The Elements of Hold’em: Game Theory Poker
What if you could play online poker at Bovada and never lose? There are no such guarantees, of course – you can win or lose an entire stack at No-Limit Hold’em on any one hand, depending on which cards come out at random. However, in the long run, there is a certain style of play that will allow you at least to break even if you do it right, and to profit from other players’ mistakes when they happen.
You may have heard of this style of poker: It’s called game-theory optimal, or GTO for short. The idea is to make yourself as unexploitable as possible, rather than exploit your opponents, and it really started gaining traction sometime around 2015, when computer programs are known as “solvers” gained the power to quickly (and cheaply) analyze billions of hands. GTO solvers are even more powerful now. They can recommend the right balance of value bets and bluffs to frustrate your opponents, and the closer you can get to striking that balance, the more money you can win at the poker table.
When to Play Balanced in Hold’em
Achieving this balance is easier said than done. GTO solvers, and advanced poker bots like Libratus, use complex strategies that are virtually impossible for humans to mimic. A lot of good work has been done recently in coming up with simplified Hold’em strategies that are near-optimal in many situations. These are much easier strategies to implement; they aren’t perfect, but they’ll keep you from making the kind of big mistakes that many players make trying to play perfectly balanced poker.
Instead of trying to memorize and replicate these strategies at Bovada Poker, consider taking the time to think about why balance is important. We already know that deception is a vital element in Hold’em; when you make a bet, for example, you want your opponents to be confused about whether you’re betting for value or as a bluff. Balance takes this one step further, by using the best ratio of bluffs to value bets for your situation. Too many value bets will allow your opponent to exploit you by folding. Too many bluffs will allow your opponent to exploit you by calling.
Once you understand the concept of balance in poker, the next step is to know when to play unbalanced poker. Think of GTO like a defensive shell that you leave whenever there’s a large enough opening to exploit your fellow players. You’ll “drop your guard” by making a certain move more or less often than optimal play would suggest, hoping to land a big punch and extract more value from your opponent. But beware: When you’re unbalanced, you’re vulnerable to getting hit yourself.