Why You Should NOT Be Playing GTO Poker
By Bob Garcia
Many poker players believe that playing GTO (Game Theory Optimal) is the way to go if they want to become successful. However, in today’s blog, we will be exploring an opposing (and potentially controversial?) viewpoint:
Unless you are playing high stakes poker, you should not be playing a GTO strategy.
First off, GTO can be incredibly time-consuming and complex to learn. It requires a deep understanding of advanced game theory concepts, a lot of math, and the ability to calculate complex ranges and frequencies. If you are a recreational player primarily playing lower limits against other recreational players, you likely do not have the necessary time or energy to build out a full GTO game strategy. Even with consistent practice and research, learning and mastering GTO can take months or even years.
Additionally, there is plenty of evidence that suggests GTO may not be as profitable in low stakes games as many assume. Without sufficient skill level or a deep understanding of the game theory concepts behind it, adopting a GTO strategy could end up working against you – which is especially true for those players simply looking to maximize their bottom line. This is because GTO strategy works best against higher-level thinking players who also have a thorough understanding of GTO. If that does not describe your average opponent, then there likely is a lot more money to be made by employing an exploitative strategy that allows you to hone in on your opponents’ leaks and weaknesses and take advantage of them in unbalanced ways. For example, if you know that one of your opponents in a 0.25/0.50 cash game does not have a balanced check-raise range on the river – meaning that they only do it with value hands – there is no use in employing a balanced reraise strategy. In fact, adding bluffs into that range just for the sake of playing GTO will get you crushed.
Finally, trying to implement a GTO strategy in lower stakes games usually results in less entertaining gameplay due to its focus on perfect decision-making over following intuition and feeling out opponents. This is fine if your aim is to quickly move up the rankings and take on progressively tougher competition, but if you are just looking to blow off some steam on the weekends and enjoy a late-night poker session, GTO may not be the right strategy for you. That’s because the focus on math and consistent gameplay can take away from the social aspect of the game and lead you to losing some of the joy and creativity that made poker so attractive in the first place.
All things considered, while knowing how to execute advanced strategies is certainly beneficial for higher stakes games, regular recreational players should probably avoid playing GTO unless they are willing to put in long hours of practice and study – something which often isn’t necessary or desirable when playing low-stakes cash games or tournaments. That’s not to say you shouldn’t investigate GTO poker strategies and continue to self-improve, only that unless you are a professional or playing high stakes poker, it is probably best to stick to more fundamental strategies, especially since playing exploitative poker will likely make you a lot more money in the meantime.