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Multiple Level Thinking

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Every time you play poker, you should make your best effort to be smarter and out-think your opponents and the way to do this is by keeping one step ahead all the time. This is what gives people who think clearly through situations and act upon them an extra advantage.

If you don't manage to put different pieces of information together to see the bigger picture in each poker hand, you'll have trouble to win money from poker.

Having the ability to figure out the reason why your opponent plays in a certain way is a skill all winning poker players need.

If you get to decipher what your opponents have, you'll get to make profitable decisions depending on the information you have in each situation.

Different levels of thought in poker

It's not easy to figure out what kind of hand your opponent has, and it depends on how skilled you are to think in different levels. David Sklansky describes the concept of "multiple level thinking" in his book NL Holdem Theory and Practice, as well as the different levels of thought of a poker player:

  • 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

As you can see, poker players think on different levels while they are playing poker and while players with less experience think at level 0 or 1, players who have more experience get to play poker at level 4 or above.

General idea of the different levels

  • Level 0 although it is not really a level, it is used to talk about players who don't know the rules of poker or who play poker drunk and don't really know what they are doing.
  • Level 1 is a basic level and applies to poker hold'em players who have just learned the rules of poker and the different hand ranks. As a result, most of the time they will try to discover how strong their hand is and if they have any chance of winning the hand. These players find it difficult to bluff since they will bluff not matter what they believe their opponent has.
  • Level 2 is for players who already have some experience in the game but are not quite winning players and this is the level most players fall in to. These players think about what their opponents have but don't have enough knowledge to base their game on mathematics and don't yet know how to choose the correct strategy for each hand.
  • Level 3 players always think about what their opponents are thinking during a hand and they are winning players. As a result, they always pick the best situations for bluffing and make value bets more accurately. What differences players in level 2 and 3 is the same margin that differences winning players from losing players.
  • Level 4 is a level in which things get complicated but advanced players who are able to understand this level of thinking can use it to their advantage. Those players who have the capability of thinking at this level don't need to use it frequently since not many players are able to think at the same level.
  • Level 5 is kind of a ridiculous level and it's really hard to explain. If you ever find a player who plays poker at this level, leave the table as fast as you can.

What does multiple level thinking mean to you?

Knowing that there are different levels of thinking will help you avoid playing inaccurately against different types of players. If you are playing against an opponent who is at level 0, then you won't need to play at level 3. There is no point in considering what the other player thinks you have if they don't really know what they are holding. You'll just waste your time and efforts if you over think the situation.

If you want to beat each type of poker Texas Hold'em player, all you need to do is think one level above your opponent. If your opponent only cares about their own hand and plays at level 1, you'll have to play at level 2 and think about what they may have in order to beat them.

If you want to beat players playing in any level, you just need to play one level above them.

As a result, you should be able to pull off a successful bluff because and they will not since they won't think about how strong your hand is. You don't need to make elaborate plays when you are playing against a low level thinker since they won't understand them and as a consequence your elaborate play probably won't work.

Just play one level above each opponent you play against and you'll be able to choose a successful winning playing style against all of them. The higher level of thought you manage the better results you'll get but remember to adapt your level depending on the levels your opponents are in, from level 0 to the higher level.

Multiple level thinking evaluation

In general, you should play poker one level above your opponent if you want to beat them. By analyzing the way they play, you should be able to figure out their level of thought.

You need to play at level 3 if you want to be a winning poker player, which does not mean that you need to play at this level all the time. You should be flexible and you should change the level you play at depending on your opponent.

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