Poker player levels revisited

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Mark | Poker Articles, Poker Strategy, Poker Tournament

This article belongs to the Poker Tournament series.

My good poker buddy McTap wrote an excellent article some time ago about the second major leak he had discovered in his game. In this article he introduced us to the concept of poker player levels which I believe were first coined by Phil Gordon in his article : “Inside the mind

I’m revisiting the concept of poker player levels because I will be talking about it on The All in Poker Show later today. Currently I do not feel confident I will be able to explain to the listeners in a concise manner what poker player levels are all about. Therefore I will be using this article to focus my mind in preparation for the show.

To get started with the subject let’s say you are playing an online poker tournament and you pick up AK hearts in early position and raise 3xBB. A player in middle position calls and everyone else folds. The flop comes 6 diamonds, 5 diamonds, K spades. You bet ¾ of the pot and your opponent raises you all in. He has you covered, so your tournament life is at stake. What do you do?

If your reasoning is along the lines: “I have a good hand with top pair top kicker, no way I’m folding” then you are thinking like a level 1 poker player.

If you consider the range of hands your opponent could be holding as well as your own hand before you make your decision, you have moved up a level and are now thinking like a level 2 poker player. In this situation you will probably end up folding the hand because you don’t want to risk your tournament life with a call where your opponent’s hand range includes pocket 5’s and pocket 6’s.

If you try seeing the hand from your opponent’s perspective and consider the hand range he thinks you are holding, you have moved up yet another level and are now thinking like a level 3 poker player. In the mind of your opponent, you have probably hit top pair. Knowing this he still chooses to re-raise you all in. He could have hit his set or have slow played the Aces, but he could also be trying to push you out of the pot with a flush or a straight draw because he suspects you are capable of folding top pair. If your opponent did have a set wouldn’t he have re-raised you with a smaller amount? His all in bet smells like a draw where he would be happy if you folded but also have outs to win the pot if you called. In my opinion this kind of level 3 thinking will bring you closer to making the call as compared to level 2 thinking.

According to Phil Gordon, expert players take an ever deeper look into their opponent’s minds. In my opinion it all becomes a bit speculative and overly complicated when you start considering what your opponents think that you think they have. In an online tournament you have 30 seconds or less to make your decisions. There is no way you will have time for these kinds of considerations. Live tournaments however are a different story. Here you have the time to put a lot of thought into a hand. This is probably also why you see a lot more raise – re-raise – re-re-raise – fold action in live tournaments as compared to online tournaments. Players have time to complicate things :-).

Having now introduced you to the concepts of poker levels I will spend my next article debating how to apply the concept when you’re playing online poker tournaments.

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