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Levels of Poker Thinking, and Maximizing YOUR current ability to improve.

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Levels of Poker Thinking, and Maximizing YOUR current ability to improve. - Tue Apr 19, 2011, 02:52 PM
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JDean's Avatar
Since: Aug 2010
Posts: 3,145
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(Note: This is mainly geared toward MTT/SNG players, and not cash game playes)

There is a pretty common idea that has been floating aorund the poker community for a while regarding ways to categorize the play of your opponents.
This is the theory of assigning opponents to a given level of poker "thought", and then using that to configure your play to that.

The thing is, to fully USE this method of categorizing, YOU must be above the level of poker thought at which your opponents are operating.
Sometimes your skill level will not make this possible.

Since your "success" in poker is based largely upon your ability to make the most of your decisions, it becomes critical that you are making a realistic assessment of your own abilities.

Toward this end, I spent some time thinking about the various levels of poker thought, and it occured to me that there are situations in which you can place yourself to maximize ANY level of poker thought, even level "0" thinking. You see, when you do recognize that you need "improvement" in your game (everyone does), and that improvement is an on-going process, the "meta-game" concerns begin to play a large part in your ability to maximize the current level of thinking of which you are capable. Those concerns are what I I will outline here today.

Before I outline what I've come up with, let's review the typically accepted "Levels of Poker Thinking":

Level 0:
This is the person who puts little or no thought into their play.
The level 0 player has little or no knowledge of what makes a good hold 'em hand, and has almost no ability to reaosn through a given situation.
They rely almost entirely on "luck".

Level 1:
This is the person who has advanced beyond mere level 0 thought, and has begun to form an awareness of the value of HOW hold 'em hands are made.
Since this is probably a relatively new "discovery", the level 1 thinker tends to concentrate solely upon the value of their own holding.
Their ability to minimize loss, to exercise "situational aggression", and to identify a positive expected value play is still un-formed, largely because the level 1 thinker does not yet have the ability to put their opponent on a hand.

Level 2:
This is by FAR the "largest" group in poker, and many players never rise above this level.
At this level a player will tend to have enough "knowledge" to start thinking about the value of his own hand, and also begin to consider the holding(s) of opponents.
Due to the many, and varied skills required to move above this level of thinking, many players at this level may THINK they they are better than they are, and that opponents are worse than they are. This can lead to excessive "whining" about bad beats through failure to recognize HOW the level 2 player is still losing.
Generally speaking, it is at the top end of Level 2 thinking where some players MAY begin to show long term positive results, but when faced with even more advanced players, they will tend to still lose frequently.

Level 3:
This is the level at which a player thinks not just of his own holding's value, and not just of the potential cards his opponent may hold, but also when he begins to think about what his OPPONENT may be thinking- especially about the hand the level 3 thinker is playing.
This tends to be the level where "exploitative plays" become somewhat common, and where a wider range good bluff situations are noticed.
At this level of thinking, the difference between long term winning and losing is often a matter of "meta-game" issues, and not actual game play.
It is relatively few players who can consistently play at level 3.

Level 4+:
These are the level of "professional" type poker thought. Depending upon opponents, level 4+ thinking devolves into much more a "mind game", where concerns completely beyond actual card value begin to come into play in your decisions.
VERY few players acheive level 4 thinking, and fewer still consistently play at these levels.

So...

Your first "job" is to honestly assess your current level of poker thought.
Once that is done, once you have very critically looked at your game, and asked others (especially more advanced players who are CLEARLY lv. 3+, like TheLangolier), it is time to think about making the MOST of your current level if you plan to play at all before you improve. There are some "meta-game" changes you can EASILY make now to aximize your chances of winning, no matter what your level. those changes (as I see it) are:

Level 0:
Your game is totally un-developed.
As such, if you are actually thinking about making the most of your play, you are probably 'brand new" to the game, otherwise you probably would not CARE enough about your game to do anything to change your chances of winning.

You'd be best served by...

A) Stick to free rolls, and the tiniest of micro stakes games.
Since you will tend to have little chance of winning based upon the strength of your decisions, you are best served "practicing" in an environment where your loss potential is minimized.

B) Select "fast" structure events.
These carry the highest amount of "variance", so "luck" plays a big part of ANYONE winning.
Since your decision process is relatively un-formed, your best chance of winning is thru "luck".

C) STUDY OTHERS far more than you play.
Since the games you do play will tend to be dis-similar to more "normal" games, studying your own decisions in those events will not tend to yeild as much in the way of developmental thinking for you.
Seek SOME outside input on the decisions you make in the games you play, but rely on study of the play of others in the events you want to play, to help form the thoughts you will need for the games you WANT to play.
The key point is: YOU know what you have already encountered. Use OTHERS to clarify your thoughts about your study by formulating questions which will help YOU. Watching others tends to make formulating those questions "easier".
Afterall, If you rely on someone to "spoon feed" you info, a lot of that info will go over your head.

Level 1:
You have probably begun to "absorb" some basic thoughts aobut the game of poker, especially start hand standards.
Your development has not yet progressed enouguh to really benefit from identification of any "leaks" in your play since you still need to learn enough of the basic concepts of poker to make it very hard for you to "adjust" your decisions effectively to plug those leaks.

You'd be best served by...

A) Stick to free rolls, and the tiniest of micro stakes games.
Since you will tend to have little chance of winning based upon the strength of your decisions, you are best served "practicing" in an environment where your loss potential is minimized.

B) Begin to avoid the "fast" structure" events.
While your skill is not developed enough for profitability in normal structure games, your on going study will become more effective if you "see" more typical situations; these situations tend to not be available in the faster structure events.

