Why

Why Think About GTO Poker?

I received a Facebook PM from a player the other day:

“How can working on your frequencies can be better than working your hands through CardrunnerEV and making the most +EV plays based on your assumptions?”

If you’ve followed my work through the years, you know I’ve said little about GTO/Balance. I’ve always focused on pounding away on my opponents’ weakness. If there are no/little weaknesses present, I find greener pastures.

Over the last eight months, I’ve spent much time on GTO ideas, and I think this focus is surprising to many of my readers. So…a public answer to this question.

Before I start with this answer, I want to provide a caveat. I’m still in my infancy with understanding GTO and what a balanced strategy looks like. So, my answer below doesn’t come from experience; simply what makes sense to me from my current understanding of theory.

I don’t think using words like “better” is the correct way to approach this topic. In a recent rereading of The Mathematics of Poker (MOP), this sentence popped. “We are searching for strategies that are near-optimal, or at least balanced, which can be profitably played against a wide range of opposition with little or no information.” So, we ask, “Why are we searching for such a strategy?” Simply put, there are benefits to the effort that often make it worth a player’s time. Here are a handful of benefits of attempting to find “at least balanced” strategies. MOP gives several great reasons on page 101. To simply list those ideas:

• We often deal with unknown opponents
• Game selection is not an option (think tourneys)
• Good games often still have a tough opponent or two.

However, I’d like to add a couple ideas.

1. Playing a fixed strategy is less-taxing at the tables and easier to mass-produce. Finding weakness in an opponent’s strategy is hard work and can be exhausting. A fixed strategy, while perhaps making less money, is less-taxing and easier to multitable.

2. Learning about balance shines a brighter light on weaknesses. It’s not necessary to understand a balanced strategy to spot glaring holes in an opponent’s strategy. However, as opponents patch the most glaring holes, we have greater difficulty understanding how to exploit. Being familiar with a balanced strategy gives us a better idea of when opponents stray from “safe zone” and what adjustments we must make.

In the meantime, an exploitive strategy makes more money than an unexploitable strategy, and many unskilled opponents remain in the player pool.

So, I don’t think “better” belongs in this discussion. However, I do think a player who puts effort in “attempting to find near optimal or at least balanced strategies” has the advantage in the game. I think it at least develops a deeper understanding of the game and perhaps provides this player with a mode not available to others who haven’t invested the time/effort.

Having said all this, the best of the exploiters have likely already approached something resembling balance. It seems clear to me that balance looks similar to playing exploitively versus your perceived range. And we know GTO is two players maximally exploiting each other. So, these ideas are connected…again, “better” just doesn’t seem to fit.

In any case, I’ll continue to dig and let my readers know what I find.

Enjoy the game.

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Books by Owen Gaines Forums Why Think About GTO Poker?

This topic contains 14 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Sevendeuceo 3 years, 8 months ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
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  • #992

    QTip
    Keymaster

    I received a Facebook PM from a player the other day:

    “How can working on your frequencies can be better than working your hands through CardrunnerEV and making the most +EV plays based on your assumptions?”

    If you’ve followed my work through the years, you know I’ve said little about GTO/Balance. I’ve always focused on pounding away on my opponents’ weakness. If there are no/little weaknesses present, I find greener pastures.

    Over the last eight months, I’ve spent much time on GTO ideas, and I think this focus is surprising to many of my readers. So…a public answer to this question.

    Before I start with this answer, I want to provide a caveat. I’m still in my infancy with understanding GTO and what a balanced strategy looks like. So, my answer below doesn’t come from experience; simply what makes sense to me from my current understanding of theory.

    I don’t think using words like “better” is the correct way to approach this topic. In a recent rereading of The Mathematics of Poker (MOP), this sentence popped. “We are searching for strategies that are near-optimal, or at least balanced, which can be profitably played against a wide range of opposition with little or no information.” So, we ask, “Why are we searching for such a strategy?” Simply put, there are benefits to the effort that often make it worth a player’s time. Here are a handful of benefits of attempting to find “at least balanced” strategies. MOP gives several great reasons on page 101. To simply list those ideas:

    • We often deal with unknown opponents
    • Game selection is not an option (think tourneys)
    • Good games often still have a tough opponent or two.

