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Day 3: GTO – Life’s Most Important Lesson

If you’re reading this, I’m glad that you decided to stick with me so far.

Now onto Day 3 of our mini GTO series. In today’s post, we shall talk about why the GTO approach to poker is so freaking awesome and can elevate our game by leaps and bounds.

In Day 1, I broke down many preconceived notions about Game Theory and explained the falsehoods associated with them. Why do you think so many people are so quick to dismiss Game Theory as a powerful framework for playing poker?

The truth is that learning Game Theory requires hard work. Game Theory isn’t rocket science, but it does require a significant amount of effort to be invested into one’s poker education. Most poker players tend to be lazy and thus, are quick to look for excuses to reject the benefits that learning Game Theory can bring to their game.

So this brings me to my main point. What’s all the hype about Game Theory? I would not be exaggerating if I said that Game Theory was the single most important thing that I have ever learnt in my life as it helped me to win 6-figures over a time-frame of several years. Let me elaborate further on the wonders of Game Theory.

  • We can use GTO concepts to estimate how to play every hand in most situations. More certainty, less second-guessing. When you are able to know what you should be doing with various parts of your range, decision-making becomes a lot simpler. Knowing how to exploit your opponent becomes more clear-cut. I want to share a few examples on how I would use basic GTO concepts to formulate strategies in specific situations.

a) BTN opens to 3BB with a 50% opening range. He folds 70% vs 3-bets. What should BB be defending with here?

Given that BTN folds very often against 3-bets, it makes perfect sense to use a higher proportion of bluffs in our 3-betting range. We also want to be using a polarized 3-bet strategy so we’ll select some weaker bluffs such as 92s or 57o and opt to call more with hands like A2s or 98s. BTN has a fairly big leak but at the same time we still want to maintain some balance so I’ll use a 45:55 value:bluff ratio with a 0.33 multiplier (7.5% value, 9.5% bluffs).

b) UTG opens to 3BB with a 15% opening range. BTN 3-bets to 9BB with a 6% range and UTG calls. What should UTG call down with, if BTN is known to be slightly more aggressive than average with his triple barrelling?
Flop (19.5BB): 2c 2d 5h – UTG checks, BTN bets 10BB, UTG calls.Turn (39.5BB): 8h – UTG checks, BTN bets 22BB, UTG calls.
River (83.5BB): Js – UTG checks, BTN bets 59BB, UTG ?

Exploitative Method

The old exploitative way of performing calculations would be to try and put BTN on an exact range of hands for barreling the River. Then compare pot odds vs equity and decide whether to call or not.
Pot Odds: 59/(59+59+83.5) = 29.3%
Equity: 44.4%?
Board: 2c2d5h8hJs
Equity    Win    Tie
MP2    44.44%    44.44%    0.00%    { 99 }
MP3    55.56%    55.56%    0.00%    { QQ+, AKs, AhJh, KhJh, AKo }
Since Equity (44%) > Pot Odds (29%), do we call here?
The problem with this methodology is that it’s extremely difficult to put BTN on an exact range of hands on the River in such spots. BTN will not necessarily show up with AK all the time. He will often check AK either on the Flop, Turn or River. BTN might even show up with different types of barrelling hands. I often found myself feeling very dissatisfied with my analysis for such spots back in 2011/2012.

GTO Method

BTN is risking 59BB to win 83.5BB. He needs UTG to fold at least 59/(83.5+59) = 41.4% to auto-profit. In order to deny BTN the opportunity to exploit us, we should be defending 58.6% of our bluff catchers here.

River Starting Range: JJ (3), 88 (3), 55 (3), QQ (6), TT (6), 99 (6), 77 (6), 66 (6) – Total 39 combos
Defend 58.6% * 39 combos = ~23 combos
GTO strategy: defend TT+, 33% of 99

Given our read on BTN, we should widen our defending range by another 5-10% and can consider calling down with all combos of 99.

  • GTO is pure and objective. Given a certain set of assumptions, ranges and board, there is only one correct strategy. When poker decisions are fully quantifiable, we know for sure which is the best action to take.I’ve lost count of the number of times I used to argue with some of my friends who play live poker about certain poker spots. When we are discussing poker in vague terms and there’s no real way to quantify and substantiate what we’re saying, it’s very difficult to see who’s right. But after I began analyzing GTO theory and its relevance to real poker, it became a lot easier to know what was the best option in each and every single spot.
  • Learning GTO allows one to be an independent and self-reliant learner. After gaining a pretty good understanding of GTO play in 2013, I never really needed any more private coaching. I now mostly rely on manual calculations with pen and paper, or I refer to GTO software for my poker study and analysis. This saved me a ton of money that I otherwise would have spent if I continued to seek private coaching. Best of all, GTO software is almost certainly going to be more reliable in telling you the “perfect strategy” as opposed to a human coach.

piosolverIsn’t it great, having the software tell you exactly how you should play every single hand in every situation?

Want to know more about how Game Theory can completely revolutionize your game and take it to the next level? You can check out my new GTO course “Game Theory For Overachievers” here.

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