5 Levels of Thinking in Poker

poker Dec 19, 2018

You can also listen to this episode and download its mp3 from my podcast for free here

 

5 Levels of Thinking in Poker 

Level 1 – Just your hand 

This is when you’re at the beginner phase of poker. When you first start out playing poker, you tend to think about your hand and what to do with your hand. I’m sure many of you are no longer thinking about just your hand. If you are, you should try to move on to the next step. 

Level 2 – Your opponent’s hand 

Thinking about what hands your opponent has – looking at your hand, looking at the board and thinking what can your opponent’s hand be? Sometimes even at the highest games, we start thinking about what specific hands our opponents can have and at times only one hand. 

Level 3 – Your opponent’s range 

Thinking about your opponent’s range. Your opponent took a certain action preflop – what does that mean? When we have a clear understanding of how he constructs his preflop range, we then look at the flop. What does he do on the flop and what might that possibly tell us about his range? Same for the turn, as well as the river. Along the way on each street, we try to make out his range specifically by eliminating hands based on his actions. Then, we start to think about our hand and how we want to play against his range. 

Level 4 – Range vs Range 

If we think about our range vs our opponent’s range, we realise our range can sometimes be stronger than his range. For example, we raised preflop and our opponent just called. In such situations, we can be very polarised. We can bet our very strong hands and throw in a lot of bluffs. We start thinking about what bet sizings do we use in different spots.  

Level 5 – Your strategy vs your opponent’s strategy 

Instead of thinking about our range against his range and how the ranges interact, we need to start thinking and zooming out a little bit. Consider how strategies interact with each other. For example, we start preflop – instead of thinking specifically about the ranges, we start thinking – if we play a very aggressive 3-betting strategy from the big blind, how does that strategy interact with our opponent’s strategy? How does he construct his range, and what strategy would we use against his? 

If you dive deeper into the game theory world, you realise that game theory is all about how one strategy interacts with another strategy. If you haven’t learnt about game theory, I definitely recommend starting with the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a pretty clear explanation of how one strategy interacts with the other strategy. 

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

5 Levels of Thinking in Poker 

Level 1 – Just your hand 

This is when you’re at the beginner phase of poker. When you first start out playing poker, you tend to think about your hand and what to do with your hand. You start looking at the board if you have a pair or two pairs – everything is in absolute terms. This is definitely a newbie’s strategy and if you have played any decent number of hours in poker, you’d progress from this pretty quickly. I’m sure many of you are no longer thinking about just your hand. If you are, you should try to move on to the next step. 

Level 2 – Your opponent’s hand 

Thinking about what hands your opponent has – looking at your hand, looking at the board and thinking what can your opponent’s hand be? Sometimes even at the highest games, we start thinking about what specific hands our opponents can have and at times only one hand. 

Level 3 – Your opponent’s range 

Thinking about your opponent’s range. Your opponent took a certain action preflop – what does that mean? Let’s say he only called from the Big Blind vs my Button’s open. That usually means that he doesn’t have strong hands like AA/KK/QQ/AK and he also doesn’t have really bad hands like 72o, especially if there’re no antes he’s going to be playing the middle part of the range – at least that’s a strategy that most people employ. When we have a clear understanding of how he constructs his preflop range, we then look at the flop.  

If the flop comes AK5 rainbow, he checks, we bet and he calls, now we start eliminating some hands from his range. It’s not likely that he has 2 middle cards that has no connection to the board. His range would consist a lot of Ax, he could have an Ace pair, or he could have a King pair. He could have a straight draw like QJ/QT/JT. We start thinking about his range. Maybe he has some small suited cards that are 23/24/34 because they are also gutshot straight draws. He could also have a 5 pair. It’s not that likely that he has AA/KK/AK - he doesn’t have many strong hands. Sometimes he might have A5/K5/55 - those are strong hands.  

Thinking about the turn now, the turn comes a brick (totally disconnected with the flop). Example of a brick would be 8/9. He checks, we bet and now he calls again. What hands does he have left? It’s not likely that he has many gutshots since he wouldn’t call twice with those gutshot straight draws. Assuming that the turn did not bring a flush draw, the only gutshot/draw that he might have would be QJ if he decides to play really sticky and call twice, since the hand has showdown value. What other hands could he have? He could have an Ace, he could have a King. He’s not very likely to have a 5. It’s unlikely two pairs or better as he would have usually raised with those. We start eliminating hands and begin thinking about his range specifically.  

Let’s say the river comes a 9. Now he checks and we are thinking about our hand and how to play against him. We start thinking, maybe he folds a King but he calls an Ace. We start thinking about our hand and how we want to play against his range.  

Level 4 – Range vs Range 

In the example just given – the board came AK589. In this example, if we think about our range vs our opponent’s range, we realise our range is much stronger than his range because we could have AA/AK/KK/55. We have all sorts of combinations of two pairs, possibly even 67 which is the nuts. If we play 67o preflop, we have many combinations of them and we might choose to c-bet an AK5 board. When the turn comes an 8, if we had 67, we have an open-ended straight draw and we usually fire this card again. When the river comes a 9, we realise that we have 67 a lot of the time and he doesn’t have many good hands. Our range is very strong and we can be very polarised. We can bet our very strong hands and throw in a lot of bluffs. We start thinking about what bet sizings do we use in this spot. Because we have a polarised range and he’s usually capped (he can’t have really strong hands), we can actually just go all in even if it’s for 3x of the pot if we choose to have a lot of bluffs in our range. The polarisation topic hard to catch so we’ll focus on the 5 levels of thinking.  

Level 5 – Your strategy vs your opponent’s strategy 

Instead of thinking about our range against his range and how the ranges interact, we need to start thinking and zooming out a little bit. Consider how strategies interact with each other. For example, we start preflop – instead of thinking specifically about the ranges, we start thinking – if we play a very aggressive 3-betting strategy from the big blind, how does that strategy interact with our opponent’s strategy? How does he construct his range and if he is somebody that raises a lot then folds a lot to 3-bet, we realise his strategy is a bit flawed in the sense that he folds too much to 3-bets. We realise the best strategy is that – it doesn’t matter which hands we have – the best way is to play really aggressive against him. That would involve us playing a very wide 3-betting range. This whole strategy can be applied post flop as well.  

If you dive deeper into the game theory world, you realise that game theory is all about how one strategy interacts with another strategy. If you haven’t learnt about game theory, I definitely recommend starting with the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a pretty clear explanation of how one strategy interacts with the other strategy. 

Close

Download for FREE now!

10 concepts that Wayne wished he knew when he started his poker career.