For poker enthusiasts and professionals alike, there are more and more sophisticated tools available online to improve their game. An increasingly popular learning method that many players use is studying decision trees with so-called poker solvers, like PioSOLVER and MonkerSolver. If you discuss hands with high-stakes players, they tend to bring up what kind of strategy a solver would use in a specific hand that they played and reasons why they would either deviate from that strategy or follow the suggested strategy from the solver. In this article we’re diving into the world of solvers and learn what they are and what they can teach us about No-Limit Holdem – and most importantly, how improving your game with solvers can put more money in your pocket!
What exactly are solvers and how do they work
Simply put, solvers are computer programs that calculate solutions to any poker situations. Some years ago it was unimaginable to be able to run such a powerful piece of software on your home computer, but this is no longer the case. The solutions provided by solvers are very close to the game theory optimal (GTO) play, which means that a player using these solutions can’t be exploited by other players. If you haven’t ever studied poker with solvers, some plays suggested by them might seem a bit unorthodox at first, but once you study many spots over and over, you can start to predict how certain spots are played by the solver.
Once you put in some basic variables such as preflop ranges and available betsizes, solvers generate strategies for those situations that are impossible to exploit. There are still factors in play that solvers can’t overcome, like range advantage and position – it’s impossible to develop a strategy for the Cut-off position that would break-even against Button due to the positional disadvantage. The same goes for Small Blind versus UTG, since Small Blind has to put dead money in before the flop, but you can still calculate what you from the Small Blind with different hands when UTG opens to lose the minimum.
What solvers can teach you
You might be thinking it’s great someone has developed a software that understands poker, but why should one care about solvers anyway since you’re playing against humans? At a table where everyone is playing close to GTO strategy, only the house will win in the long-run and every player will just lose their portion of the rake. Understanding GTO plays will enable you to fight strong players better, but also help you in finding strategic exploits against weak players. This is due to the fact that a deeper understanding of how your opponents are deviating from GTO strategy allows you to come up with better exploits, which in turn translates into a higher win-rate.
It’s useful to keep in mind all the solver-based plays are strategies you would use against a perfect opponent, and it’s very rare to come across such players in low or midstakes games. In general, during the first few orbits of play you will notice weaknesses in your opponent’s typical strategies, such as playing too tight, not being aggressive enough or calling down too much. Taking advantage of these players does definitely not require hundreds of hours spent in front of computer calculating GTO plays, but a rather simple exploitative approach will do the trick. Nevertheless, if you want to realize your potential as a poker player, you should use every weapon in your arsenal – facing tough opponents will happen sooner or later when you climb the stakes. Besides, you don’t have to go for solver-based plays unless the situation demands it – simply knowing the starting point for a balanced strategy gives you confidence in deviating from it to take maximum advantage of mistakes you’re villains are making.
What are the limitations of using solvers
Despite these solvers being able to teach us many things, there are some things humans still do better… or should I call it some things computers haven’t taken over in the world yet? Anyways, there are 3 important limitations:
Solvers seem to handle these very poorly, since there are multiple game theory equilibriums as John Nash would call them. The game trees quickly become too complex to draw any reasonable conclusions from sims made in multiway pots.
Parameters (you have to know what to put in)
Solvers seem to handle The solutions you get as outputs are only as good as your inputs. Hence, you’d better get the parameters right – solving a spot with one betsize might give totally different results than solving a spot with 5 different betsizes. Or, you just put in a basic range of top 20% hands and forget to remove the top ones that villain will usually 3bet preflop. Whatever the situation is, remember to double-check your parameters!
How to play optimally versus recreational players
Solvers are great at telling you how to play against opponents with perfect strategies i.e. very good players who can throw GTO moves against you any day. But, they fall short of giving you plays that will exploit calling stations or maniacs to the maximum. Our recommendation is to implement solver solutions against strong players in HU pots, there is simply no way around it.
Poker Solver parameters
How to start using solvers
Starting to use solvers is pretty easy – you purchase a license, watch a quick starting guide video and you’re all ready to go. Here’s a quick start guide video for PioSOLVER:
How solvers have changed the poker metagame
The metagame of any came can be defined as general strategies used by players, the adjustments players make when playing against each other and how the dynamics of these strategies & adjustments dictate overall play. The metagame has taken leaps of development first due to televised poker, then due to poker training sites and now due to poker solvers. Let’s take a look at the most common metagame changes caused by solver study among poker players:
Small flop cbet sizing
Solvers tend to prefer small sizings in many flop situations after raising preflop. On the other hand, many players are now betting small no matter the structure of the flop and who they’re playing against – the trend of small flop cbet sizing doesn’t help you much in case you don’t when it’s the proper time to apply it.
Larger preflop 3bet sizing
3bet sizings have gone up significantly, due to the fact that solvers mainly aim to deny the equity of the opener when going for a 3bet. This trend can be seen especially in 3bets made by the Small Blind and Big Blind.
Whereas we mostly use smaller betsizing on the flop, against capped ranges that check-call the flop solvers are eager to fire up to 2x pot overbets. This puts maximum pressure on our opponent’s range and can force mistakes from opponents who are unfamiliar with the math of overbets and the theory behind them.
More aggressive play OOP
Since poker is about realizing our own equity and denying opponents from realizing their’s, aggressive style of playing is the way to go. Solvers frequently go for check-raises when playing OOP with both value hands and hands that are not quite strong enough to check-call but still have some equity if called.
Open limping in tournaments
Open limping was considered as a leak for a long time, but that view has recently changed. Open limping is used especially in tournament situations where shorter stacks are in play.
Wide BB defending ranges
In the mid 2010s most people would play very tight even against late position opens from the blinds. Now players are starting to defend wide again, and defending a wide range of hands against openers without giving up too much postflop is an important skill especially for tournament players.
Pro's Comments on poker solvers
The journey of a poker player from micros to the top can be done with many methods: Playing and studying the game on your own, having a coach and/or mentor to guide you, being a subscriber for a poker training site. In all of these methods, you can utilize poker solvers to learn how modern poker is played and how strong players go about constructing their ranges for specific spots. By no means are we saying that solvers are required for rising to the top of the poker pyramid – it’s just best to utilize all options that are currently available for becoming the best player you can be. You don’t have to choose one route over another: Some of the best players are studying hands both from exploitative point of view and also by using solvers.
Whichever route you choose, we wish you happy moments in studying the game & good luck at the tables! Become the player you were born to be and start dominating the games – Continue reading more tips & articles in Learn Poker!