C) STUDY OTHERS far more than you play.
Continue to rely on questioning others about THEIR decisions while you are developing a "feel" for the new material you are encountering.
Continue this because it is probably still easier to "see" things in the play of others that SEEM related to what you are then studying.
This will still be easier to do than to pick out particularly "troubling" spots in your own play for review by others, since doing so may lead quite often to concepts you have not yet encountered.
The key difference between lv 0 and lv 1 is that you should now try to formulate your questions so they refer back to more hands you have played.
Since you've gained a little more knowledge thru your study and play than the level 0 thinker, you should try relating your questions back to your play more and more.
Example: "I just saw you raise to 4BB from middle position with 99. I did that in Hand X here, and you said that wasn't good. How is this different?"

Level 2:
This is by far the "largest" group of players, and as such it has the widest disparity of knowledge between the "top end" and "bottom end" of level 2 thinkers.

No matter what though, by this point you've probably encountered quite a few of the concepts of poker, and it is the continuation of your "experience" with different situations which will lead to awareness of both concepts you are somewhat familiar with, and those you have not encountered before. It is also experience that will improve your familiarity with these concepts the most.

You'd be best served by...

A) Choose your games based largely upon Bank roll management concerns, game selection critieria, and other "meta-game" thoughts.
While you may not yet have the knowledge to be a consistent winner based upon your decisions, the strength of your decision process has probably improveed enough that you are not really "dead money" any more. Sticking within your BR will tend to give you maximum play, even if you are not yet advanced enough to win consistently.
Also, there probably are more and more games available where you will tend to have a skill advantage over opponents. Your bank roll will THANK you for looking for these situations, even if they are nominally below a level you can otherwise "afford".

B) Avoid "hubris" in your post-game thoughts.
Hubris is, essentially, "false pride" which leads to an eventual downfall.
Just because you are more familiar with a lot of poker concepts does NOT mean you have "mastered them" at this level of poker thought.
If you allow false pride to creep into your game simply because you have advanced a bit over where you were, you will tend to close off a lot of potential for further development.
Instead, look for reasons why a play someone made to BEAT YOU is "good", and approach it from that direction. If after your review still shows it to be a "donk" play, fine. Always leave open the fact that something that you do NOT know might be at work in a hand, and that this lack in YOU may be something you need to address.
So let OTHERS tell you a hand was a "bad beat" or a "cooler", and try to avoid doing that yourself as much as you can.

C) Begin to balance your Study time with your playing time at a 50/50 ratio.
Your greater knowledge of poker concepts means you will benefit greatly from experience, but not so much that you should eliminate raw study form your development altogether. a 50/50 ratio is probably just about right.
Your study will largely consist of reading and talking aobut newer conecpts (for you) wih others, and will also consist of a large amount of review of hands you have played with others.
Obviously, you will tend to have to reciprocate by looking at the play of others as well, but a lot of your study should be devoted to hands you have played.
Wtching others is somewhat less effective for you now since you are probably now playing at a level that you can afford, and that you are comfortable playing. You should not ELIMINATE watching others completely though, but your time spent watching others should be concentrated largely on those who are now at a GAME level you aspire to; before you were laregely watching others will a SKILL level you aspire to.

For level 3+, MY suggestions are really not needed...

At these levels, you will probably have a pretty good handle on things that you are not doing well, and on the stuff you might do to change what you are doing poorly to improve your results. you probably also hae found a roup of similiarly skilled palyers with whom you can discuss your play decisions to help eliminate "leaks" you might have let slip into your game.

By these higher levels, a lot of your study time is devoted to review of your own play, and reading material of the newest concepts in poker. Your biggest concern is not so much "improvement" (unless you are not yet at the biggest games and aspire to these), since level 3+ play is really only needed against the sternest of opponents, so you are really trying to keep ahead of the general poker 'learning curve", and trying to avoid deteroration of your own skills.

In short, the things you need to do to maximize your results become highly PERSONAL at these higher levels, so any general thoughts that might be put out there will not apply to your specific situation.

So...

there ya go, another huge block of text.

I hope this is somewhat useful for everyone, and I'd appreciate any further comments on things I may have missed, as well as seeing the thoughts of others on this.

Until next time...

SEE YA!
 
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Tue Apr 19, 2011, 04:32 PM
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PanickyPoker's Avatar
Since: Sep 2010
Posts: 3,168
Good post, JDean. I'd like to think that I'm at the bottom end of level 3. This sort of reminds me of a 2+2 thread I read awhile back about the evolution of a poker player. That was a good read as well.

One point I have an issue with though:

Quote:
Originally Posted by JDean View Post
(Note: This is mainly geared toward MTT/SNG players, and not cash game playes)Level 0:
Your game is totally un-developed.

You'd be best served by...

A) Stick to free rolls, and the tiniest of micro stakes games.
Since you will tend to have little chance of winning based upon the strength of your decisions, you are best served "practicing" in an environment where your loss potential is minimized.

B) Select "fast" structure events.
These carry the highest amount of "variance", so "luck" plays a big part of ANYONE winning.
Since your decision process is relatively un-formed, your best chance of winning is thru "luck".
'Fast' + 'Freeroll' = Bad way to learn poker, unless what you're trying to learn is the most extremely basic stuff, like how many betting rounds there are, and what buttons do what. When I started, I think my best learning experiences came from really studying how gameplay worked in places where people actually go to make some consistent cash, like the 10NL tables, or the slow structure $2 MTT's. Unfortunately, this resulted in me busting my roll several times (and thus goes against traditional BRM advice), but I think that what I learned from observing other players, and my own plays, was more valuable than what I would have learned in freerolls or play money games.

Some people might have an issue with that, but it's my take.
 
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Tue Apr 19, 2011, 07:36 PM
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topthecat's Avatar
Since: Nov 2007
Posts: 1,962
Hi folks,

Great info JD. