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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.

This is the reason why it's so important to learn a GTO strategy and only then start deviating from it. If you come up across an opponent who doesn't have any obvious leaks or exploits then it becomes almost impossible to make money from them without a good GTO strategy. Instead it will be the player who has the better grasp of the GTO strategy who will emerge with the more profit in the long run.

Example Exploit- River Calling Station

Our first hand to look at will be when we have arrived at the river in position against an opponent who we know calls far too frequently on rivers. Let's take a look at the GTO way of playing that situation:

This is an image of a GTO solver from GTOTrainer. A solver is a complicated computer tool that uses game theory to determine the best overall poker strategy against an opponents perceived holdings.
GTOTrainer breakdown of an AQ2 board with river decision assuming villain called on the flop and turn

As you can see we can go ahead and overbet this river with our best value hands: our strongest Ax hands or better with an overbet sizing or a 66% pot sizing.

We need to balance this river betting range with our best bluffs, in this case, our best bluffs are ones that block our opponent having 2 pair combinations as that would be our opponents strongest holding. So K2s becomes a good bluff selection and so do our missed open ended draws.

We can only do this because we expect our opponent to be folding and calling with a range that looks like this:

GTO Poker solver this time displaying the calling range for our opponent in the same hand as before
You can see how disciplined our opponent has to be on the river to avoid losing money

If we are bluffing at the correct frequency a "good opponent" should only be calling here with their strongest hands (2 pair or better), and their best bluff catching hands. Notice that because our range is so strong, it's very difficult for our opponent to profitably call with their weak Ax hands. Even their strongest single pair in terms of value (AJ) should still be folded with a high frequency, we have so many better combinations and will win on showdown so frequently.

By understanding that our opponent is a calling station and will likely not fold at the correct frequency. In other words, if we expect our opponent to be calling with all their Ax hands on the river, this changes what our betting range should look like.

The way we evolve this GTO strategy and change it into an exploitative one is by understanding that in this case, villain is a calling station, and that we should widen our value range while reducing our bluffing range. Depending on how call heavy our opponent is, we adjust this to a varying degree.

If we say that our villain is calling with all of their Ax hands, we should change our range to reflect this. In fact, because our opponent has so many worse Ax hands than us, we can start value betting here with AT or better. Alongside this, we can choose a larger sizing, to further increase the value from our good hands. This higher bet sizing and wider value range is a great strategy against a villain who you know will call you too frequently.

Against this player, we don't need to be balanced, as they are not playing a balanced strategy against us. We should also not bluff this opponent as frequently, blocking his value is still one of our better bluffs, but a hand such as 45 or 89 are not removing enough value from villains range and aren't needed. Villain will call us too frequently and we can maximise our profits by bluffing less. If our opponent is calling so wide on the river, we may not even want to bluff at all.

Example Exploit- Flop Overfolding

Another great example of when we can deviate from our GTO strategy against an opponent who is weaker than us, is by changing the way that we bet on the flop. Against good, balanced players, we are always cautious of our betting ranges as we understand that a good player will be x/raising us and calling at the correct frequency.

GTO Trainer showing a poker solver highlighting GTO Poker Strategy

Once our opponent has checked to us, we should be betting a high frequency of the time on this board with a small sizing and what we call a mixed range. We aren't betting every time though, because our opponent should be raising us with a very high frequency here:

GTO Trainer Range Chart Showing The Optimal Calling range of an opponent

One of the reasons that we check 35% of the time of the board, is so that we don't have to fold too frequently to a x/raise. If we bet the flop with a 100% range, this encourages our opponent to raise and steal the pot from us, as our range will be unbalanced with too many continuation bet bluffs on the flop.

If we think that our opponent isn't raising us frequently enough in this situation and/or isn't calling us frequently enough with their A high hands, we can change our strategy to become more profitable in this situation.

The way we would do that, is to expand our bluffing range on the flop and arguably use an even smaller bet-sizing. Against most player pools online below 25nl, you can profitably bet your entire range on the flop for 1/3 pot profitably. One problem with this though is that you don't get to practice the GTO strategy that you will need and against good players this doesn't work. If you want to take on stakes higher than 25nl, you need to be playing GTO.


It really is important to know what GTO is and how to play poker effectively with this strategy in the modern game. One thing that you should be on the lookout for to take your game to the next level are these great exploits, especially against weaker opponents. By understanding what the optimal solution to a situation should be, you can work out the best way to counteract your opponents’ deficiencies and make a great amount of extra cash that you otherwise wouldn't be able to.

GTO is profitable against every player; exploitative is more profitable against some players.

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