It’s common knowledge that poker is a game where you’re constantly trying to outsmart your opponents and you need to be able to figure out exactly why your opponent is making the decisions they’re making. The ability to think through situations and make a decision quickly is a key element that separates the great players from everyone else.
In his excellent book No Limit Holdem Theory And Practice, David Sklansky said that there are different player levels in poker and they relate to the game you’re playing at any given time. We’re going to go through the five different player thought levels and give you a rundown on each one.
Level 1 – What do I have?
If you’re just learning your way around the poker table, this is where you’re at. You understand hand ranks, but gauging relative strength and the like takes up the majority of your mental space.
Level 2 – What does my opponent have?
This is where most poker players who have been at the tables for a bit fall – they’ve got a little experience with the game but not enough to really become winning players. They need to learn more math and strategy to reach the next level, which is…
Level 3 – What does my opponent think I have?
The vast majority of winning players you’ll encounter are going to be at this level. They’re actively thinking about their table image and how much information they’re giving their opponents. This allows them to be much better at bluffing and making profitable value bets.
Level 4 – What does my opponent think that I think they have?
This is where the true psychological game kicks in for poker players, and this is the level that separates the high-stakes pros from the guys who make a little money at the table here and there.
Level 5 – What does my opponent think that I think they think I have?
If someone is playing at this level, run. If you’re playing at this level, then you should be at the tables instead of reading this article on the internet!
Here’s the reason you want to know these levels: to beat any type of poker player, you just need to be one level above them. Spend some time thinking about where you are at the table and where you want to be – as you can see, most winning players are at 3, which is an attainable goal for any player who spends any time thinking about the game while playing.