    However, I’d like to add a couple ideas.

    1. Playing a fixed strategy is less-taxing at the tables and easier to mass-produce. Finding weakness in an opponent’s strategy is hard work and can be exhausting. A fixed strategy, while perhaps making less money, is less-taxing and easier to multitable.

    2. Learning about balance shines a brighter light on weaknesses. It’s not necessary to understand a balanced strategy to spot glaring holes in an opponent’s strategy. However, as opponents patch the most glaring holes, we have greater difficulty understanding how to exploit. Being familiar with a balanced strategy gives us a better idea of when opponents stray from “safe zone” and what adjustments we must make.

    In the meantime, an exploitive strategy makes more money than an unexploitable strategy, and many unskilled opponents remain in the player pool.

    So, I don’t think “better” belongs in this discussion. However, I do think a player who puts effort in “attempting to find near optimal or at least balanced strategies” has the advantage in the game. I think it at least develops a deeper understanding of the game and perhaps provides this player with a mode not available to others who haven’t invested the time/effort.

    Having said all this, the best of the exploiters have likely already approached something resembling balance. It seems clear to me that balance looks similar to playing exploitively versus your perceived range. And we know GTO is two players maximally exploiting each other. So, these ideas are connected…again, “better” just doesn’t seem to fit.

    In any case, I’ll continue to dig and let my readers know what I find.

    Enjoy the game.

    #995

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    Another very good blog post. I don’t understand this statement though:

    “It seems clear to me that balance looks similar to playing exploitively versus your perceived range.”

    Playing exploitatively versus Villain’s perceived range, unless Villain’s perceived range already is optimal (GTO), would be unbalanced since it opens oneself to counter-exploitation. So, I am unsure what you mean.

    #999

    QTip
    Keymaster

    Not Villain’s perceived range, YOUR perceived range (corrected perceived). In other words, Villain is making solid assumptions about your strategy…

    #1000

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    OK, also assuming Hero is playing GTO and this is what Villain is perceiving (or assuming).

    #1009

    which
    Participant

    Q-tip writes:

    “In the meantime, an exploitive strategy makes more money than an unexploitable strategy”

    Pretty broad statement Owen. Not sure I would give you this without some big “IF’s”.

    IF:

    1. You are doing it well.
    2. You are not being exploited back for more than you are taking advantage.

    It could be that you ‘think’ you are exploiting someone who actually has the correct frequencies/ranges and your assessments of weaknesses is off.

    Variance can hide many things, including our own mistakes. Both in judgment and execution.

    which
    #1010

    QTip
    Keymaster

    Agreed, which. My statement is merely in the theoretical constraints.

    #1014

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    QTip is right that his statement is correct in theory and I think it’s also usually correct in practice. Sure, one is liable to make mistakes in implementing an exploitative strategy, but then one also is liable (even guaranteed) to make mistakes while attempting to play close to GTO. So the argument from fallibility doesn’t strongly favor one style over the other.

    Further, the circumstances when one attempts to play closer to GTO rather than exploitatively are when one lacks specific reads on Villain or one fears being exploited by a strong opponent who may have reads on us. In case one is unsure about the reliability of one’s reads and the possibility that Villain is more accute that he/she seems, and on that ground one decides to play closer to GTO, then one must consider that the gains in EV from (imperfectly) protecting oneself from exploitation may be offset by one’s forfeiting the advantage that would accrue from hammering at Villain’s perceived imbalances. (There are some warnings like that, regarding over-protecting against Villains to whom we give more credit than they deserve, in the beginning of Tiptons Expert HU book.)

    So, our conception of GTO play in different spots should, I think, serve as a reference points that alerts us to exploitable zones in both our play and Villain’s play. It’s not usually a style to be implemented in preference to exploitative play when the latter is possible.

