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Why Game Theory Optimal (GTO) play is a means and not an end

07/12/2018 by Byron Jacobs
Book Excerpts

Anyone following the content on our site and in this magazine will know that we are very excited about our upcoming book, Modern Poker Theory by Michael Acevedo. We are certain that this book will become a modern classic. The core theme behind the book is to give the reader an understanding of what GTO play entails.

However, it is important to understand that GTO play is not an end in itself. Poker in the real world is fundamentally about exploiting your opponents and not simply aiming to avoid being exploited yourself. Focusing on the avoidance of exploitation will create a very negative mindset and – as any pro will tell you – a negative frame of mind is never going to make you a big winner.

The whole point of understanding GTO is to create a platform from where you can move forward. Once you acquire a good knowledge of basic GTO play you can use this to understand when and how opponents are vulnerable and know how to move away from safe GTO play to exploit their vulnerabilities. Here is how Michael himself explains it.

“It was while writing this book that I found the most important game theory concept and I’ll share it with you now:

“GTO poker isn’t about balance, it’s about exploitation Equilibrium strategies arise when two players are maximally exploiting each other, thus there is no need for balance when your opponents are unaware of what you are doing or are incapable of counter exploiting you even if they knew exactly what you are up to.

“Even though this realization might seem superfluous, fully understanding this concept helped me change my mindset at its core, I used to try to play good poker, to play well, now I’m just trying to run over my opponents, tournament poker is all about exploitative play, and this is why guys like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth are among the most successful tournament players in poker history even though they are not necessarily the most versed in poker theory. Daniel can talk his opponents into checking down A-A on Q-x-x when he holds top pair, and Helmuth can fold A-K preflop vs A-A from a short stack and run a crazy bluff vs Jungleman to make him fold trips and take down the King of the Hill title.

“This is also the reason why Fedor Holz took the world by storm, winning all the High Rollers and Super High Rollers before retiring to pursue other ventures. He said in an interview that he doesn’t think he is particularly talented at poker but he surrounded himself with very smart people and he became part of a great community that helped him improve his technical skills. However, what makes him different to other players from the German team is his ability to put the theory into practice, to adapt better than his opponents and exploit weakness.

“The GTO principles and strategies discussed in this book can help players improve their game, avoid fundamental mistakes and make better decisions. But there is more to winning in poker than just playing well, so my advice to increase your ROI is to study poker theory but focus on how to put it into practice. Study your opponents and never be afraid of making a bad play, or of looking stupid just like Daniel, Phil and Fedor aren’t afraid, even when playing the biggest games and the whole world is watching.”

If you you enjoyed this article you can pre-order a copy of Modern Poker Theory (ebook or paperback edition) and it will be sent to you on publication.