Why Poker Solvers Are Really Bad for Your Game

Why You Shouldn't Use a Solver If You Play Small Stakes
Poker solvers are all the rage these days. If you have never heard of a poker solver before, it is basically a computer program which helps you find the best GTO or "game theory optimal" play in every situation.

This allows you to balance your range in every situation and become an un-exploitable player. Sounds great in theory right? 

Unfortunately it doesn't actually work so well in reality for most poker players though.

In fact, I have already discussed before why using a GTO poker strategy at the lower stakes in particular will probably end up hurting your results!

So in this article I am going to explain why using a poker solver is also a bad idea for the large majority of poker players.

Why Using a Poker Solver at Low Stakes in Particular is a Really Bad Idea

Poker solvers are powerful tools to take your game to the next level. 

In fact most mid stakes and high stakes online poker pros these days have at least toyed with one at some point.

And many of them fully admit that they spend hours away from the tables every single day plugging ranges into a poker solver and analyzing the results.

And this is because in these games (NL200+, that is $1/$2 blind cash games online), you are quite often playing against a lot of other very good players who are paying attention to every little move that you make.

The same thing goes for if you are playing $100+ tournaments online. 

The players at these levels also take the game very seriously, might even be pros, and probably study some advanced poker theory on the side as well.

Also, and this is extremely important, by the time you get to NL200+ cash games online (or $100+ mtts), the player pool starts shrinking tremendously.

And this means that unlike at the micros, you are probably going to be playing against the same handful of other guys day in and day out. And it doesn't even matter if you play on a really big site like PokerStars.

There just isn't a lot of action online these days at mid or high stakes. Instead, 90% of poker players are playing low limit games like 1c/2c, 2c/5c, 5c/10c, 10c/25c and so on.

So basically what this means is that if you are in the 10% or so of mid or high stakes players, there are constant mind games going on because you see the same opponents again and again.

This means that you need to be constantly mixing up your lines and ranges in every situation to keep them always guessing.

At the micros and small stakes though, as usual, it is a completely different story.

There are often thousands of players playing at the same stake on the bigger sites, and therefore you will rarely play pots against the same people.

And what's more, very few of them are even thinking on a high enough level for your mind games or tricks to ever work on them.

Most of the players at these stakes are relative beginners with very low winrates, if they even turn a profit at all.

And again, these are the stakes where the vast majority of people who play online poker play at, including the vast majority of people who will read this article.

Exploitative Poker Is the Superior Strategy For the Micro/Small Stakes Games

Poker solvers, and by extension GTO poker theory, is simply a bad idea for 90% of poker players.

And this is because a GTO poker strategy simply isn't the optimal way to beat a bunch of low stakes poker players who are thinking on a very low level.

Most small stakes poker players are actually thinking on what we call "level 1" as was discussed last week.

And basically what this means is that they are really only paying attention to the strength of their own hand. Many of them are not even capable yet of consistently thinking about what you might have.

Or even if they are, they aren't thinking in terms of ranges, they are instead still thinking in terms of individual hands. Which of course is the wrong way to approach the game.

So against most level 1 thinkers at the poker tables, you want to be looking for the best Exploitative strategy to beat them instead.

Which really means using the most incredibly obvious play possible in most situations as I discussed in my latest video.

Exploitative poker strategy also means finding the perfect counter to every mistake that they make, which is something that a good poker HUD can help tremendously with.

For example, maybe they value their over-pairs too much. This is something that is very, very common with low stakes players.

Many of them are simply incapable of folding a big pair like:
  • AA
  • KK

Against players like this, you want to see as many cheap flops as possible against them with speculative holdings like:
  • 55
  • 76 suited

And the reason why is because your implied odds are over the moon if you manage to flop two pair or a set.

Implied odds in poker by the way is just a fancy term that we use for what you stand to gain or profit if you hit the flop hard.

Versus a guy who doesn't fold his AA for any amount? Ya, our implied odds are basically infinite!

And so from there, you want to fast-play your big hands against the generally passive players at these limits in order to make sure that you stack them.

This is something that I discuss in massive detail in Crushing the Microstakes which is quite possibly the most "Exploitative" and unbalanced poker book ever written.

And I am actually quite proud of that because these are also the same strategies that allowed me to win tens of thousands of dollars in these games.

There is no balance necessary at these stakes. There is no need to become un-exploitable either. And this renders a poker solver pretty useless at these limits.

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Using a Poker Solver Will Very Likely Harm Your Results at the Micro Stakes

In fact, using a poker solver will probably end up having a negative impact on your results at the lower stakes.

Because for example, it is likely going to tell you to balance your flop play when you hit your set against the micro stakes guy who can't fold his AA for any amount.

