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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Grinding Online - Know Your Opponents

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One of the most important aspects of poker play, whether online or live, is to know your opponents, and specifically, know what level of thinking they are employing when playing their hands.  First level thinkers are only concerned about their own cards, and if they are satisfied that they have a good hand, they will continue, regardless of what your bets are saying about the strength of your hand. First level thinkers comprise the majority of low-stakes online players. Second level thinkers go one step further, in that they consider not only their own cards, but also the cards that you might have.  At the third level of thought, it becomes a much more complex proposition, as they are now also taking into consideration what you think they have in their hands.  This is especially powerful if they are playing a hand unlike what you might expect them to hold.  At an even higher level is the fourth level thinker, who also will pay attention to what you think he thinks you have.  These levels of thought do not end here, but this serves as a solid foundation for this article.

At low-level online stakes, you rarely have to consider that other players are going much beyond first level thought.  Most of them are just playing their own cards, hoping to make a big hand, and not really paying much attention to what is going on around them.  This usually makes a low-stakes game profitable for a higher-level thinker, but can also be very frustrating, when other players refuse to fold a losing hand and wind up catching a miracle card late.  You can tell the players who go beyond first level thinking, because they are the ones who look much more closely at how a flop in Holdem or Omaha, or a later street in stud, may have impacted your hand, and bet or fold accordingly.  What is important with these players is to try and think just one level higher than what they appear to be doing, so if they are clearly taking your cards into consideration, you need to focus on what they think you have in order to turn a profit.

With these concepts as a general background, I’d like to take you through an example that came up for me during a .25-.50 no limit Holdem round that was part of an 8-game rotation on PokerStars.  When I sat down at the table, I noticed that the player to my immediate left was from my town, and after checking in with him, discovered that he was someone with whom I had participated in a long-standing live poker Forum.  At the time, a group of eight players met weekly for a night of poker study, which included a no limit Holdem tournament each week, where all hands were exposed post-play, in order to analyze where each of us was strong and weak in our games.  While we had not played together for a long time, I knew that he would remember me as probably the tightest of the players in that group, just as I knew that he tended to play lots of what are considered the “trouble” hands in no limit hold’em, such as K-Q, A-J, A-10, Q-J, etc, hands that can be easily dominated.

After some play at razz, stud and stud high/low, we came to the no limit Holdem round.  On the very first hand, I was dealt pocket tens in the cutoff seat.  I raised to 4 times the big blind, or $2.  He called on the button, and the blinds folded, so the pot was about $4.50.  Each of us had about $30 left, and the flop brought 4-4-J rainbow.  I decided to follow-through with a continuation bet of $2, and he raised to $6.  Here was the situation facing me, based on the levels of thinking:  If I played it from a first-level perspective, I might call this bet, hoping that my pair of tens was still good.  This is a very common choice for many low-stakes players.  Looking at it from a second-level stance, I might very well fold my hand, figuring that there is no way that he would raise without, at the very least, a jack.  But I knew some very important information about this player.  First, I knew what type of player he thought I was.  Second, I had a very good understanding of the range of hands he might have played pre-flop.  Third, I knew that he was capable of laying down a hand if he thought he was beaten.  And fourth, I also knew that he might make that raise as an absolute bluff, even though I doubted that was the case.  With all that information at my disposal, I came to the conclusion that his most likely starting hand was either K-J or A-J.  Now, how could I win this pot with the weaker hand?

I decided that my only course of action other than folding was to re-raise him, which I knew he would interpret, based on our history together, as a very strong bet, showing either a set, or more likely, an overpair, which is exactly what I wanted him to think I had.  I also decided that a really large raise would look much more like a steal than a very controlled raise, and so I decided to simply re-raise to $10, figuring that he would see that as an invitation to lose more money, since there were no draws on the board.  I counted on him looking at this bet using level three thinking, and realize that he was “beaten” by my represented overpair.  Sure enough, he took a long time (in online terms) thinking about my bet, typed into the chat “I guess K-J is no good,” and folded his hand.

Obviously, the knowledge I had of this player from having analyzed hands with him for eighteen months is much harder to come by in online play.  However, by keeping solid, detailed notes on the players you encounter on a regular basis, you can quickly get a sense of the level of thinking from which they usually operate, and act accordingly.  Staying one step ahead of the competition is a crucial way to add money to your bankroll, so you need to take advantage of any small edge you can gain.

See you at the tables!

*Read Clearspine's Blog*

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