there are still certain takeaways from observing a GTO solver work its magic and plot an equilibrium solution. And secondly, solvers do allow you to set parameters so you can calculate an optimal strategy when playing a non-perfect player.
Benefits from eyeballing equilibrium play
Being able to eyeball a perfect strategy is a useful learning aid. It’s not always practical for the specific game type and opponents a player encounters in their regular games. But seeing a perfect strategy being modeled can be very thought provoking. Especially when a players style of play differs in spots from the GTO mold. Players in a sense are forced to reflect on their own play and question why they exhibit certain tendencies. Are they exploiting a certain opponent weakness or population tendency? Or is it a bad habit that’s developed that their opponents can capitalize on?
Let’s take cbetting small pairs on the flop as an example. 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 unfavourably for them. It makes sense to protect them in a lot of situations. But some players might frequently check back the flop rather than cbet. 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’ a few more examples;
- How is middle pair played?
- Should BB check-raise low boards a lot on the flop?
- What’s the role blockers play in spots?
- Backdoor flush draw play
- When do solvers over-bet the river?
- Should ace high cbet dry flops?
Some of which might be instantly beneficial if incorporated into a players game
See how to simulate a hand, analyze the data, and take-aways from using a GTO solver with Acesup from our 26 minute premium content video below. Unlock to get instant access:
Benefits from locking opponent strategies
Frequently as we observe opponent play we notice tendencies they have. Additionally using a HUD online will sometimes expose bad habits.
Once you’ve locked on to what you believe to be an opponent weakness, you can configure the poker solver to plot a new optimal strategy based on this information.
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 ‘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 to take advantage of deviations from equilibria.
For example, take the passive opponent that rarely check raises us on the flop. Since we'll get to realize our equity more often, we can cbet 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, as discussed in the video below.
Or perhaps you’ve spent some time playing with an opponent and he seems to be cbetting 100% on the flop, solvers allow you to input this tendency and work out the best response.
Whilst it might be obvious to some that check-raising a player over cbetting is likely to be a good strategy, solvers provide more than just an ideal fold percentage, call percentage and raise percentage. Additional insights such as; what parts of your range fit best as fold/call/raise, what raise sizing is best, your equity and EV for the situation, how you should proceed on various turn and river outcomes, and all the while what your opponent’s responses should be to your moves. In fact, the extensive amount of data presented can be a little overwhelming to a first time user.
Players modifying solvers to better represent their opponent’s behavior, frequently 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 range of hands as opposed to a specific hand. Which makes any player more savvy on the felt. As well as players expressing how they start to see the game more in depth, by being able to visualize a hands decision points as branches on a game tree.
This often assists with recognizing opponent leaks and identifying opportunities to exploit. And serves to place importance on strategy as a whole. Where ultimately, consistently making better decisions than your opponents over time, leads to winning results.
Locking strategies requires a little more than the basic knowledge of using the solver and if not executed correctly, it could lead to unreliable results.
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 opponents range, and setting bet sizes, the more accurately you can set the parameters in the solver to reflect the game situation the more reliable the calculations will be.
Unfortunately, this often brings about another limitation solvers have, the time it can take to compute. Especially when setting multiple bet and raise sizes. As the game tree gets larger, so does processing time. Whilst simpler solutions might only take a minute or 2, 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 or doing heavy preflop work, people sometimes rent servers or use cloud computing. Or you could let the computer run over night.
To speed up regular hand calculations, compromises can be made. For small concessions in accuracy, considerable time can often be saved. With results still acceptably accurate.
So solvers can provide GTO solutions to the heads-up scenarios you encounter at the table. Calculations that are extremely accurate, and fast enough to be usable.
So which solver is right for me?
The three most competitive solvers, with positive reviews, are;
- GTO Range Builder - More graphical/visual. Web version only. Lots of educational material (though the content is reported to be quite overwhelming for beginners).
- SimplePostflop- More tabular. Standalone version. Can start the analysis preflop.
- PioSOLVER- More tabular. Standalone version. Preferred by most players for its uncomplicated operation and functionality.
A discussion comparing the more popular, PioSOLVER and GTORB, can be found in this post and responses on Two Plus Two.
Players new to solvers often have good things to say about GTO Range Builder. It has a web interface and is quite fast whilst some also consider it to be moderately easy to use.
However, my recommendation would be PioSOLVER. It’s operation and functionality consistently gets good reviews. And for some of the more difficult capabilities, there’s always tutorials and videos available, all backed by excellent support. There’s even a skype group new customers can join. The price point is also competitive for solvers, with the 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 anything out of owning a solver. As has always been the case with poker, the more effort you put in the more you’ll get out of it.
And to be able to get a lot out of a solver, you do need to put the work in. From learning the functions and using them properly to interpreting results and implementing positive changes to your game. The onus is on you.
If you’re willing to put in the work, the rewards are definitely there. For cash game players, MTT’ers or SNG players. If you’re a serious player trying to move up in stakes. If you’re focused on winning. The opportunity to expand your knowledge of the game and implement strong winning strategies is attainable.
Use of poker GTO solvers is on the rise but certainly isn’t a ‘main stream’ application to have. In the future, with better technology solvers might be simple add-ons to a lot of the programs most players have become accustomed to using. Like a basic poker equity calculator, such as equilab.
For now, they are still sophisticated applications only a limited number of players have embraced. Getting in sooner rather than later might provide you with an edge over your rivals.
Get the most out of your solver
Along with the specific makers having youtube channels with tutorials, most poker training sites also have videos where GTO solvers are used. Coaches often use the popular PioSOLVER to gain more insight when analyzing situations at the table. There are several videos at sites like RunItOnce and several tutorials are part of the PokerNerve library.
Here’s a glimpse at a PokerNerve tutorial. This video demonstrates one of the ways people are benefitting from using PioSOLVER for study.
Despite solvers having their limitations;
- Somewhat cumbersome to learn and use
- Calculations are slow to process
- Pricey for the lower limit player
GTO poker solvers provide studious players with a powerful learning tool;
- Ability to work out GTO solutions
- Calculate optimal strategic responses to situations encountered at the table
Examining GTO solutions allows players to identify and learn strong strategical concepts. Such as how often to cbet, what size, and with what types of hands. How often to check-raise in spots. What cards to barrel on, and so forth.
General takeaways that can help a player improve their overall game plan, and gain a better understanding of what their opponents might be doing as well.
Furthermore, by using the lock strategy feature you can calculate optimal strategic responses to opponent tendencies you’ve discovered.
Exploring specific solutions to situations you encounter against opponents from your regular games. So you can see how to take action and exploit them.
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.
Don't forget to see how to simulate a hand, analyze the data, and take-aways from using a GTO solver with Acesup from our 26 minute premium content video below:
One of the quickest way 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 Course.