Do GTO Players Need Bigger Bankrolls Than Exploitative Players?

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A woman holds up two aces during a poker game.
BetMGM Sep 12, 2023, 7:50 AM

Throughout a game of online poker, experienced players constantly monitor opponents’ betting behaviors to identify trends and exploit weaknesses. Gathering information is crucial whether you’re playing poker games online or at a land-based casino. It can provide a blueprint for your opponent’s strategies and allow you to predict a player’s hand accurately. In a game with slim margins, finding any advantage is important — especially for beginner players.

Exploitative play in live poker is common throughout online poker, as you face players of all skill levels. A good tip is to distinguish the bad players from the good. From this, you can selectively exploit and increase your chances of success. For beginner players, it’s hard to outplay experienced opponents, so picking your battles is crucial. Read on to learn more about GTO poker (Game Theory Optimal poker,) and whether players need a bigger bankroll than exploitative players.

What Is Exploitative Poker?

Exploitative poker is when you actively look for mistakes your opponent makes and use counter strategies to take advantage of them. You find gaps in your opponents’ strategies and gameplay and employ exploits (counter strategies) to attack these weaknesses. For example, if you know that a particular opponent tends to fold a 3-bet, you could 3-bet with a broader range as part of your exploitative strategy. GTO poker strategy, on the other hand, ignores that your opponents may have certain tendencies that you could counteract and, instead, leans in favor of using mathematical probability to make your strategy decisions.

What Is Game Theory Optimal?

Mathematically, Game Theory Optimal (GTO) is the perfect way to play poker — but few achieve it. If you reach GTO during a game, there is no way an opponent can exploit your move. So, how is it measured? Through a carefully curated card matrix, players can make the best decision with the focus on gaining the most profit and providing the best path to success. Understanding the matrix is the best way to learn GTO poker.

Although it’s an effective form of exploitative poker, it’s worth noting that it’s a defensive strategy, as it seeks to avoid your move being exploited. However, because it utilizes mixed strategies focusing on balanced ranges, it remains a gray area in what capacity it is the most effective.

Game Optimal Theory focuses on strong and weak poker ranges so players know how to react to any scenario. During the preflop, players tend to semi-bluff when performing GTO in poker, meaning ranges focus on a balance rather than an outright win. It’s just as important not to be exploited in GTO poker. For example, if a player has an ace-5 suited during the preflop and then 4-bets, they usually either have an ace-ace or a king-king but can also have an ace-5 and other preflop bluffs — this is balance.

If done correctly, you will have a dominant round-to-round display and profit at the end of the game. Due to it being a defensive strategy, the most you can lose when achieving GTO is breaking even; this is if your opponent also utilizes GTO, which rarely occurs.

When to incorporate GTO poker theory in one’s game is commonly discussed among poker’s elite. The truth is that it shouldn’t be used for all occasions, as it comes with its downsides, from the time it takes and its complexities to alternative strategies that maximize scenarios more effectively.

Advantages and Disadvantages of GTO

Heavily used in Texas Hold’em online, an advantage of GTO is that it saves the time of being aware of your opponent’s plays. As effective as understanding your opponent’s strategies is, it can become tiring and result in out-of-character bets and false assumptions. If you reach this optimal state, the worst you can do is break even — that’s only if the opponent also utilizes GTO.

However, it doesn’t look to maximize your returns fully — other strategies are better in instances. Moreover, it’s improbable to find an optimal strategy for every scenario when you can’t actually play against two or more players. Not even the computers have figured it out, as it has not been mathematically solved. This suggests that it can’t react to every move and is nearly impossible to accomplish.

Required Bankroll When Playing GTO Poker

Although it looks to make players untouchable, it also reduces your edge, meaning players utilizing information on GTO poker ranges need bigger bankrolls than most. This is because it reduces your chances of losing rather than guiding you to the most profitable play.

So, why do you need a bigger bankroll? It’s because utilizing Game Optimal Theory requires players to bluff often to scare off opponents and increase chances of success — the fewer players involved, the more chance of winning. Without a high bankroll, you’re limiting your projected win rate because you cannot exploit at the level required since a bigger bluff variance is needed. With this in mind, enter each game with at least a 25% higher bankroll than your opponents. It may seem like a lot, but it’s required to maximize GTO in poker.

Breaking Even and GTO

Breaking even occurs when players end on $0, meaning they don’t lose or win anything. GTO doesn’t aim to do this, but if another player also utilizes the theory against you, the worst-case scenario is breaking even. Game Optimal Theory allows you to defend yourself from losses and exploit simultaneously — albeit not profiting as much as other strategies would do.

Should You Use GTO in Poker Games?

In most cases, the answer to this question is “no” — understanding basic poker strategy math and the game’s mechanics is usually enough. You only need a strong grasp of GTO concepts if you play against an extremely tough opponent. That said, learning GTO concepts can help your poker game. It can enhance how you approach the game and improve your math skills, which permeate the poker game. It can also help you understand what you should do in difficult or unusual situations and enhance your comprehension of your default range in various circumstances. All of these factors can be beneficial in developing a more effective exploitative strategy. 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.