Multi-level Thinking

October 1, 2010 - by mosesbet · Filed Under poker-strategy 1 Comment 

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Understanding Opponents’ Tendencies in Poker

Poker is a game of maths and skill, but there is always a massive psychological element to it and this always affects how you play against different opponents.  For example, against fish and calling stations you will want to be isolating them into pots and betting big with your strong TPTK hands.  On the other hand, you’ll have to be constantly judging an analyse regulars at the higher stakes tables, especially LAGs who are capable of bluffing and double or even barrelling multiple streets.

When you move up the table you need to be more aware of your opponent’s tendencies.  Multi-level thinking is about reading into your opponent and playing against him based on how you think your opponent thinks. 

  • Level 0: I know nothing
  • Level 1: What do I have?
  • Level 2: What does my opponent have?
  • Level 3: What does my opponent think I have?
  • Level 4: What does my opponent think that I think they have?
  • Level 5: What does my opponent think that I think they think I have?

Multi-level thinking isn’t so important in the micro-stakes games since most players will be transparent in their strategy (they will be operating on level 1 or 2).   When a player 3bets in the micro-stakes $0.10/0.25 ring games then you know his has a good hand.

However as you move up to the $1/$2 games, bluffing becomes more common.  Most of the time opponent’s will be 3betting light, 4bet bluffing and even squeeze playing.  A lot of strategy is based on position and reads on opponents.  This is where multi-level thinking becomes important.  You need to be able to aptly narrow down your opponent’s range, and unfortunately this requires having a solid read on him and understanding how he views you as a player.  A typical LAG at the mid-stakes games will be at level 3 or 4. 

Example of Advanced Multi-level Thinking:

Here is a very recent and interesting example of multi-level thinking working in practice.  It took place in a high stakes $25/$50 and involves CardRunners high stakes pro Cole “CTS” South.

What happened was that the perceived fish at the table open-raise pre-flop in CO, so Hero 3bet the fish with K4 from the button (steal).  CTS, acting on the BB decided to 4bet Hero since he knew that he was stealing a lot from the button.  The BB than 5bet bluff CTS because he knew that CTS was 4bet bluffing him, but the most surprising thing was that after Hero 5bet shoved all-in, CTS snap called with AJo. 

In this example, CTS out-levelled Hero and was able to process the entire hand and how Hero’s line of thought.  Under normal circumstances in a low-stakes games a 5bet would almost always indicate KK or AA, however because of the stakes involved and ability of the players at the table, CTS knew that his range was ahead of everyone with AJo.

Using Multi-Level Thinking to Your Advantage

Multi-level thinking is very much about being able to narrow down your opponent’s hand in a pot.  For example, if an opponent 3bets from CO pre-flop, checks the flop 8d-10h-6s and then bets on the turn and the river, then most advanced players in mid-stakes games will be able to accurately place him on a range of hands.  With a 3bet% of 10% for example, he is only 3betting with AJ/JJ+.  Checking the flop indicates that he is unsure whether he is ahead or not. If the turns peels over and gives him added equity, he could be semi-bluffing with a overcards and a flush draw e.g. AKs on 8d-10h-6s-3s board. 

That is just a very basic and quick example of how narrowing down an opponent’s range works.  It’s important when playing against advanced players however to make sure that narrowing your range is as difficult as possible.  To do this, you need to be regularly balancing your range i.e. c-betting or semi-bluffing with a high range of hands, or playing the same hands differently. This might even involve slow-playing pocket aces pre-flop or limp shoving AQ from UTG on an aggressive table.

In conclusion, you can see that mult-level thinking is a very advanced topic in no limit holdem. As you move up the stakes, you need to get better and better at narrowing down your opponent’s range and understanding how he views you.  To defend yourself against being out-levelled you need to have as balanced a range as possible, yet you must also be able to think like your opponent before you can outwit him.

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