Dara O’Kearney explains why some players will handle the swings of poker better if they learn Game Theory Optimal strategy.

Dara O Kearney
Dara O’Kearney 

Generally speaking playing a GTO style means you miss out on some value against bad players whom you could exploit. However, a player who learns GTO at micro stakes should in theory be profitable in any game. Of course in reality the pressure of the money will always be there. 

One of the reasons why some players avoid playing an exploitative strategy altogether is because GTO is easier from a mindset perspective. I am reminded of a quote from Bertrand Russell which sums up the benefits of being a GTO player, he said “what men really want is not knowledge but certainty”.

Exploitative players have to deal with much more uncertainty because so many more things can go wrong. Their assumptions about their opponents might be wrong and they find themselves diverging very far off the game tree. Opponent A might diverge in one direction, Opponent B might veer off a completely different part of the game tree. If an exploitative player thinks their opponent is under bluffing, then that player shows them a bluff, it can be stressful. Were all their assumptions wrong, or was it just the one time the player bluffed out of hundreds of missed opportunities? Exploitative players have to be very forgiving of themselves.

GTO players do not have anywhere near the stress of this, because they can usually run a sim and get an answer as to whether they made a mistake. GTO by comparison is a one size fits all approach where you were either correct, or you are provided with an answer to correct an error for the next time.

GTO specific mindset issues

Dara O Kearney
Solvers can provide certainty

There are mindset issues that come from this, however. Because GTO involves mixed frequencies it means that often most plays can be right a small percentage of the time. You might run a hand where you made a seemingly bad hero call and discover, for balance purposes, that the solver does it 12% of the time. You might use this as a crutch to justify all of your bad play.

Just because something is allowed, does not mean it isn’t a mistake. In the example above, if you do the hero call 100% of the time, it is still a massive punt. Do you really call there just 12% of the time? Probably not.

My friend Niall Farrell once got drunk in a Daily Deepstack after busting the Main Event. He was very tilted and told me that he ‘used a lot of low frequency plays at a very high frequency’ which was a joke, but an accurate assessment of this particular issue. 

So to thrive from GTO you need to be able to make genuine assessments about how often you really are doing the minority mixed actions. As a baseline starting point you should try and stick to the more favoured actions the solver takes.

I’ll always advocate a mix of GTO and exploitative strategy based on game selection, but if you struggle with uncertainty in poker, GTO really is for you. 

Dara O’Kearney’s new book Endgame Poker Strategy: The ICM Book is out now.

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