Levels Of Thinking In Poker Games

Out-Think Your Poker Opponents By Assessing Their Level Of Thinking – And Then Adapting Yours

Levels of thinking in poker describes as escalating scale of “I know – You Know I Know – You Know I Know That You Know” type thinking. It sounds complex when you first come across it, but is actually very simple once you fully understand the concept. It can help to grow your poker profits in several ways once understood and incorporated into your cash game or poker tournament strategy.

This article shows you how levels of thinking in poker work, and explains why you should adapt your own play to be one (and only one!) thought level above your opponents.

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Poker Levels Of Thinking – What The Different Thinking Levels Mean

Level 1 Thinking: This player is only looking at their own cards, they will compare them with community cards to make the best hand and may even be aware of poker ‘outs’ for any draws.

Level 2 Thinking: A player on level 2 is thinking about what their opponent holds as well as their own cards. Based on the known tendencies of an opponent, his betting and the flow of the hand on the flop, turn and river – the level 2 thinker is putting together a picture which compares their own (known) holding to an opponents (unknown) one.

Level 3 Thinking: This involves awareness that a good opponent will try and put you on a hand – they are thinking about what you hold. Level 3 actually encompasses thinking about what their opponent 'puts them on', based on their betting actions and tendencies.

Level 4 Thinking: As we move higher the more advanced poker minds come into play. A level 4 thinker knows that you are thinking about what he holds, and so takes this one step further. A level 4 thinker actually considers what you might be thinking about what he thinks you have… for example you think that based on your prior actions you think that your opponent thinks you are holding a pair of aces.

Level 5 Thinking And Beyond: Each level progressively adds one more level of thought to the process. Once we get to level 5 – which involves thinking about what your opponent thinks that you think about what he considers your impression of his hand to be – we reach the limit for most online and non-professional poker games. In theory the levels could go on infinitely!

Poker Levels Of Thinking – How Can This Help Your Game?

Levels of thinking has an important role in poker hand reading – yet there is some even more fundamental ways in which it can improve your results. Both of these concern awareness – firstly of the level you are thinking at yourself, and secondly the level you put opponents on.

For many poker players towards the start of the learning curve the concept of levels and thinking is the first time the importance of seeing the hand from an opponent’s viewpoint will have been mentioned. The very act of trying to see a hand through your opponent’s eyes will trigger an immediate improvement in the way a player thinks about the game.

Understanding your own level of thinking is also key to longer term improvements – particularly for level 1 and 2 thinkers. After all, poker is a game of comparative hand strength – and you can only begin to compare your hand to opponent’s likely holdings once you start to think beyond your own cards.

Poker Levels Of Thinking – Think One, And Only One, Level Higher Than Your Opponent

There is always a danger in poker of over-thinking a situation. Instead of a profitable play you end up with ‘Fancy Play Syndrome’ – making moves which go way over the heads of your opponents, and can even end up costing you money.

For example, if you bluff a scare card against a level 1 thinker then you are often wasting your time – they are not thinking about what you have at all. Level 2 thinking will work against this player, you should actively try to put them on a hand and bet accordingly. However, level 3 thinking, which assumes they are thinking about what you might hold, is pointless… they are not thinking about that at all, only their own cards.

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A second example involves an opponent who thinks on level 2. In this case bluffing a scare card might work – since this player is thinking about what you might hold. However, what he is not doing is thinking about what you put him on. This means that his bet sizes are a direct indication of his own comparison between his own hand and the hand he is putting you on. Since he is not thinking about what you put him on you can not represent the nuts by raising his ‘obvious monster’, if he is not thinking about what you put him on then his bets are likely to be an honest representation how strong he determines his hand to be at this moment.

Finally, we should remember that players will actually think on higher levels in certain comfortable situations, for example flopping a monster like a full house. Even a level 1 thinker will slowplay here – which would indicate that they are thinking about their opponents hands at least!

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