    #1025

    which
    Participant

    7-2 off writes: “I think it’s also usually correct in practice.”

    I would strongly disagree with this without the usual caveats. IF it(exploitive play) was usually correct in practice, we should go back to learning how best to implement ‘exploitive’ play. Why waste time on something that is ‘wrong’ both in theory AND at the table.

    My ideas– still forming — are:

    1. We are NOT as good at exploiting weaknesses as we think. (If we were, why are we not playing higher?) stole this one, sort of from a TPE podcast with Ed
    2. Some folks think in terms of HU play when talking about these styles, but live, there is always someone else at the table who can adjust to my light ISO vs a fit or fold villain. NOW I have to adjust to someone exploiting me. It is not necessarily that I am doing ‘exploitive’ badly, it may be that I am not being allowed to adjust.

    7-2 off writes: “…but then one also is liable (even guaranteed) to make mistakes while attempting to play close to GTO. So the argument from fallibility doesn’t strongly favor one style over the other.”

    I think I take issue with this part as well. The idea of playing a single style, unfazed by who or how someone/anyone else is playing at the tables cannot help but be a more consistent strategy (over time) than a strategy that demands we make correct adjustments. Adjust to their adjustments. And only after we have a large enough sample size to be statistically relevant. And then we have to be able to discern whether we played it right, but ran into ‘the top of his range’ or whether we may have butchered the spot vs her anyways.

    Not saying that your points are not good 7-2. Just that I see the weightings differently. (But I stink at reads, love math)

    which

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  which.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  which.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  which.
    which
    #1040

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    It’s possible to play exploitatively even in cases where specific reads are tough to obtain. That’s because at most lower stakes, and almost all live settings, there are strong and consistent ‘herd’ tendencies. For instance, Villainous 3-bet ranges are too narrow. They don’t bluff raise or check-raise the turn nearly often enough. They don’t bluff raise our river under-bluffs with missed draws, etc. If we are going to play close to GTO in those spots, this will be very costly and the equivalent of burning money. That means we are going to call a 3-bet with AQs when Villain’s actual 3-bet range is AK and QQ+. We are going to call a turn check-raise with TPTK against a range that crushes us. We will bet 2/3 pot on the river when 1/4 pot would do the job, and thus lose much more when called, etc.

    It’s true that as long as we are maintaining a proper balance from pre-flop until the river, all the profit that we sacrifice in those spots will be compensated by the money we are winning elsewhere as a result of the imbalances in Villain’s range that enable him to set up those spots (folding too often here, calling too often there, etc.) But why would we feel compelled to give back to Villain most of the money he graciously gave us elsewhere? Just because we fear we might be exploited back? If and when we encounter any evidence of that, then, sure, let’s revert to more balanced lines in those spots where Villain appears to be striking back.

    Another important point is that the spots which I just mentioned where we create imbalances in our play in order to exploit Villain on the basis of specific reads (or reads on herd tendencies) constitute a restricted class of exploitative plays. Sometimes, maximizing value against unbalanced opponents doesn’t require that we deviate from GTO play at all but rather requires that we play closer to GTO than we might be naturally inclined to do. The most obvious cases are double and triple barreling frequently enough against weak-tight opponents. So, in summary, I agree with QTip that maximal exploitation and GTO are closely connected concepts. If we always play maximally exploitatively, then our play will converge naturally towards GTO play as our opposition becomes progressively stronger. At the end-point, though, our opponent will also play GTO and our profit will converge to zero minus the rake. But playing GTO against bad opposition leads us to sacrifice way too much value for no good reason other than paranoia, it seems to me.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  Sevendeuceo.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  Sevendeuceo.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  Sevendeuceo.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by  Sevendeuceo.
    #1070

    which
    Participant

    72o writes: ” But playing GTO against bad opposition leads us to sacrifice way too much value for no good reason other than paranoia, it seems to me.”

    Well I agree completely that if u are able to take advantage of mistakes our opps make ( exploit them) then to not do so is costing you money. I also agree that the lower the stakes the easier it is to find these mistakes/opps who allow this.

