GTO, Solvers, And The Nash Equilibrium Explained For Low Rollers: Featuring Online Grinder Brian Fite

Brian Fite is a 35-year-old professional poker player and coach. He has been playing poker full-time for more than 14 years and along the way has developed a deep understanding of the game and all variations, including cash games, sit-n-gos, and tournaments.

With more than $2 million in the black at an average buy-in of less than $40, the family man is widely considered one of the most profitable low-stakes tournament players in the world. He currently plays online at various sites under the names ‘Rockysroad’ and ‘TheTexican.’

The TurboKings Poker founder is known for his ability to explain complex strategies in a relatable and easy-to-understand way, and preaches the message that playing tournaments online doesn’t have to be a high-variance affair.

He recently joined forces with BBZ Poker where he hosts three weekly coaching seminars on top of managing a CFP Team and doing 20+ hours of private coaching per week. Fite can be found on his Twitch channel (TeamTurboKings), and also on Twitter and Instagram @brianfitepoker.

Craig Tapscott: Is the Nash Equilibrium the same as Game Theory Optimal (GTO)?

Brian Fite: Nash Equilibrium and GTO are not the same, but they are related concepts. The poker community does a poor job of differentiating between these two concepts and often uses GTO and Nash Equilibrium synonymously when talking about poker strategy. This can get sort of granular, so I’ll try to keep it simple. 

Nash Equilibrium is a concept in game theory where each player in a game makes their decisions based on the other players’ strategies, and no player has an incentive to change their strategy, given the strategies of the other players. This is also known as unexploitable.

To express it less formally, I often refer to Nash Equilibrium as the strategy that perfect-poker-playing-robots would use against each other. Nash is the “solved” part of poker that is “balanced and unexploitable.”

That’s where all those words come from. But again, it’s crucial to understand that this is meant to be true in a setting of robots. Because the other humans at the table will deviate from their strategies, whether deliberately or not, the game will no longer be played at Nash Equilibrium and someone will gain an edge. 

GTO, on the other hand, refers to a strategy that is optimal against all possible counterstrategies of opponents. It is a more advanced concept in game theory, and it takes into account not just the Nash Equilibrium, but also the range of hands that the (human) players can have.

No perfect-poker-playing-robot will incentivize you to be more aggressive from the button, but if the human players in the blinds are playing way too tight, the GTO strategy would be to adjust and raise more from the button than Nash Equilibrium would to attack, or exploit, the weak/tight players in the blinds.

As a player who plays a lot of low- and mid-stakes myself, I am constantly trying to play GTO, but rarely aiming to play Nash. 

In short, all GTO strategies are Nash Equilibrium, but not all Nash Equilibrium are GTO.

Craig Tapscott: Which strategy is better, equilibrium or exploitive? 

Brian Fite: In poker, both Nash Equilibrium and exploitative strategies have their advantages and disadvantages, and which one is better depends on the context. And by context, I mostly mean the strategies of your opponents. 

For experienced players, a combination of both Nash Equilibrium and exploitative strategies is often the most effective approach. They can use their understanding of the game and their opponents to adjust their play and exploit weaknesses, when possible, versus some opponents, while also maintaining a balanced strategy to prevent opponents from exploiting them versus others.

In general, the strategy that is best for a player depends on the specific situation, their skill level, and their goals.

Craig Tapscott: Most players vastly overestimate their skill level. How do players honestly and accurately judge how good they are?

Brian Fite: Good question. The best way to accurately gauge your ability on the tables is to track your play and your win rate. The stat that we most often reference is how many blinds you win each 100 hands with equity adjusted, meaning you get credit for 80 percent of the pot when you get it in as an 80/20 favorite, even if you end up losing the pot. It adjusts for the equity to give us a clear look at how you are playing, not necessarily how things are going. 

In cash games, a (bb)/100 winrate is MUCH more accurate, where each big blind is worth actual dollars, compared to tournaments where each big blind represents varying values of chips at different stages of the tournament.

For example, if you win 5 bb/100 in a $1-2 cash game, you are winning an average of 5 X $2 every 100 hands, for $10 total. And that money will be in your account. It doesn’t translate as clearly in tournaments because chips don’t always turn into dollars. A win rate, adjusted or unadjusted for equity, is just an indicator, not the be-all and end-all. However, most losing players are going to win 4 bb/100 or less at tournaments and will be -1/100 or worse in cash games. Knowing your win rate is the first step to knowing where you are at within the games you are playing. 

Personally, I would keep it simple and just hire an expert to dissect your play. Whether it be a hand history review, database analysis, or simple question and answer, a player like myself can tell you where you are at after just a few minutes. And I’m not exaggerating. I can gauge a player 1-100 and be in the right ballpark after just a few minutes of talking poker with them.

