Book Excerpt: ‘Modern Poker Theory’ by Michael Acevedo

August 09, 2019inPoker

One of the most highly anticipated strategy titles of the summer is now available for purchase from D&B Publishing — Modern Poker Theory: Building an Unbeatable Strategy Based on GTO Principles by Michael Acevedo.

Acevedo is a game theory expert who is renowned for creating cutting-edge content for the world’s leading players. Modern Poker Theory is the culmination of many thousands of hours of research with the most advanced poker software tools available. It is poker theory for the 21st century.

The book provides a comprehensive, rigorous guide to the most important aspects of no-limit hold’em. In particular, Modern Poker Theory presents an in-depth examination of what is meant by game theory optimal play (GTO) and how it can be applied at the table.

Understanding GTO is fundamental to being able to make accurate poker decisions and being able to exploit players who don’t. Modern Poker Theory uses modern poker tools to develop a systematic approach to the analysis of GTO. It organizes the ideas and concepts in an intuitive manner that is totally focused to practical applications.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, “The Elements of Poker Theory,” explains basic poker concepts and game theory’s relevance while also showing how to use various modern poker software. The other two parts — “Pre-Flop: Theory and Practice” and “Post-Flop: Theory and Practice” — comprehensively cover in-game situations while demonstrating how a knowledge of game theory optimal play can apply in each.

The following excerpt comes from near the beginning of the third part, “Post-Flop: Theory and Practice,” and finds Acevedo offering some initial thoughts about why we bet in the first place.

Theory of Betting

Why do we bet in poker? If you ask around, most players do not really know how to answer this question. Some people bet because they feel like it. Others might bet because they really like their hand or because they sense weakness in their opponents and think they can get away with it. Perhaps there are many possible draws on the flop and so they want to bet for protection. While all these reasons may be somewhat valid, they are still far too subjective.

Some professionals and people who watch training videos who are a bit more advanced will tell you something like “a bet has to be either for value (to get called by a worse hand) or a bluff (to make a better hand than ours fold).”

This definition sure sounds a lot more accurate than the previous ones, but is still incomplete because there are many situations where betting is the correct play even if you will only get called by better hands and will never make a better hand than yours fold.

It is important to try to stop thinking about poker by categorizing bets as only bluffs or value-bets because that only makes sense on the river if you have a perfectly polar range and are betting against bluff-catchers. In all other situations, betting is more complex than that.

Betting as a “bluff”, “for value”, etc. are results of betting, not the reasons to bet. If you bet and your opponent calls with worse, you made a value-bet. If they fold a better hand than yours, you made a successful bluff.

Those are just possible outcomes of betting your hands against a range distribution, and they depend on the actual holding your opponent had at the time you made the bet, which is something you don’t control. Thus, many times when you bet, you don’t know exactly if you are value-betting or bluffing. If you think about betting in a more scientific and methodical way by applying game theory concepts, you can reduce the reasons for betting to two primary concepts:

  • Leveraging the advantage of knowing your own cards.
  • Realizing equity or prevent your opponent’s equity realization.

Leverage the Advantage of Knowing Your Own Cards

In a GTO poker model it is assumed that your opponents know your full strategy. So, you are never going to surprise a GTO opponent by holding something like 72o on the flop after you open from UTG because if you did open 72o, it would be part of your UTG RFI [under the gun, raise first in] range and your GTO opponents will have full knowledge of that range. In that case, you should play only solid ranges that won’t be easy to exploit even if the Villains have full knowledge of them.

However, even in this GTO model you still have an informational advantage over your opponents. You know what exact cards you have whereas they only know your range. The informational advantage you have is the difference between your actual holdings and your range, and this informational advantage is valuable when the decision your opponent should make varies greatly depending on your exact holding.

For example, imagine three different types of hands you could have in a given poker situation:

Hand type A, Hand type B and Hand type C.

Now imagine your opponent’s correct play is to:

  • Fold when you hold a hand type A
  • Call when you hold a hand type B
  • Raise when you hold a hand type C

If your betting range consists only of hands type A, your opponent’s play will be trivial. All they have to do is always fold when you bet. Similar principles apply for the other types of hands.

By incorporating different types of hands in your ranges, you make it more difficult for your opponents to consistently make the correct play against you. So, diversity of range increases your informational advantage and makes it so that you can force your opponents into making mistakes.

A mistake is defined as a decision they would not have made if they could see your hole cards, not a decision that is bad against your range.

This is a different type of mistake that does not happen when you play against a GTO opponent who has perfect knowledge about your strategy.

An example of a mistake a non-GTO player could make against your range would be when you have a perfectly polarized range (hands with either 100% or 0% equity) and your opponent goes all-in with a bluff catcher, making your play trivial. You simply call when you have the winning hand and fold the losing hand every time. Giving your range composition, the Villain’s correct play against your range should be to always check, then when you bet, he has to call with some frequency depending on your bet-sizing. Sometimes Villain will call and lose when you are value-betting and sometimes, Villain will fold when you are bluffing. This is the type of mistake you can force a GTO player to make even when they have perfect information about your range composition.

Strong ranges are ranges where the informational advantage is very valuable and that is when the Villain’s correct play varies drastically depending on what part of your range you are holding at that specific time.

Michael Acevedo in action at the 2017 PokerStars Championship in Panama

Michael Acevedo in action at the 2017 PokerStars Championship in Panama


Modern Poker Theory is available to order in paperback and as an e-book at D&B Poker.

D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.



PokerStars staff

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