Before we begin, let’s take a look at each level used by professional players in multiple level thinking.

  • Level 1 – The strength of your hand.
  • Level 2 – What your opponent’s range looks like.
  • Level 3 – What your opponent thinks of your range.

Considering your own hand will only get you so far as a poker player; to be successful, you must consider a wide range of variables, such as your opponent’s range and their psychology. To sharpen your strategic thinking and increase the extent of your thought process we’ll be exploring how to think in poker using multiple level thinking as part of a greater poker strategy, how you can learn this new way of thinking, and how you can implement it as part of your poker game. Join us as we discover how to take your poker thinking to the next level.

Unveiling the Levels of Poker Thinking

So, let’s pull back the curtain on the different levels of thinking and explore what they are and how they work. The first three levels are the most important; we’ll explore what happens beyond these levels later in the article, but for most intents and purposes, three levels are all you need.

Advanced Level Thinking: Beyond the Third Level

Multiple level poker thinking doesn’t end at Level 3; in fact, it can go on for as many levels as you’d like! Many players consider anything beyond Level 3 the “meta-game.” It’s at this point where poker turns into a big game of “they know that I know that they know that I know…” 

It’s because of this that many players believe that the level of thinking in poker required to be a winning player doesn’t need to exceed Level 3. Even Level 3 is delving into the world of guesswork, as you can never know what your opponent really thinks of you, so anything beyond that is just speculation at best.

However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its place in poker. If you’re playing against someone you’re deeply familiar with, being able to “out-level” your opponent can lead to some very profitable situations.

For example, let’s say you’re playing against a friend who has an intimate knowledge of how you play. They’re on Level 3 of the multiple level thinking tree. However, by moving to Level 4 (you know that they know how you play), you can use their knowledge of your game against them by altering your strategy in ways you won’t expect.

Be aware that when playing these games, it’s easy to “out-level” yourself, and end up making strategic changes that fall right into your opponent’s hands, so level at your own risk!

Playing Profitable Poker: Using MLT To Your Advantage

All this multiple level thinking is all well and good, but how exactly do we it to make money at the poker table? Well, the secret to multiple level thinking is to always be one level ahead of your opponent. By staying exactly one level ahead, you’re able to exploit your opponent without out-leveling yourself, allowing you to play profitably against them.

Let’s consider a Level 1 player; all they think about when making their decisions is the strength of their hand. By thinking on Level 2, you’re focusing on what your opponent’s range looks like, which allows you to better predict how they’re going to act. However, if you tried to go to Level 3, you’d be thinking about what they think of your range – something that they’re not doing! This can lead to you making incorrect adjustments that lose you money based on the way they’re actually playing.

The logic works the same for a Level 2 player; they’re considering what you have, so it’s important to understand what they think of your range. If you think that they think your range is strong, you can use that to your advantage and start bluffing more often, knowing that they’ll likely fold more often.

The key thing to remember is to always stay exactly one level ahead of your opponent; this allows you to make adjustments that best exploit how they play.

When playing live or online, you’re not going to be up against a single opponent, you’re likely going to be up against multiple opponents. Each of these opponents will be on a different level of thinking, which will shape how the game plays. When you sit down at a new table, the first thing you should try and do is ascertain what level each of your opponents is playing on.

By understanding the level that each player is playing on, you will be able to change your strategy to best exploit them. For example, against a player who is only thinking on Level 1, you should play very simply; betting your best hands for value and not bluffing when they show an interest in the pot. 

Not only will understanding their level help you determine how to play against them, but it will give you a better understanding of the table dynamics. For example, if a Level 1 player limps and a Level 2 player raises that limp, you can make a reasonable assumption that the Level 1 player’s hand is weak, and the Level 2 player is exploiting that fact, giving you the opportunity to steal the pot with an aggressive play.

If you pay attention, you can use each player’s level of thinking against them, creating profitable situations that you otherwise may not have found.

The Learning Curve: Progressing Through Levels of Thought

If you’re reading this and realizing that you’re only on Level 1 or 2, you may be wondering how you can progress up the levels and become a Level 3 thinker. Well, the best way to improve how you think about the game is by actively playing; this means playing and paying close attention to what’s happening rather than scrolling through your phone after you fold your hand. By watching the flow of action and seeing what good players do and what bad players do, you get an understanding of how they think about the game, which you can then use to your advantage.

Away from the table, there are multiple things you can do to get a better understanding of the psychology of the game. Watching high-level players talk through their thought processes in strategy videos is a great way to understand the mind of strong players; understanding what they think about when making their decisions can help you improve your own poker thought process.

Another thing you can do is develop friendships with good players. By discussing poker with players who have a solid understanding of how the game works, you can take aspects of their thought process and implement them when you’re playing.

For players who are progressing to Level 2, the most important thing to focus on is your hand-reading skills. Take the time to thoroughly think through what your opponent can have in each scenario and break it down hand by hand. By doing this enough times, you will quickly become comfortable with hand-reading in-game.

If you’re looking to progress to Level 3, turn the focus back on yourself. Consider how you evaluate yourself if you were an opponent. Do you think you’ve been playing tight? Do you think you’ve been playing aggressively? Being able to objectively evaluate how you’re playing, you are better able to understand how your opponents perceive you, which you can then use to your advantage.

Case Studies in Multiple Level Thinking

To give an example of multi-level thinking by a professional player, let’s look at a hand between poker pro Roberto Romanello and Greg Geller in the WSOP and take it street by street.

Implementing MLT in Tournaments and Cash Games

While multiple level thinking is applicable in both tournaments and cash games, it’s important to understand the differences in where it’s used to utilize it effectively. In tournaments, the average stack size is considerably lower than in cash games. This means that many of the decisions are mechanical and based purely on math rather than any psychology, and the potential for multiple level thinking is reduced.

However, during key sections of the tournament, such as the money bubble, pay jumps, and the final table bubble, you are able to use multiple level thinking to your advantage. Knowing how your opponent will approach the bubble should drastically change your own strategy. If you think that they’re going to tighten up to try and make the money, you can go crazy bluffing them, knowing that they’ll fold almost all the time. On the other hand, if they don’t care about the bubble, bluffing into them aggressively would be suicidal!

When it comes to cash games, the stacks get a lot deeper, so the potential for out-leveling your opponents becomes much greater. With deeper stacks, there’s much more room for divergent strategies, and understanding how your opponents play and what level they’re thinking on can lead to very profitable situations – as long as you know how to adjust.

Conclusion

An important step in becoming a winning poker player is learning how to think beyond your own hand. Poker is a game that should not be played in isolation; there’s a whole world outside your own hand that you should consider, and by implementing multiple level thinking into your poker game, you’re better able to consider the important variables and adjust your strategy accordingly.

If you want to get better at multiple level thinking in poker, the only way to do so is to practice! We’ve given you the building blocks in this article, so now it’s up to you to go out there and use them.

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Jordan conroy

Author
Jordan Conroy, a respected name in the online poker arena, has cultivated his authority through years of dedicated play and content creation. Since 2020, he has earned a stellar reputation for his in-depth analysis of poker theory and his ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest developments in the poker world. Jordan's dedication to staying at the forefront of poker knowledge allows him to consistently deliver top-quality content that resonates with both novice players and seasoned professionals. Beyond his poker expertise, he brings a diverse perspective, closely following other competitive domains like soccer, snooker, and Formula 1, enriching his insights and providing a comprehensive understanding of the gaming landscape.
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