How To Use GTO to Play Exploitative Poker

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

One thing that many players do not understand is that exploitative poker is essentially a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) way of playing against one specific player. All of your exploits against a player are mere derivations of a GTO strategy. This is highly important when teaching players the game, as by making a student more comfortable with a base level of GTO play, they will be more confident making exploitative adjustments.

When you as an individual know how your river value range should look vs your river bluffing range, it become much easier to change the combinations that you bet with or your bet-sizing to counter your opponents strategy. I don't like using the term "easy", especially when players are leaning concepts- it can be quite patronising. However in this case, exploitative poker is substantially easier when you have a good understanding of GTO play.

I'll be exploring what GTO is, what Exploitative poker is and then go through some example hands explaining what the GTO strategy would be, with adjustments of how to exploit some of the more common leaks villains have.

What does a GTO strategy look like?

In poker, your run of the mill GTO strategy will be one that is perfectly balanced and makes the most cash in the long-run. In essence you want to maximise the profitability of your entire range in a specific situation while remaining unexplainable yourself.

Maximisation of profits can be done in many ways. One of the most common ways you can increase profit is by betting with what are considered GTO sizings. For example we normally use a 33% size continuation bet on a variety of board textures. This maximises profits by allowing us to fold out several of our opponents hands for a smaller price. This means we are generating a fold from our opponents while risking the least amount of capitol. We also still get to build up the sizing of the pot effectively to extract more value from our opponent when we do have a good hand ourselves.

We also want to build up a substantial pot, especially when we have good hands. On the turn, we often find ourselves overbetting or betting 66% of the size of the pot. We do this with our best hands normally, now getting as much money into the pot as possible thus increasing our profitability. One thing a GTO strategy rarely includes is small bet sizings or checking with strong hands, this doesn't increase the size of the pot and therefore limits the amount of cash we can win against our opponents range.

To balance out our value and prevent ourselves from being exploited, a GTO strategy will include bluffs. The purpose of bluffing is to ensure that our opponent is forced to make a call against us when we make these big bets. One easy exploit you can use is to decrease the number of hands you call with if you're playing an opponent who doesn't bluff frequently enough. When you ask a GTO Solver to come up with bluffs in a situation, it will do so by factoring in your entire range i.e. all of the different hands you could have in a situation, by factoring in the bet size that you have selected, and by the ability to play those hands on following streets. It's important that we are not bluffing too frequently or too infrequently. It must be balanced.

Remember, the goal of GTO is to be the most profitable with all of the hands in your range. This often means not bluffing with certain combinations of hands such as second pair or a combination such as KQ on an A high board. This is because you have better hands to select as a bluff and these hands are not good enough to bet for value against your opponents range.

How Exploitative Poker Works

No person can perfectly implement a GTO strategy in every situation, despite their best efforts. There is far too much information and data that a player would need to remember and calculations are too complicated in situ. There will always be situations that come up where a human player makes a mistake. Some players however, especially those who have not studied poker, will make more mistakes than other opponents. These fish will have large imbalances within their play. As an exploitative player, you could take advantage of these deficiencies by altering your strategy to counter their flaws.

The primary reason that you would want to use this exploitative poker strategy, is that you stand to make more money from that opponent in a shorter amount of time. Some issues arise however when you are unsure if your opponent has a clear exploit, or that they're not straying too far from a GTO strategy. In that case, the profitability from your exploitative plays will be severely diminished. You will start to miss out on value from your bluffs or other value hands and more than likely, you will start to make mistakes that can be exploited by your opponents.