Why Do Successful Poker Players Love Solvers?

Why Do Successful Poker Players Love Solvers?

Poker solvers are an essential software designed to help you improve your poker skills and better understand of the game as a whole.

But why are poker solvers needed for players who are already on the top, renowned crushers and solid profitable regulars? To answer this question we’ve watched the Winning the Game of Life podcast of Dan “Jungleman” Cates with a very special guest — solver developer Oleg Ostroumov.

Brief Glimpse at Oleg Ostroumov

Oleg Ostroumov started playing poker in 2008 — this is how he described it in his blog post on Media:

"I met a professional online poker player in 2008, and the game instantly sparked my interest. It felt like a perfect opportunity for me — I’m a math major and a video game fan, poker is based on probability theory, and most importantly, I love money. In just a year and a half, I climbed from $2 to $1000 buy-in games, won $40k, and moved out of my parents’ house."

As a mathematician, Ostroumov found it quite interesting not only to prove the existence of the Nash equilibrium in poker, but to create a practical method of finding it.

Oleg Ostroumov
Oleg Ostroumov

What Is the Nash Equilibrium?

Nash equilibrium is a concept that describes impossibility to have extra value in the game with two or more participants if every one of them does not deviate from their initial strategy. Thus, in poker, it means that a player must deviate their poker strategy in order to become more profitable if their opponent(s) don’t follow the balanced strategy.

This is how Ostroumov came to develop solvers and become a renowned developer of the first real solver back in 2013 — the Nash Equilibrium for No-Limit Hold’em calculator.

Later he developed solvers for other formats as well, including Omaha and Triple Draw, and gained more than $1,000,000 in profit from selling them to professional poker players around the world.

His first buyer was Timofey “Trueteller” Kuznetsov — Oleg sold him the license of the Nash Equilibrium calculator for $100,000 after convincing the top-reg that solver can be useful for him:

"I can write code to calculate the best response and see how good it is against the Nash equilibrium approximation, but players can't write codes — they have to trust me. So what convinced Trueteller is that the solver used a line: when you check call flop and then turn card is paired — low flop card is paired — and there is a gutshot or a flush draw and then out of position players — he bets because he balances trips with semi bluffs.

It was a line that nobody used but Trueteller was working on the game and he slowly had a suspicion that this line should be used. And then solver used it so at that moment Truteller realized that the program is actually quite smart."

Timofey “Trueteller” Kuznetsov
Timofey “Trueteller” Kuznetsov

On April 1st 2024, Oleg also published a beta version of his first solver for Open Face Chinese poker. It is available for testing to anyone — find more information about it on X (Twitter).

Why Do Crushers Like to Use Solvers?

One of the main reasons why poker solvers are so popular among top poker players is that they have enough knowledge to see the beauty of their calculations.

Oleg Ostroumov describes it with a simple example:

People who are extremely good at poker, who are close to the Nash equilibrium already, are more excited to use the solver because they understand the logic behind the solver strategy. You need to be close to it and I think that's why when I approached a couple of my friends who were playing NL2K they were like “How are we going to use it?! It is so random. We don't understand anything!”. But when player of Raul Gonzales’s calibur starts using it — it makes sense to him. The strategy of the solver makes sense to him because it's further away.

Winning the Game of Life With Dat Cates and Oleg Ostroumov

So with Oleg’s help we can highlight three simple reasons for top poker players to be in love with poker solvers:

  1. They understand the basis of solver calculation — not from the developer’s point of view, but from the point of view of poker mathematics.
  2. They see confirmation of the Nash equilibrium in poker over and over again — and it helps to understand more about fairness in the game from a variance point of view.
  3. They understand the meta data and adjust better by using the solver’s finest settings — and dominate tougher fields thanks to that.

The Beauty of Nash Equilibrium

According to Oleg, Nash Equilibrium has its own unique beauty that isn’t obvious for most people:

"The beauty of Nash equilibrium is that it is hard to find but once you have it — it is easy to verify that it is indeed the Nash equilibrium.

If you have the strategy for your opponent then you can calculate the best response to it quite easily because if your opponent's strategy is fixed then with every hand you can see the expected value of each action and always pick the most profitable one. The property of equilibrium is that if you calculate the best response to it then it does not actually beat it.

You can see at the distance how much the best response wins against the strategy — and if you're close to Nash equilibrium then the best response to it wins very little. So I would think that if you can make the best response to something — that's already pretty powerful."

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