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GTO vs Exploitative Play in poker: Which is better?

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GTO vs Exploitative Play in poker: Which is better?

GTO vs Exploitative Play in poker: Which is better?

Mon Oct 25 2021 06:25:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Unlike other casino games of chance, poker requires skills for you to win. It’s not solely based on luck, so you have to be strategic to outplay your opponents. This is where strategies come in. In poker, there are tons of ways you can improve your gameplay using strategies like the Game Theory Optimal (GTO) and Exploitative plays which allows you to exploit your opponents as you progress and strategise your way through the game.

Are you curious to know about these techniques and how to use them? Here’s everything you need to know about GTO and Exploitative strategies.

GTO vs Exploitative: An introduction

Understanding GTO and Exploitative can help you generate stronger exploits and become more aware of your opponent’s theoretically flawless approach. Here’s what you should know about GTO vs Exploitative:

What is Game Theory Optimal strategy?

In essence, Game Theory Optimal or GTO is a kind of poker strategy that helps you avoid exploitation when you’re making a specific play too frequently or too rarely. This is a defensive strategy that allows you to play passively and make you almost impossible to beat.

It involves a mathematically perfect play of poker where you balance the value of your hands and knowing when to bluff to decrease your chances of being exploited.

A perfect GTO is unexploitable, which means that it’ll be impossible for your opponents to devise any form of counter-strategy against you. This might sound promising when you think about it, however, there’s no such thing as a perfect GTO strategy as of now.

Despite this, the strategy is still profitable and can be utilised against players who are also playing the GTO. To put it simply, if you observe your opponent and know that they’re employing the GTO strategy, the ideal counter approach is to also use the GTO strategy.

What is Exploitative play?

An exploitative strategy is when you look for imbalances in your opponent's game and use strategies to exploit those imbalances. Exploits are commonly used to describe strategies that revolve around a specific weakness; one way to do this is to bet relentlessly as a bluff.

Exploitative play is a great strategy to up your game, however, it also allows your opponent to exploit you in return. When you choose this type of play, you should be cautious of your opponent’s tendencies. Once they realise what you’re up to, they can immediately counter your technique.

Balanced ranges and mixed strategy in GTO

Game Theory Optimal strategy makes use of the principles of balanced ranges and mixed strategy. Poker has since evolved from using only one hand. Nowadays, players utilise a range of card combinations to form a winning hand, including three card poker strategies.

The term ‘poker range’ refers to a collection of hands that you or an opponent might have in a certain situation. This means that instead of thinking that your opponent is holding a specific hand like Q and 9, you’ll think of a variety of hands.

Balanced ranges

In poker, your opponents can guess what kind of hand you have, especially if you use it often. Before they have the chance to do this, you should track and evaluate your opponent's patterns of play to limit their range.

Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid being read and exploited by your opponents. This is where balanced ranges come in. In every case, you must balance your hand range by dividing your strong and weak cards. If you don't, your opponent can instantly read you. For instance, if you check all other cards after consistently betting your pairs, your opponents can exploit you.

Make it a habit to check strong hands and bet some bluffs to keep your opponent from guessing your hand range. To keep yourself from being exploited, you can do another approach called the mixed strategy.

Mixed strategy

This strategy involves changing how you play a hand to keep your opponents from reading you too easily. Ideally, you should form your mixed strategy prior to playing and practice poker by yourselfsince it can be too challenging to do during an actual poker game where you’ll be thinking about your next move while also observing your opponent.

A good mixed strategy isn’t formed overnight. It’ll take time for you to grasp it, so it’s important to adopt a more cautious approach and gradually modify your strategy one aspect at a time.

One of the most effective ways of doing the mixed strategy is using your watch. According to poker player Daniel Negreanu, you can use your watch to determine the play you’ll make by using the second hand of your watch to visualise the percentages for each one play half of the time.

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How to play GTO-based approach

As mentioned earlier, there’s no perfect GTP strategy, but understanding how it works and how to utilise it can be a great advantage to your game. You don’t have to aim for the perfect GTO approach, but rather to make the most of it. When you place a bet, aim to make your opponent feel indifferent about folding and calling in the game. To do this, start by:

  1. Calculating the pot odds that your opponent is offering against your wager.
  2. Then, express your calculation to ratio and build your betting range with a similar proportion of value bets to bluffs.

Another way to utilise the GTO strategy is to raise during the preflop and have the player in the button position to match the bet. ‘Button’ refers to a table position that designates who will be the dealer.

During the preflop, you have two options: betting only if you have good cards, or betting only in the case that you didn’t appear first, second, third or fourth place.

Now, if you choose the first option, then there’s a high possibility your opponent can fold against your bet and wait for a good hand to turn up. When you choose the second option, your opponent can bluff whenever you make a bet. 

To avoid inclining towards either option, it’s best to stay in the middle and use a combination of a good hand and bluffing. Make sure to do numerous bluffs on the flop and place smaller bets if you have a good hand.

How to play Exploitative

Spotting imbalances in your opponent’s game is key to exploiting them. With careful observation, you can spot this by paying attention to your opponents' patterns and frequencies.

When playing video poker online, using a tracker software allows you to make specific modifications based on your opponent's statistics. However, be cautious of your opponent’s action in every hand whether you're playing live or not currently in play.

