What Are Poker Solvers and How to Use Them the Right Way
If you have been a part of the poker community over the last five years, you have undoubtedly heard about poker solvers.
That said, you may not know exactly what they are and how they work.
If you don’t yet have any experience with poker solvers, you are in the right place, as we are going to briefly explain what they are, how they work, and how they can help you become a better poker player.
Remember that a poker solver won’t magically turn you into a poker genius, nor will it help you make better decisions while playing.
Instead, it is an extremely useful tool to help you learn how to play poker when you are not actively playing.
Once you learn how to use a poker solver properly, you will have the ideal tool in your arsenal to help you learn poker in the most efficient way possible.
Now, let’s start by explaining what is poker solver and how exactly it works as a poker learning tool.
What Is a Poker Solver?
The question of what is poker solver is often asked by players first introduced to it. The shortest answer to that question is that a poker solver is a piece of software that uses mathematics to calculate optimal playing strategy based on data input by the user.
Poker solvers have been around for about a decade and became widely available six to seven years ago.
Ever since then, the top poker players have been using solvers like PioSolver and GTO+ to study poker.
Poker solvers are used to find solutions in accordance with game theory and optimal poker strategy, which is the optimal way to play poker in order to make yourself unexploitable.
While this style of poker isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it is the only way to play that guarantees your mistakes don’t leave you open to exploitation.
But how exactly does a poker solver work, and how can you use it? Let’s find out!
How Poker Solvers Work
Popular poker solvers like PioSolver and Simple Postflop all work in a fairly similar way, and their goal is to give you the idea of how to play your hand optimally on every street from preflop to the river.
To be able to do this, however, the poker solver needs you to enter some data. Each piece of data you enter into your solver is known as an input, and collectively these inputs are what allow the solver to calculate the optimal plays.
The inputs you can put into your solver include:
- Player’s preflop ranges
- Effective stack size
- Pot size
- Possible bet sizes
- Possible raise sizes
All of these inputs are relative, and there is no way to know perfectly which ranges your opponents are going to play before the flop in different situations, or what bet and raise sizes they are going to use.
Yet, you can have quite a good estimate of all these things based on your experience with a particular player and with the general player pool.
Once the solver has all the necessary inputs, it will tell you the optimal way to play each of the hands in your range on each street so as to make your play perfectly balanced.
It is important to keep in mind that the solver does provide solutions that presume that each player involved in the hand is playing a strategy that’s at least loosely based on GTO solutions.
With so many assumptions in play, you may be wondering what poker solvers are even good for and why you should use them.
To answer that, we are going to go into what exactly solver solutions are used for and how you can use them to study poker.
How to Use a Poker Solver
Now that you know what a poker solver is and how to enter inputs into it let’s talk about how you can use the outputs the solver gives you to your advantage.
The first thing to think about is the fact that all outputs you get from your solver will be exactly as good as the inputs you gave your software.
If you make mistakes in your inputs and assume that a player has or doesn’t have certain hands in their range incorrectly, your outputs will also not be perfect.
On the other hand, if you provide your solver with good inputs, it is going to give you a nearly perfect strategy to counter your opponent’s every possible play.
If you have put in the right data, you are going to get back outputs that will help you:
- Understand which hands to check/bet/raise/fold
- Understand the frequencies with which you should make each play
- Understand which hands to play with a mix of checks and bets/raises
The solver is going to split up your entire range and assign a play to each hand in it. For some hands, the solver may tell you to use a mixed strategy.
When the solution is presented, there are two things you can do with it. One is to remember the solution by heart, and the other is to try and figure out why this is the solution you got.
Remembering solutions for different board textures can be very helpful, and many players do this repeatedly for hours every day, trying to memorize the solution to as many common Hold’em situations as possible.
Others do more work in trying to figure out the way poker solvers “think” about poker so that they could replicate that same way of thinking in their own game.
At the end of the day, it would be best if you could figure out solutions that are as close as possible to GTO poker without looking at actual solver outputs.
This way, you won’t need to memorize every single output and will rather be able to make good GTO-based decisions at the tables in real-time.
What Poker Solvers Will Give You
I have explained the way in which poker solvers give their outputs based on your inputs, and this brings us to a very important point.
Every poker solver out there generally attempts to provide you with solutions based on the GTO poker strategy, which means solutions that are perfectly balanced and impossible to exploit.
Using solver solutions to actually play poker will make your game rock solid, you will be at least breaking even and probably winning against basically any opponent on the planet.
This is, of course, only if you are able to replicate the solver solutions to perfection, which is rarely the case.
Solver’s play will have a good counter to any play that an opponent can make, and since you will always have a balanced range, it will become impossible to make plays that exploit your tendencies.
Yet, not having any tendencies and playing perfectly balanced at all times comes at a certain cost when playing against opponents in the real world, and that’s where solvers fall slightly short.
What Poker Solvers Won’t Give You
The big downside of using a poker solver to calculate your moves is that all solver-based play is aimed at balancing and making yourself unexploitable.
This means, in turn, that your plays will not be exploiting your opponents’ tendencies either, and this can be quite detrimental in the long run.
Since there are many players whose play significantly differs from GTO, playing a GTO strategy against them will mean leaving money on the table in almost every scenario there is.
Since the GTO strategy is always aiming to protect you from being exploited, you will not be exploiting the fact that your opponents aren’t bluffing enough, are bluffing too much, or are folding too much to your bets.
All of these missed opportunities, which you could be taking if you were to play an exploitative strategy, can add up and cost you a lot of cash in the real world.
For that reason, players who base their play strictly on solver outputs will probably be less successful than great exploitative players in lower-stakes and easier games.
Yet, when you get to the very top and play in the toughest games, the balance and protection of the GTO strategy will guarantee you good results despite the quality of your opponents.
Should I Use a Poker Solver?
The last big question that remains is whether or not you should use a poker solver. The answer, in my opinion, is definitely yes!
The truth is that you can use a poker solver without completely changing your game or adjusting to every single solver output you have ever seen.
Instead, you should be using the solver as a teaching tool that can help you make better decisions based on the situations that come up in the future.
What I mean by this is that once you have learned how to play GTO poker (or close to it), you should still also remember when it’s a good time to move away from it and play exploitatively.
When playing against bad opponents who make many mistakes, you should still be trying to exploit such mistakes and adjust your strategy for optimal returns.
On the other hand, poker solvers will give you the tools to handle playing against very good opponents, who can occasionally end up playing at your table even at the lower levels in certain games.
In either case, there is no harm from spending some hours playing with the solvers and trying to figure out why they came up with the particular solutions they came up with.
This kind of studying will make you think about poker in a very in-depth way, which will make you a better poker player whether you memorize the exact outputs or not!