Poker Game Strategy: What to Choose a GTO or Exploitative Play?

Players must constantly make decisions based on incomplete information, trying to outsmart their opponents and take home the pot. One of the most debated topics is choosing a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) or an exploitative poker game strategy.

A GTO strategy aims to create a balanced range of actions the opponent can’t exploit. It involves making mathematically optimal decisions, regardless of what the opponent does.

Conversely, an exploitative online poker strategy requires modifying your play style according to your opponent’s tendencies, exploiting their weaknesses, and making plays that may not be theoretically optimal but can result in a higher win rate in a given situation. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The decision ultimately relies on the player’s objectives, the circumstances they find themselves in, and their capacity to read and adjust to their opponents.

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GTO: A Starting Point

Starting with the GTO poker strategy can be optimal when you lack information about your opponents, such as playing an anonymous online game or facing new players at the table. While exploiting your opponent’s mistakes can be effective when you know them well, it’s not always feasible in these scenarios.

Adopting a GTO strategy can help you avoid being exploited by opponents, especially when unfamiliar with their playing style. Learning to play a balanced and unexploitable strategy can be challenging, but it can be a worthwhile goal to strive for.

When to Use GTO

Knowing when to use the GTO poker strategy is important. You should use this strategy when playing against skilled regulars, facing new players you’re unfamiliar with, or playing in anonymous games where you don’t have information on your opponents. Additionally, when unsure which course of action to take, sticking with a perfect poker strategy can be a safe choice.

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Advantages of GTO

Using the GTO poker strategy has advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages is that you can confidently play against good regulars and unfamiliar players, as you are guaranteed not to lose money against them.

The greatest benefit of the GTO poker strategy is that you do not have to concern yourself with what others are doing. If you were to play poker flawlessly, your opponents would be unable to beat you or make any moves that would harm your gameplay. The best outcome they could hope for is to break even.

This is why many top players promote the Game Theory Optimal strategy. They can only make a few errors during their games, or skilled opponents will quickly detect them and capitalize on any weaknesses they discover.

If you start folding excessively during a poker game, your opponents may see this as an advantage and begin to make bets that they usually wouldn’t, even though it may not be the most strategic decision. However, this can be a useful adjustment for them to make because you are overfolding.

If you maintain a perfect strategy and play using GTO poker ranges, they will not be able to make your play a negative Expected Value (EV). If another player adopts the GTO poker strategy, the best you can hope for is to break even against them.

The Problem With GTO

Playing GTO poker has its own set of challenges. Firstly, No Limit Holdem has no definite GTO strategy. Even if a GTO strategy existed, implementing it would be extremely difficult for a human player without the help of a computer. Additionally, while striving to play unexploitable strategies, players might overlook their opponents’ tendencies, making it difficult to detect if their opponents exploit their strategy. Therefore, sometimes exploiting the tendencies of your opponents is a better approach.

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Exploitative Game

Even the best players make mistakes. If you can identify them in your opponents, it’s best to capitalize on those weaknesses rather than sticking to a rigid GTO strategy. This is where exploitative play comes in.

To become skilled at exploiting other players, you must deviate from a GTO approach and learn how to effectively use stats on your opponents. Utilizing a reliable poker HUD and other tracking software can be instrumental in gaining an edge over your opponents and ultimately making you a winning player.

You can adjust your strategy by targeting specific statistics based on your opponent’s tendencies. For example, if you notice someone folding too much to 3-bets, you can add more bluffs to your range. If your opponent is calling too often on the flop, you can add more medium-strength hands to your value betting range and avoid bluffing. If a player frequently folds on the river but bets when you check to them, you can bet your bluffs and check strong hands to get more value.

You can still use population tendencies to your advantage if you don’t have access to a HUD (Heads-Up Display), such as when playing live or on anonymous tables. By observing and analyzing your opponents’ tendencies, you can quickly spot their mistakes and pressure them.

Although the GTO poker strategy effectively plays an almost flawless game against any player, adopting an exploitative approach can potentially yield more profits. So, when possible and you have enough information, try to adopt an exploitative approach. However, you must first understand the GTO approach to do so effectively.

The Best of Both

The most effective style in Holdem strategy is a blend of GTO and exploitative play. If you lack information about your opponents, it’s recommended to employ a GTO-based style, which can beat most opponents and be difficult to exploit. As you gather information and learn about your opponents’ tendencies, you can adjust your strategy accordingly and add exploitative plays when suitable.

Remembering your opponents’ responses to your strategy adjustments is crucial, and you should always be ready to counter their moves. You can revert to the baseline GTO strategy and make the necessary changes.


Choosing a GTO or exploitative play in a poker game depends on the situation and available information. GTO play is a solid and balanced strategy that can prevent opponents from exploiting your weaknesses. Exploitative play can be more profitable than GTO play if you can identify and take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses, but it’s not a matter of choosing one.

However, it’s not an either-or choice. A mix of GTO and exploitative play can be the most effective approach in practice.

Being adaptable and flexible in your approach is best. You should be open to adjusting your strategy as needed and stay aware of how your opponents respond to your play.