Have you ever sat down after a tough poker game and wondered endlessly about how you should have played your hand? Should you have called, raised or gone all in? For the tech-savvy poker player, there is a way to find out! Introduced just a few short years ago, a solver is a clever piece of technology that allows players to calculate solutions to their games and devise an optimal strategy. As you can imagine, allowing players to study the game in this way has had a massive impact on the industry and seriously raised the standard of play among poker’s top names. 

Now, how exactly do you use a solver and what do you have to do (short of rubbing a genie’s magic lamp) to get one? 

Game Theory Optimal

If we’re talking about solvers then we have to discuss the term game theory optimal (GTO). This term is used to describe a playing strategy where, as a poker player, you look at the game mathematically, make yourself unexploitable and even, try to force opponents to make a mistake against you. If executed correctly, GTO should improve a player’s overall win rate.

However, GTO doesn’t just outline one correct way to play a given hand. The technology is much broader than that. GTO gives players a variety of hand strategies that they need to play in order to be successful. This is a contributing factor to a player’s difficulty in implementing optimal strategy. After all, while it may be easy to remember how to play one hand, playing several hands with a range of strategies is far more complex. While the technology is there to solve the problem, it takes a master memory to retain the information. By inputting and analysing historical playing scenarios, a player can use a solver to begin anticipating the optimal way to react in future similar situations.

How Do Solvers Work?

Still, while solvers are an advanced piece of technology, some work goes into using one. Users have to input the data being calculated themselves and they have to make sure it’s done correctly. The technology requires several pieces of data including:

  • The preflop ranges of each player
  • Bet size options (for both players)
  • Raise size options
  • The effective stack size
  • The size of the starting pot
  • Leading possibility
  • Rake 

How Do You Get Your Hands On Them?

A quick and simple Google search will supply any poker player with the solver of their choice, even the leading ones on the market. Some of the most popular poker solvers are PioSolver, Simple Postflop, Monker Solver and GTO+. Unfortunately, given the level of information being processed by a solver, most smartphones aren’t powerful enough to run top solvers. That being said, there are lesser ones that will run on these devices and do an adequate job. Of course, as you would expect, if you want to access this piece of technology, you’ll have to pay. Some packages do offer additional features such as already calculated optimal strategies for various poker games, general information about GTO, video tutorials, tools for learning GTO and documentation. In some cases, the cost can be significant but if you’re truly determined to improve your poker game, a solver could be a valuable tool. 

Can’t Solve Everything

Of course, like any technology, poker solvers aren’t perfect. If you don’t input the data correctly, you definitely won’t get your money’s worth. Essentially, it gives the correct answer to the question it’s asked. If you don’t ask the right question, you won't get anything of value. Of course, in most cases, this relies on the accuracy of human memory and leaves a lot of room for error. Also, the solver operates under the assumption that each player knows the other player’s complete strategy from preflop until the river. As mentioned above, solvers require a lot of power. The more information you input, the more power that’s needed. For instance, ​​if you give the solver too many bet size options, the required amount of memory is too large to produce results in a reasonable time frame.

What Do We Think About Solvers? 

Like everything in the industry, poker solvers have both their die-hard supporters and their detractors. Let’s start with the supporters. Some argue that because the primary customer for a technology like this is poker professionals that already have an advanced ability to analyse the game, “normal” poker players aren’t really affected. These professionals already have an innate ability to read the game and form strategies. Solvers just stand as a useful resource to fine-tune their skills. Of these professionals, a few have been vocal about their support of the technology. Doug Polk famously tweeted in November 2020 that “Poker is not a game humans can beat computers in.” Poker legend Doyle Brunson agreed that any player would be nuts not to pay attention to the info that solvers provide. Not only that but Phil Galfond also came out on the side of solvers saying they’re “the next tool” in the progression from learning equities by viewing hands to equity calculators and PokerTracker.

On the other side of the argument, many poker enthusiasts feel like solvers are the kiss of death to the game. This is obviously because of their ability to reason out scenarios that would traditionally have been left to the skilful mind of the players themselves. However, as mentioned above, the majority of people who use solvers are professionals aiming to take on players of their level. The fact of the matter is, if you’re planning on playing in a low stakes, low skilled or even average game, a solver will be of little benefit. This is mostly because the solver is assuming your opponent will play the best hand available for their cards and unfortunately, lower-skilled players may not act this play out. 

Of course, this is simply a basic outline of how solvers work as an idea. There are countless resources across the web that offer mathematical theory concerning solvers and GTO which go far beyond what we’ve spoken about. Ultimately, if you’re planning on taking your game to a near-professional level, then perhaps consider a solver as a worthwhile investment in yourself. However, if you’re just in it for the thrill of the game, save yourself some study time and a lot of computer power.