Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Series! Poker Hand Reading and Levels of Thinking Part #1

Little indecisive blog-post-wise today... could not decide between an article on completing the small blind in SNGs, continuing the push over limpers theme or something new. Well now, I'm not usually known for being indecisive (the opposite extreme in fact) so here we go with the start of a new series...

Hand Reading In Poker - Levels Of Thinking Part #1

These thoughts are inspired by iRock's articles and some of David Sklanky's writings. Levels of thinking is one of those easy concepts to describe - but difficult things to do at the table (particularly when multi-tabling).

Idea is this; Today summarise and add 2 brand new thinking levels... later (and after some more thinking time) I want to ask the question of how to put an opponent on a particular thinking level, what 'tells' can we use to work out how deeply (or otherwise) an opponent thinks.

The Traditional Poker Levels of Thinking:

Level Zero - My cards are...
Level One - My opponents cards are...
Level Two - My opponent thinks my cards are...
Level Three - My opponent thinks that I think his cards are....
Level Four - My opponent thinks that I think that he thinks my cards are...

All good, gets a little complex the higher you go but the idea is simple. The use of the idea is what really gets interesting. Thinking one level higher than your opponent gives you a huge advantage, especially when the stacks are deep in cash games or early in a multi table tournament.

A level one example goes along these lines... you have a level zero opponent who only plays his own cards without regard to what anyone else does. You hit a little bit of a flop against him. Easy from here... you can bet a small amount and let his response guide your action for the rest of the hand. Assuming no obvious draws he will raise a better hand, call with a weak one or fold with nothing - because he is not thinking about what you have his actions are transparent.

A level 2 thinking example... you know your opponent is thinking about what you have, but he is not thinking about what you think he has. You hit a small set in position and bet out on the ace-high flop, your opponent check - calls indicating he may not be scared of the ace - but does not raise. At this point you know your opponent is thinking about your cards, so what could his call mean here? A medium ace? 2 small pair? A high non-ace pair or the thought that you are bluffing? Turn goes check - check, now what does he think of your hand? Weakness ... The key point here is that your opponent is not thinking about what you put him on (a weak ace or high non-ace pair) here. He is only thinking about what you might have and whether he can beat it. He then leads out strongly on the (blank) river and you reraise... by thinking about what your opponent thought you had in addition to what his cards might be you enabled yourself to get into a position to build a big pot on the end...

OK no more examples. It is time for the Plan3t Gong Additional Levels of thinking... and no, I'm not going to go down the he thinks I think he thinks I think you think the cat thinks line - far more simple.

Level Half!

He thinks my holding is weak / meduim / strong / monster* delete as applicable.

Level One and a Half!

He thinks that I think his holding is weak / meduim / strong / monster* delete as applicable

Yep, I am convinced that these levels are real... people are sitting there seeing your bets and (mostly) looking at their own cards thinking he bet so he has 'something'.

The "Level Half" thinker will not change his actions too much, well he might fold bottom pair. The key to playing the 'halfies' is in fact to work out what they have and tailor your bets to the minimum possible to get them to fold that pair of 2's on a AKQ9 board...a level-half player is trying to put you into the weak / strong category, but he is doing this based on something very obvious - your bet sizes. Not the board, not draw possibilities just your bet sizes. Find the minimum for various halfies and you'll take the pot... use a little deception or build a pot slowly and you will take all of their money!!

The 'one-and-a-halfies' are another creature entirely, sure they are thinking about what you think they hold, but in very simple terms... here is the rub - if your opponent is thinking that you think he is strong and you still reraise on the river what will he do?? Let us consider this in a different way - your opponent figures you think he has a strong hand for what reason? Well the reason must be that he is betting strongly... he thinks your thoughts are a direct result of his actions, he gives credit to you for taking his betting into account but - importantly - does not give you credit for even considering anything other than the most obvious. You may have seen enough hands with this guy to know that he bets strongly when weak under certain circumstances, yet he will never even consider that you think this way... go take his stack!

Long enough for one day... going to take me a couple more days pondering before the 'how to spot a level X thinker' articles start - in the meantime GL at the Tables,

Mark

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