An Introduction to GTO Poker Strategy
There's a buzz word in the poker world these days that you may have heard, but many new players aren't yet familiar with it. That buzz is GTO.

GTO stands for Game Theory Optimal. What it means is using an unexploitable strategy, which cannot be countered by your opponent. In this article I'm going to explain what it is, tell you why you should learn about it, and then explain why you shouldn't be focusing on it in games.

So for starters, what does that mean, an unexploitable strategy? You will also hear the word balanced or balancing used in these discussions. I think the easiest way to explain this is with a basic example:

Let's say there is \$100 in the pot, and you bet \$100 on the river. Your opponent, who has a medium strength hand (a bluff catcher, something like JT on a board of QJ963), has to now decide whether or not to call this final river bet. They have to call \$100 to win the \$200 now in the pot. Therefore the call must be right 1/3rd of the time. If it is right exactly this often, the call breaks even over the long run (losing \$100 each of the two times it's wrong, and winning \$200 the one time it's right). And they have a hand strength that will lose to everything you are betting for value, and beat everything you're bluffing with. Now, if they had a read that you were a conservative player that never bluffs the river, then they can easily fold to this bet. Conversely, if you were a known wild bluffer, they can easily call knowing they'll catch you well more than 1/3rd of the time with a bluff. Let's say, however, that you bet your range of hands on the river such that you are value betting 2/3rds of the time and bluffing 1/3rd. This is the unexploitable strategy… your opponent is now indifferent to calling or folding. If they call all the time, they will break even by catching you bluffing at the precise frequency that the pot odds are offering them, netting them zero won/lost over the long term (and if they fold all the time by definition they win/lose zero on the river over the long term). So you are bluffing at a GTO frequency, making this river bet unexploitable… it doesn't matter if they call or fold.

Why should you learn about GTO strategies? I think you may start to see from the example, that learning about GTO strategies involves topics like basic math, odds, ranges, and frequencies. As you study these things, you'll develop a much stronger sense of constructing solid ranges, so when you get to the river in a hand you have a more balanced range… in the case of the example above, picking the appropriate number of value bets vs. bluffs. And learning what types of hands are better to bluff with given the board texture, situation, and bet sizing. A firm grasp of these concepts will help you to make much better decisions, understand situations and ranges better, and help control your opponents through keeping proper frequencies, and exploiting their frequencies (like in the example above, if you were a known bluffer or a known non-bluffer, those are lopsided frequencies that can be exploited by calling down frequently, or not calling down with any marginal made hands at all. These are all concepts that fall under the umbrella of GTO play. Learning this will not only strengthen your understanding of the game a great deal, but also prepare you to play against other very strong players who also understand these concepts. If you are in a tournament heads up against Fedor Holz, playing a GTO strategy will prevent Fedor (or any expert) from being able to exploit you.