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GT-NO: Go Node Lock Yourself

by David Sklansky |  Published: Apr 03, 2024


David SklanskyIf you are one of those players who relies a lot on your computer to come up with a winning poker strategy, you are probably also using a technique where you tell your computer/solver some things about your opponents’ play. 

If those things are different than GTO, your solver will adjust its counterstrategy recommendations away from pure GTO to a new strategy that would improve upon that initial GTO strategy. It will still be a Game Theory Optimal strategy, but it will be based on the assumptions you gave it.

Note though that the computer will assume that the opponent will still be playing GTO when it is not forced to do otherwise. For instance, if you got a top pro like Doug Polk to somehow agree to not play pocket aces of the same color against you, he will adjust how he plays his other hands to ameliorate that handicap.

This is pretty standard stuff for the modern pro. It’s called node locking. And if you do it well, your results will eventually be better than if you stick to original GTO.

One danger of course is that you are not accurate when you attribute proclivities to an opponent. Some players use generic data obtained from something called Mass Data Analysis (MDA) to come up with opponent’s proclivities rather than treat each opponent differently.

Another problem stems from the fact that the solver assumes that the opponent is an expert except when he is forced by the node locking to play a situation badly.

But in real life you are not playing a handicapped proposition bet with Doug Polk, but rather someone who is making a lot more mistakes than the one you have node locked.

But this column will not be about using node locking to help your computer tell you how to exploit bad players. Lots of stuff about that subject is written elsewhere. Rather it is about an unusual way to use it.

I speak of asking the computer to node lock your OWN play of certain hands to see how it adjusts your optimum strategy when you restrict yourself in that way. There are two completely different reasons to consider doing that. 

One of those reasons would be that you are an expert player who is playing good players. This subject was recently debated on the Two Plus Two Forums where posters estimated how much the merely good player would lose against two experts. Many posters thought it would be a lot. And most of them gave a reason that used chess as an analogy.

They pointed out that the best grandmasters, when playing a routine master, would purposely play a move slightly worse than optimum. A different move than if they were playing another grandmaster. Their reason for doing that was that the master would find himself in unknown territory that he hadn’t previously studied, and would screw it up worse than the grandmaster to a degree that was greater than their usual difference in skill. 

The same thing is probably true in poker. There are undoubtedly plays that are not GTO that, besides exploiting bad players, would also confuse good players. The expert with a computer could experiment with these plays by node locking himself, having his opponent play his standard game, and asking the computer to come up with the best way to take advantage of the confusion he has created. I will leave it to the computer aficionado experts to work out the details.

The other time to consider node locking yourself would be if you know that you are not an expert or if you know that you are a bit more risk averse than Mr. GTO wants you to be. You still could have the best of it in your game because there are some amateurs who figure to lose more to you than what you give up with your weaknesses.

An example might be that you don’t want to call a raise from the big blind as often as you theoretically should. That could be the right move for you because you can’t deal with the variance, or because you are self-aware enough to realize you don’t handle tricky situations well on the later rounds when you are first to act.

In any case, if you know you will play that way and you know how to use these solver thingies, then why not node lock yourself to learn how to adjust your play given your tighter big blind calling requirements? 

Similarly, if you know that you are averse to calling big bets on the river with mediocre “bluffcatchers,” you can node lock yourself into calling, perhaps half as often as GTO recommends. If so, the solver will adjust your earlier play, undoubtedly by tightening up your starting requirements, having you move in sooner, and in other ways. It may, for example tell you to fold A-Q offsuit under the gun (as our latest book suggests contemplating, if you are a semi beginner).  ♠

David Sklansky is the author of The Theory of Poker, as well as nearly two dozen other guides on gambling, poker, and other games. The three-time WSOP bracelet winner’s latest book, Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em: Help Them Give You Their Money, is now available on Amazon. You can contact Sklansky at