The solver will recommend perhaps that you just call his continuation bet 50% of the time and raise the other 50% of the time.

Now, this is a great strategy against a world class level 3 or level 4 thinker at mid or high stakes.

But against a level 1 thinker at the micro stakes who is completely incapable of folding an over-pair, calling 50% of the time here is actually just throwing away EV (and ultimately money).

Instead, the correct Exploitative play in a situation like this is to literally raise your set 100% of the time. This is something I discuss at length in Modern Small Stakes.

It doesn't matter how unbalanced your play is because your opponent isn't thinking on a high enough level to understand this.

Conversely, a poker solver will also advise you to bluff raise the flop sometimes in order to balance your range and become un-exploitable.

Again, this is a poor strategy that will not work against a calling station level 1 thinker at the lower stakes. They are just going to call you down and make you look silly.

You don't need to worry about playing un-exploitable poker at the micro stakes because most of the time your opponents are not paying attention.

And even if they are, unlike at mid or high stakes, there are hundreds or thousands of other players for them to keep track of as well.

So there is almost no chance that they are taking meticulous notes on your game like a high level pro will be at NL200+.

When Should You Consider Using a Poker Solver?

So when should you actually think about using a poker solver then? Well, I think it is probably already clear given everything I have said throughout this article.

You should start using a poker solver to improve your game by the time you play mid stakes online or live. I would put this at NL200 online which is the $1/$2 blinds game. Maybe around $10/$25 if you play live.

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This is the first level online where a pretty good chunk of your opponents will be professionals and there are very few weak spots.

NL200 is also the level of online poker where the player pool starts to shrink drastically and you are going to be playing against the same handful of players day in and day out.

This is why it will be important for you to start balancing your play like the solver will advise, flatting your set 50% of the time, and raising 50% for example.

You also need to be bluff raising a solid percentage of the time as well so that you aren't just raising monsters like sets all the time.

This is all the kind of stuff that a solver will help you with. And it is absolutely crucial that you start learning how to play an un-exploitable style like this once you get to mid and high stakes.

There are tons of advanced poker training programs available these days to help you with this as well.

But again, I would not recommend using these strategies unless you are playing against high level opponents in mid to high stakes games.

Because the exact opposite highly unbalanced Exploitative strategy is usually optimal if you play at the micro stakes. And especially if you play in the really low stakes games like NL2, NL5 or NL10.

Using a poker solver at these limits will almost certainly not help you. And what's worse, it might even harm your results.

Final Thoughts

Poker solvers are all the rage these days and for good reason. They are an excellent tool to take your game to a new level by helping you balance your range and become un-exploitable in all situations.

This a crucial aspect of your game if you want to have success against other high level thinking pros at mid and high stakes these days.

However, the main problem though is that 90% of people don't play at these limits. They play against the level 1 thinkers at stakes like NL5 instead ($1/$2 live cash games or low buyin tournaments).

The players who you are going to encounter in these games almost always only play part time as a hobby and many of them are still learning the basics of the game.

Most of them are not capable yet of thinking in terms of ranges and so trying to "balance" anything or become un-exploitable will simply fly right over their heads.

And what's worse, the solver will actually have you making -EV (negative expected value) decisions in some spots such as slow-playing a set against a calling station.

Instead, an Exploitative unbalanced strategy is almost always the way to achieve the maximum success especially in extremely low limit micro stakes games like NL2, NL5 and NL10.

If you want to know my complete Exploitative strategy for crushing the micro stakes poker games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.


Let me know in the comments below if you use a poker solver. Do you think a solver is useful at the micro stakes?

Why You Shouldn't Use a Solver If You Play Small Stakes


  1. Great article as usual! I found myself in the same trouble that I played "too well" and just thought way too meta. When I got back to simple TAG in the Micros, it became all much easier again.
    Poker HUD is key, find out who the regs are and be aware of them and cautious with your mediocre hands. They don't play like fish at all, so you can lose quite some money by overplaying them.

    Also thank you for all your content and your book Crushing the Micros, Nathan. It really helped me elevating my online poker game and took me from 20$ up to 400$ in two months. It was followed by a cash out of 150$ and a dip of 90$, but now I'm back on track.

    Thank you, great work, hopefully I can continue the cash flow in the future now.

    Take care, Tino

    1. Hey Tino,

      Wow great work and I am glad my book helped you!

      Yes I agree, using a HUD is very important (if you can) to differentiate between various player types. Then you can adjust how you play against each one within an exploitative framework.

  2. Good article, very useful as always.
    Keep the good work.
    Best regards

    1. Thanks Luis glad this one helped. Thanks as always for reading :)