Friday, August 03, 2007

SNG Strategy - Levels of Thinking in Poker.. At The Bubble

Had another thought... have done many SNG Bubble Play Strategy posts here and also a few posts on Levels of Thinking in Poker... but how would these things work together?

Just to define the levels of thinking for those not familiar - some players look only at their own cards and act on that, others think about what their opponents cards might be, still others think about what cards their opponents 'put them on' and so on... can get fairly complex!

By looking at levels of thinking in relation to SNG Bubble play we need to draw a distinction between different skill levels and buy-in levels... for example in a $50 level SNG opponents will usually have a good idea of how chip equity (ICM) and stack / blind sizes of opponents affect the game - yet even within this there will be different levels of thinking about actions. In a $3 SNG these factors are less likely to be understood so we should not necessarily adjust for them.

So, will start with a description of the poker thinking level then make some notes on how this might affect bubble play from an opponent. As usual this is designed to provoke thought (or debate even) rather than state a right or wrong way of playing the game...

'Level Zero' Thinkers and SNG Bubble Strategy

A player thinking at level zero is looking only at their own 2 cards, not a single thought on anything else enters these players heads. If you push at the bubble they have a pre-determined set of hands with which to call you regardless of any other factors.

These players are often found in the lowest limit games, your job at the bubble is to find their calling range and to act on it. It is no good crying after you get called with a weak ace, suited King or bottom pair - you must adjust your pushing range to their calls. Make sure you do not fall into the trap of thinking ' the next hand the other player will be all-in when hitting the big blind - so he can not call without aces here', the level zero thinking does not notice, he can and will call you with a weak holding as long as it meets his own criteria as a 'good hand'

'Level One' Thinkers and SNG Bubble Strategy

This is the most common poker thinking level at the low to middle limits. A level one thinker is looking at your push and trying to put you on a range of hands. He will also be aware of obvious factors like the small stack being all-in next blind.

A level one poker thinker will put you on a range based on your previous actions. If you have pushes 3 times in the last 5 hands he will assume you are pushing a huge range of hands, will then look at his own hand and compare that to your possible holding.

Unless there are extreme circumstances the level one thinker may call you with a hand that is believed to be 'better than yours' in terms of the rank of his hand against what he perceives to be your range. This can lead to being called with a medium pair, ace-jack and horrible bubble hands like that... the piece of information that is missing from this guy's though process is the consequence (in terms of equity risk vs equity reward) from his action... and the result may well be spewing both his own equity and your equity to the players not in the hand...

'Level 2' Thinkers and SNG Bubble Strategy.

Here we reach the experienced player, someone with a good understanding of bubble dynamics and the mathematics too... a level 2 thinker in poker will look at your push all-in and ask 'what cards would my opponent need to do that given what he thinks I hold and the current stack size setup of the table?'

Well, that depends on several factors - not least the level of thinking of the guy who just pushed all-in!!

Lets start with what your opponent thinks your hand is... one word - random. He knows you have 2 cards and that you will only be able to call with a small subset of your holdings. What does he think that your impression of his hand is... well usually it is the knowledge that this does not really matter that is the important factor here. Your opponent knows that you know you can call with so few hands even if you were aware that his range was (for example) 40% of all hands.... and unfortunately he is right.

The key to SNG Bubble play where level 2 thinking is involved is to understand that your opponents know you 'can not call' and are therefore pushing very wide - you need to understand the math behind the hands you can call with against very wide ranges!

'Level 3' Thinkers and SNG Bubble Strategy

At this last level we have reached the real psychological battleground stage. Level 2 confrontations usually take place between very experienced opponents at the higher levels and involve not only thinking about what your opponent thinks your cards are - but thinking about what your opponent thinks your understanding of his hand is!!

To take an example, your opponent - based on stack sizes and mathematics etc - knows that you know he is pushing 80% of hands into you - he pushes anyway because he has a positive expectation... he knows that you can not call without a monster even though you know what he is pushing. Now what we need to do is calculate your possible calling range against 80% and give this information to your opponent...

So, if your opponent knows that you know you 'can not call' he will push 80%, but if he takes into account that you have adjusted to the fact that he is pushing 80% and loosened your calling range accordingly - can he still profitably push the full range? Probably not!

(Final thought) If your opponent knows you will call him correctly here he may no longer have a profitable situation with 80% of hands... the levels of thinking has become so complex that he can now only profitably push 60% of 50% of hands... the question is - have you adjusted your calling range to allow for this??

GL at the SNG Tables, Mark

PS: Got behind on the blog organisation again... plan to get all the PLO Strategy posts into one place over the weekend and also update the lists in the top right with the latest digests and SNG strategy posts too...


William said...

This blog's information is very rich.i very like it

Mark said...

Thanks for the feedback William, always appreciated.

Cheers, Mark

oopda77 said...

Regarding Level 3, how do you let your opponent know that you have adjusted your calling range without actually calling and spewing equity?

Mark said...

Hi Oopda, good question there - does not just apply to level 3, all the levels involve a judgement as to *how* your opponent is thinking.

By the time we get the higher buy-in SNGs someones record (sharkscope / startracker etc) and playing style would give you a clue here... having said that it is far easier to see when someone makes a mistake than when they play 'correctly'.

Emphasises the importance of making notes on ranges against regular opponents at least - can turn out to be very valuable info.

Cheers, Mark