Planet Mark's Blog. Thoughts, News And Strategy For Poker Tournaments Of All Size

Poker Levels of Thinking and Tournament Stack Sizes

Had the (rare) chance to play in some tournaments over the weekend. While the ‘results’ are best forgotten, at least a couple of incidents at the table gave me an idea for this blog post.

We all know that stack sizes are a critical factor in decisions in tournaments, both before and after the flop. There are many things that you can do with a 100 BB stack that would be suicidal with 20 blinds, and so on. After seeing a couple of incidents where my opponents had not considered their stack size (or those of their opponents) I started to think about how each of my opponents was looking at stack sizes and their effect on strategy.

While it did not help me on Friday, I found this a useful way of understanding those opponents (most of whom were somewhere around level 1). If you are not familiar with levels of thinking in poker, this involves considering the information available (classically hand ranges) and considering the complexity of how people are thinking about these. For example if you are thinking about how your opponent perceives your range of hands in a certain situation, you are thinking on a higher level than someone who is only considering the strength of their own hand in combination with the board.

Levels of Thinking and Stack Sizes

Level 0: Player does not consider stack sizes at all.

Level 1: Player considers their own stack size in making decisions (may be aware of implied odds)

Level 2: Player considers the stack sizes of other players at the table as well as their own (may be aware of resteal stack sizes, big stacks and so on)

Level 3: Player is aware of how others might consider their stack size in making decisions (my opponent may be strong because he is raising even though I have a perfect resteal stack)

Level 4: Player is aware that others are considering how he perceives their thinking of his stack size. (online tournament pro gets raised by another pro while he has a resteal stack, considers that raiser may be taking advantage of the perception that he is unlikely to be raising light in this situation – by raising light!).

Once we get beyond this point we enter the realm of the real pros. If you have the time and inclination, it is possible to go up one or two more levels here.

Of course, most recreational players spend most of their time at level 1, with the occasional foray into level 2 (at least where I spend most of my time at )… be careful you do not ‘level yourself’ by giving credit to someone for thinking about concepts they are not considering!

GL at the tables, Mark

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