I’m going to start this article with a couple of loose definitions:

• Game Theory Optimal, or GTO for short, is an unexploitable strategy. If applied consistently and over a large enough sample size, it will not lose money no matter what your opponent’s responses are.

• When I say exploitable, I mean taking a different decision with a hand than a GTO strategy might dictate. Our opponent’s tendencies may push us to find a play that will yield a higher expected value.

Let me use a rough example to simplify this a little bit.

## Using PIO Solver to Avoid Being Exploited

Say you use poker software such as PIO solver to analyse poker hands regularly. Common themes will start emerging within various parts of a player’s range.

The trend I’ll discuss involves how top pair hands tend to play. Let’s say we are in a situation where we bet relatively often, but not 100% of the time. In such situations,

• PIO will usually bet top pair, but it will sometimes check.
• It will check more often with a weaker kicker than with top pair top kicker.

For example, perhaps on a queen-high flop, the software will advocate checking AQ 20% of the time and Q7s 80% of the time.

The purpose of checking Q7 on a Q-high board is so that our checking range has hands that are strong enough to check and then call a bet. If our checking range is barren of such hands, our checks become too weak, and our opponent can exploit that.

## Using PIO Solver to Extract Max Value

Q7 also can seldom get called by another top pair hand with a worse kicker. So, the value of betting such a hand is much worse than AQ.

AQ can expect a hand like QTs to call a bet on the flop, turn, and perhaps even the river.

The purpose of checking AQ some of the time is so that we can check-raise on a queen-high flop. This play allows us to extract value from our opponent when they bet a second-best hand like KQ.

It may even allow us to play for entire stacks to extract maximum value

## Going for Max Value with an Exploitative Approach!

There are times, however, when I believe a different approach can produce a bigger win rate against specific player types.

Say we have an opponent who is weak-passive. Then checking AQ to check-raise for value becomes a less than ideal strategy. It is a disaster if our opponent checks back a hand like KQ or even a hand that *should* bluff.

We would have missed a street of betting in the hand!

Against such players, it is often better to bet the top-pair-strong-kicker type hands at full frequency on the flop. This strategy works especially well  against loose-passive players.

Their mistakes tend to be checking and calling and not in their betting and raising.

## Consequences of Using an Exploitative Strategy

So, what are the potential consequences of diverting from a GTO strategy?

• We may have mislabelled our opponent
• They have improved since we last played against them
• They, in fact, are not loose passive but a much better player than we had given them credit.

In these instances, we may end up losing out on value. Like I said earlier, AQ can sometimes be check-raised on a Q-high flop to maximise value against worse Qx hands.

• If we bet it to a 100% frequency, we miss out on making four bets with the hand (their bet, our check-raise, turn and river bet)
• Instead, we get only three bets out of the hand.

Another way this exploitative approach would lose value is if our bet caused an opponent to fold a hand they would otherwise bluff.

Finding exploitative lines against weaker players separates good players from great poker players.