How Pro Poker Players Study Game Theory
If you thought poker players sat around card tables drinking hard liquor, smoking, and bluffing every hand, all while carrying a gun in their pocket, you’ve been watching way too many Wild West movies. Far from having a reputation for dangerous, illicit gambling, poker is now a professional mind game that enjoys acceptance in the mainstream. Sure, bluffing is still an integral part of the game. But it’s not as prevalent in poker as many people believe.
In the modern game, the best players study poker game theory to such an extreme that they must have a head for math and probabilities to make it all work. That’s not to say you have to be a genius to get good at the game. For most of us, reading through a decent how to play guide is enough to get us going.
What Is Poker Game Theory Optimal?
Game Theory Optimal (GTO) poker is the generic name given to the ultimate playing strategy. It’s a strategy that means your opponents can’t exploit you and so your win rate improves.
As recently as 15 years ago, the notion of studying the game to this degree was relatively unheard of—that was for gaming nerds. Instead, most players understood when to raise, how much by, and when to fold. If you three-bet (raise the raiser), you were assumed to have a strong hand, and most people would fold. It was quite simplistic compared to today.
As the game attracted those with analytical brains, so the study became more in-depth and the skills you could apply to poker became wider-known. Pro poker players now have studied GTO to such an extent that many have almost identical playing styles. As such, it’s essential to throw in the occasional curveball into your game to make you just that little bit more unpredictable.
Poker Game Theory Is All About Balance
It would be best if you played the basics correctly, as a foundation for your optimal poker game theory. Beginning with your starting hand selection, if the action is folded to you, you should know which hands you would raise with in any given position.
You can then mix it up a little, once you have exploitative reads on opponents. For example, if there are only a couple of players left to act behind you, and you know they will fold unless they have a big hand, then you can widen your range and hope to take down the blinds without a fight.
Another example might be working out your chances of improving to a winning hand, taking into account how much you have to bet and what you could win. This is known as pot odds—a good player knows the probability of his hand winning when the remaining community cards are dealt. But a good poker game theory student will know how to fine-tune that figure even more.
Online Versus Live Poker Play
Putting poker game theory into practice online is much easier than in live poker. When you play online, you can use legitimate software programs that help you determine what the best playing decision is in almost any imaginable scenario.
You would never learn all of the stats and possibilities. But over time, you will gain a better understanding of optimal play. This is how the best poker players have recently risen to the top of their game.
Live poker is similar, in that the cards and the math behind the poker are the same, but you have real people showing real emotions that you can also exploit. You might be adept at spotting “tells”. These are where your opponent gives off tell-tale signs when they are bluffing or when they have a monster hand.
You can bet that Bryn Kenney, the world’s most successful live poker tournament player ever, will mix up optimal poker theory with live game exploitation.
Many people think looking deep into your opponent’s eyes will give you the answer; after all, the eyes are the window to the soul. However, the best players know you can get more information from looking at your opponents’ hands. How do they handle chips and cards? How are they sitting? Is their leg jigging up and down? Does their voice sound different?
What’s Next for Poker Game Theory?
It isn’t easy to see how optimal play can be improved. The best minds and computer programs have written the rule book. All that can happen in the future is that more players understand and learn more from the book. As they do, they will begin canceling each other out.
That’s why you must have those curveballs up your sleeve. Play “out of line” once in a while, and you will be less exploitable. It could be the difference between making a marginal profit and losing.