And you are right, because most players know the rules of the game and can sit down and play, they assume they play better than they do. If it was easy to play extremely well and profit tons of money with minimal variance, more people would be doing it. Results speak louder than anything else. There just aren’t many players who are lifetime winners but aren’t pretty decent players. Most winners over big samples are pretty decent and play a lot of situations well. Most losing players over big samples are very strategically incomplete and are often completely unaware of their weaknesses.
Poker is often referred to as a ‘skill game,’ which I don’t disagree with, but I like to think of it more as an ‘information game’ and you just don’t know what you don’t know. If you think you are good but aren’t sure, you aren’t good. There is just no way to be good at poker without acquiring the information and understanding the game at its core. You can’t be a doctor unless you go to school to become a doctor. You just can’t. Poker is no different.

Craig Tapscott: Can you explain what ‘game solvers’ are and how best to use them when I am studying away from the table?

Brian Fite: In poker, game solvers are computer programs designed to solve complex game situations and find the optimal strategies for each player. They work by using mathematical models of the game and running simulations to determine the expected value of different moves. 

Game solvers can be extremely helpful for players who are studying away from the table, as they can provide insights into how different hands and situations should be played. 
To use game solvers effectively, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of poker and the basics of game theory. It’s also important to use game solvers in conjunction with other forms of study, such as reviewing hand histories, watching videos, and playing hands, to gain a well-rounded understanding of the game.
Unless you are relatively advanced and already a profitable player, I would suggest getting your solver exposure from videos or coaching sessions instead of trying to use them yourself. While I don’t use solvers myself, I use resources that solvers are responsible for. There is a human who works with a solver and creates strategies, preflop ranges, post-flop strategies, etc.

Using a solver isn’t necessary if you have access to the assets that the solver can produce. When I have a strategy question, instead of asking a solver, I ask my friends who use solvers.

Craig Tapscott: What would be your general approach to low-stakes cash games live or online?

Brian Fite: There are an enormous number of factors to consider, but the idea is to play your value hands fast and don’t bluff much. The games will be full of recreational players who love seeing flops and chasing draws. And those player types also don’t often call flop, call turn, and fold river with a top pair type hand. So, for low-stakes cash games, you want to play strong hands and play them fast. Playing too loose in a low-stakes cash game won’t be very effective for most players. 

As a player who plays a lot of low- to mid-stakes myself, I have found the most effective way to play is very actively and aggressively preflop and generally all the time when you aren’t facing aggression. Get involved and play small ball as much as possible. Bet more, check less. Raise more, call less. Most players are playing “fit or fold” to some degree, which means they play when they like their hand, but otherwise, they fold. 

That’s not how the perfect poker-playing robots play. They are balanced with bluffs and value bets. Most humans only play the value bet part of the game which makes them wildly exploitable to preflop and post-flop aggression. In the games I play, I push very hard until it becomes clear my opponent has a pretty solid hand. They overfold preflop, so I raise a lot preflop. They overfold to continuation bets, so I c-bet more. They don’t bluff nearly enough, so I don’t bluff catch much. Easy, logical adjustments on the surface are how most exploitative strategies are created. 

Craig Tapscott: As you move up in cash game stakes, what aspects of the game should your focus be on for study and practice?

Brian Fite: I often refer to being good at poker as “being able to pass the theoretical poker pop quizzes.” These days there actually are apps and study tools that have a quiz feature, and they are very helpful. You will quickly get a good idea of how much you understand, or don’t. Poker is very complex, and cash games are often more complex than tournaments because of the very deep stack depths.

A big problem with new players is that they don’t truly understand the WHY behind the play that the solver is suggesting we make. It’s great to know that certain hands are bets and certain hands are checks, certain hands raise pre and others fold – that is going to help you play better in some spots, sure, but understanding the why is what you should focus on. 

The painful truth is that most players will never become profitable. It’s a very complex game. The trick is to simplify it as much as possible. Often times finding a player who plays the same games/stakes that you play is the best way to get better. Doing it alone is a long and lonely journey. It feels incomplete to tell players to focus on the WHY when I know how truly hard this game is to understand until you are very experienced. 

The best way to get better is to join a training site that has coaches that crush the games that you play. Get in there and ask a lot of questions. Once you are able to afford personal coaching, consider that to expedite the process. If neither of those are options, set yourself up to be able to track your play with a program like PokerTracker or HoldemManager and start reviewing your play by yourself. Join some free Discord groups and drop in screenshots and questions. You can find free coaching if you look long and hard enough.

Just like anything else in life, the more immersed you are, the faster you will learn. The more determination you have, the better your chances. But if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I can assure you that all the time and work is more than worth it once you are consistently crushing the games. There is truly nothing like it! ♠