Once every few months I find out there’s a new solver out there, with a “GTO Trainer” feature, that promises to give you a lucid path to poker greatness. This may sound exciting, but can they deliver on that promise?

Advantages of a Solver

Don’t get me wrong. Solvers have greatly advanced poker theory. We now know things about the optimal solution to poker that we never would have known 10 years ago. Some of the things we’ve learned from watching the solver play (such as massive overbets 2 to 3 times the size of the pot) are being employed by pros at the highest levels of poker.

The thought process required to play against a solver is great for the poker mind as well. It’s great to be thinking about your entire range of hands, and making sure to have a balanced strategy. It’s for this reason that I created GTO-style bots on APT that you can play against while viewing your hand range (as shown in the picture above).

All that being said, I regret to inform you that the “play the solver” feature on many poker sites these days has severe limitations. 

Limits of the Solver

First of all, the solver has been trained only on specific situations. For example, preflop raise sizes are always exactly the same. Everyone has the same stack size. No one ever open limps. If you play real poker, against real people, you know that this is not always the case. Poker is a war. War is messy. People don’t behave the way you want them to. The solver can only teach you to play perfectly against people who play by set rules.

And can a solver really teach you to play “perfectly”? This idea assumes that you know how to play the whole hand exactly how the solver would play it. Let’s take an example. I just pulled up my solver of choice right now (yes, I do use one). I’m looking at a middle-stage tournament simulation, where everyone has exactly 40 big blinds (which, in itself, would never happen). 

Suppose I’m the big blind. The button open-raises. The solver recommends I call this raise with hands like Q-4♠ and 9-2. It does this because the raise size is fixed at 2.5x the big blind, and given the big blind ante, the pot odds are quite good.

So, suppose I call. Then I can pat myself on the back because I know I’m playing perfectly, right? Or am I? Do I really know how to play the rest of the hand from here? Apparently, the solver knows how to play 9-2 more profitably than folding preflop. In reality, can I really show a profit playing 9-2 out of position against a preflop raiser? Doubtful. Personally, I fold it.

What Can We Learn from Chess?

Chess players who blindly follow a chess “solver” suffer the same fate. As a chess player, I see it all the time. The chess engine tells me to move my knight to square g5, because surely this is the best move that will lead me closer to victory. And I’m sure it’s right, because it has literally calculated billions of variations in the blink of an eye. But if I don’t know the best plan after making that move, I may just end up making my position worse.

The Bottom Line

A solver only guarantees that it will teach you how to beat (or technically, break even against) other optimal opponents. But of course, your opponents are playing far from optimally. And the way to beat them and earn the most money has been, and always will be, by using an exploitative strategy. A “GTO Trainer” won’t teach you that.

So, my advice to you is this: accept solvers for what they are worth. Solvers are a great tool for looking deeply into specific situations, thinking about ranges, and getting those creative wheels turning in your head. 

But don’t believe that a GTO Trainer feature is the solution to all your poker woes. The high-speed practice you can get on Advanced Poker Training, against lifelike opponents in a realistic setting, is going to do more for your poker game than playing against a solver will. This is something I’m sure of, and there are thousands of APT users who are now winning poker players who would testify to it as well.

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