One of the best ways to exploit your opponent and make the most of the exploitative strategy is to make them fold frequently.

To help you with this, you need to understand how break-even points of bluffs work. For instance, as a bluff, you place a $30 flop continuation bet into a $100 pot. The percentage of the total pot you’re investing can be determined by breaking it down:

  1. Total pot including your bet = $130
  2. Your investment = $30
  3. % investment = ($30/130)*100 = 23.08%. 

This means that it’ll be advantageous to your part if your opponent folds more than 33% of the time to the continuation bet. In short, you can take advantage of your opponent who’s folding too frequently by bluffing repeatedly.

On the other hand, if your opponent might also not be folding too much as you’d expect. If this is the case, there are two counter approaches you can do. The first one is to avoid bluffing during this scenario since it won’t work against your opponent and the other one is to look for a loophole where you can place a larger value bet.

Tips for using GTO and Exploitative

Let’s explore how Game Theory Optimal strategy and Exploitative play can help you with your game. Here are some tips that might help you get started on the two strategies:

Use GTO as a starting point

The GTO strategy is especially advantageous when you’re familiar with your opponents and their playing style. It’ll be easy to track their mistakes and exploit them. However, if you’re not familiar with your opponent, the best approach is to stick to GTO play and concentrate on not being exploited.

If a new player joins the table, you have no way of knowing whether he's good. The GTO strategy is your best bet until you’re familiar with your opponent.

Play GTO when playing against good regulars and new players

Another scenario where you can opt to use GTO is when you’re playing against good regulars, new players and anonymous players in online poker. These are the times when you’re not sure what line to take, so it’s ideal to play the GTO approach against your opponents.

Use exploitative if you want to play based on your opponent’s mistakes

It’s not hard to spot your opponent’s mistakes, especially when you’re familiar with how they play. When this happens, your best approach is to use exploitative play by taking advantage of their strategy. This includes adding more bluffs to your range when they Fold too much on their third bet. However, you shouldn’t bluff too much if your opponent is calling the Flop lightly.

Try mixing both GTO vs Exploitative Play

Try using a mix of both GTO and Exploitative. Ideally, the GTO play will work well for those who aren’t familiar with their opponents. As you progress in the game, you start to determine how to exploit them. To do this, try using both GTO and Exploitative simultaneously during a game.

Doing this will help you gradually change your play to Exploitative and increase your chances of winning. If your opponents counter your approach, you can swiftly go back to GTO and recalibrate your strategy.

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Variants where you can use these strategies

What makes GTO vs Exploitative Play some of the best strategies is their diversity. These strategies can be used in poker variants to help you try and get the upper hand against your opponents. If you want to make the most of these, here are some of the variants you can play:

Texas Hold’em

Among all the variants of poker, Texas Hold’em is arguably the most popular because a lot of brick and mortar casinos, as well as online casinos, offer it to players. It is played with each player being dealt two face-down cards, known as hole cards and five community cards in the next three stages. These stages are called ‘the flop’, followed by a single card called ‘the turn’ or ‘fourth street’, and a single card called ‘the river’ or ‘fifth street’.

In Texas Hold’em, your goal is to create the best five-card poker hand possible using your hole card and the community cards. You’ll play against all the players who joined the table, just like any other poker variant.

Omaha Hold’em

Another poker variant where you can use the GTO and Exploitative is the Omaha Hold’em. Just like Texas Hold’em, the Omaha Hold’em is also a community card poker game. However, there are still differences in their gameplay. In Omaha Hold’em, each player is dealt four cards and must choose two to form the best hand possible by combining the two with three of the five community cards.

7-card stud

The 7-card stud poker, also known as Seven-Toed Pete or Down-The-River, was originally played in various homes in the United States until Texas Hold’em rose to fame. During this game, your goal is to win the pot, which is made up of all of the players' bets in any given deal. Each player is given two cards face down, followed by one card face up, one at a time.

5-card draw

Also known as the Cantrell draw, the 5-card draw is considered the simplest variant of poker. New players are more likely to be familiar with this variant since it’s the basis for video poker.

This poker variant has the same objective as the 7-card stud which is to win the pot containing all the players’ bets. The best combination of five cards in this variant is considered the winning hand and the player will place a predetermined ante at the beginning of the game and they will be dealt five face-up cards.

Final verdict: Is GTO better than Exploitative Play?

While the processes of using GTO vs Exploitative Play are different, both strategies are advantageous on the table. These two are ideal to use when playing poker. Although each has a distinct function, the most effective way to beat your opponent and make you tougher to exploit is a combination of the two.

With the GTO strategy, you’ll have little leeway for your opponents to exploit you. While with Exploitative, you’ll have a higher chance of earning money especially if your opponents aren’t paying attention to your plays.

The GTO play is good for beginners and as you progress, you can explore Exploitative play.

With that in mind, the ideal kind of gameplay is when you utilise the best of both GTO vs Exploitative Play strategies to further increase your winning chances. Try your hand in poker variants and use the GTO and Exploitative plays to improve your approach and skills in poker.

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Words by: Rainielle Barlaw


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GTO vs Exploitative Play in poker: Which is better?