    My answer would be a controlled “so what?”

    Taking advantage requires skills that I am slowly acquiring. And my BR is growing slowly along with it. But I have a friend who has been grinding the 1/2 NLHE game at Winstar for years now. He is the best small stakes player I have seen. But he is still stuck at 1/2. He moved up to 2/5 and the game was slightly different, and combined with variance, he is back down at 1/2. He has excellent reads, knows the player pool well and can articulate why he makes his plays. Doesn’t tilt. But the low stakes, high rake, and life’s expenses combine to make it a tough spot.

    I, on the other hand don’t care as much about bankroll and really don’t want to spend any more time than necessary at 1/3 in Vegas. Or the 2/5 gm for that matter! I could care less about learning to be good at something (exploitative play) I have yet to demonstrate I have the ability to ever reach.

    If I can practice GTO style play at lower stakes, a subsidy if you will, why not? Now to be fair the opps I am INTENTIONALLY missing vale against are also getting a subsidy from ME ! I don’t mind. To paraphrase an old country song “Happiness is low stakes NLHE in the rear view window”

    You raise valid points 72o, and it is a compelling argument. But I see my road going the “Miller balanced frequencies” informed by Snowie software to become a castle on the field of combat. My profits should come more easily from great defense than sending knights out with great offense.

    Mostly because I am too old and weak to want to attack much. In poker and sadly, in real life as well. :)

    Which

    which
    #1077

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    “My profits should come more easily from great defense than sending knights out with great offense.”

    I think the exact contrary is true. I guess I could summarize my argument thus. Calling the nit’s turn raise or river check-raise with top pair or an over-pair isn’t “defense”. It’s suicide. The same holds about trying to bluff the calling-station off his overpair with a big river bet. But those two likely are theoretically correct (GTO) plays in many spots. It isn’t loosing in the context of a (purportedly) global GTO strategy — because the money you chose to burn in those spots was won in other spots — but it’s possibly only in rake-free games that you don’t end up sacrificing even more money than you win.

    But my secondary point is just as important. It’s actually *harder* to play GTO than exploitatively — very much harder. So, the notion that you can play GTO in order to save yourself the hurdle of learning how to exploit flaws in weak villains doesn’t quite make sense. You don’t just study the GTO rulebook and apply it with your eyes closed to your opponent’s actual tendencies. The process Miller lays out in his book consists in devising ranges in various spots while assuming that your opponent plays as close as possible as *perfectly* against you. That’s tough to do. And the process, as Miller himself demonstrates through his bucket filling exercises, is still as much of an art as a science. You must, in each case, consider how your ranges stack up against Villain’s assumed perfectly constructed ranges. Seeking the proper balance is a delicate equilibrium exercise. (It’s not always as simple as settling up for 70% defense frequencies and the fixed bluff to value ratios for the three post-flop streets, since position, action, stack sizes and board texture must all be considered — all things Miller also emphasizes).

    So, the simple reason why GTO is harder than maximally exploitative play is that, while both strategies are maximally exploitative, only the latter is maximally exploitative against your opponent’s assumed tendencies whereas the latter (GTO) is maximally exploitative on the assumption that your opponent also is playing GTO. Remember that Miller frequently stresses that you can break the rules when Villain breaks them first. Most of the time, indeed, you must. That simply means going on to play maximally exploitatively when Villain isn’t doing so. And our knowledge of proper GTO play (or the best approximation of it that we can fathom) alerts us to Villain’s deviation from optimal lines. That’s the offensive use of that tool, which isn’t less important than its defensive use.

    #1078

    which
    Participant

    72o writes: “So, the notion that you can play GTO in order to save yourself the hurdle of learning how to exploit flaws in weak villains doesn’t quite make sense. You don’t just study the GTO rulebook and apply it with your eyes closed to your opponent’s actual tendencies. The process Miller lays out in his book consists in devising ranges in various spots while assuming that your opponent plays as close as possible as *perfectly* against you. That’s tough to do.”

    I agree, but I think you are mixing apples and oranges here. Miller does NOT advocate playing GTO when you have opportunities not to. He is not necessarily (IMO) even saying the opps are playing perfectly against you. He seems to be saying, IMO, that we need to make sure we know and understand how to play a balanced style. That this info will inform our thought processes about how others play. Then we get to take advantage, since to NOT take advantage is passing up EV. If we cannot take advantage, ONLY THEN, do we revert to balance.

    If you agree with the above, we are on the same page.

    My idea of GTO is exactly the opposite of what you are saying in this earlier sentence: “the notion that you can play GTO in order to save yourself the hurdle of learning how to exploit flaws in weak villains doesn’t quite make sense.”

    In my mind, the idea of GTO is precisely to play without regard to flaws of opps. Yes it may not make sense in your world, you seem good at exploitative play. Me, not so much. If I was good, I would already have moved up in stakes. So, the proof for myself is in the reality. I started playing 1/2 NLHE 3 years ago, and have yet to move up. So, I am not very good at exploitative play. Enough said about me.

    How is your bankroll? Not trying to be mean, but are you happy with your progress up the stakes? Is it taking longer than you thought?

    In my mind, the stakes I want to play at will have few obvious spots to take advantage of (for my already low demonstrated ability to exploit others) and I look forward to playing a blind strategy that will enable me to profit from others mistakes that I do not even know exist. — sidebar– can you tell over a live table whether the villain is defending his BB enough vs steals? Or the SB has the right range? These things take time to be statistically significant, and I play vs tourists often.

    72o, you wrote: “but it’s possibly only in rake-free games that you don’t end up sacrificing even more money than you win.”

    This is a tall assumption. Just because you cannot see what mistakes they make, as long as you know your play is perfect, you will profit from ALL their mistakes. Once everyone is perfect, then you are right. But by then, poker would be dead anyway, right?

    which
    #1082

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    which wrote: “If you agree with the above, we are on the same page.”

    Yes, we are on the same page. I said something misleading about the need to know your opponent’s range in order to play GTO. I didn’t mean Villain’s actual range. I meant to say that in order to play GTO you must know what it would be like for your opponent to have an unexploitable range in any spot. That’s because this is the very same strategy.

    “This is a tall assumption. Just because you cannot see what mistakes they make, as long as you know your play is perfect, you will profit from ALL their mistakes.”

    Isn’t it an even taller assumption that your play is perfect? We don’t know the true GTO for HUNLH (let alone multway) and so we can only strive to approximate this ideal except in very few river spots where ranges are very well defined (e.g. Villain can’t possibly have anything else than bluff-catchers) and some preflop HU shortstack situations. The best players in the world (e.g. Galfond, etc.) play a very exploitative style and only get very small edges because of the rake. Furthermore, to assume that your own ‘GTO’ strategy makes you profit from all their mistakes entails that you have devised this strategy in a way that ensures that you aren’t making any mistake on your own. Isn’t it much easier to identify *one* mistake that your opponent makes and hammer on that mistake rather than ensuring that you yourself are making none at all at any point in this game’s hugely complex decision tree?

    I think we agree that knowledge of what constitutes (or best approximates) GTO play in a variety of spots is useful both for defense, or for offence, respectively, when we fear we might be exploited in some spot, or we think Villain is deviating from such a correct strategy in a similar spot. We also agree that there are times where it is advantageous to stress defense and other times when we can let down the defense in order to maximize our edge.

    #1083

    which
    Participant

    72o —

    Don’t know if I have ever agreed to agree :). Usually the other side of it LOL

    Surely we both have the same version of theory vs real life. In my mind its just where to first put our efforts. You sound to me like a “good” player whereas I am still struggling. I would be ecstatic to know even a decent “baseline” strategy.

    Good luck with your journey, mine should prove interesting.

    which
    #1091

    Sevendeuceo
    Participant

    I am struggling too, which. The only good player here is our host.

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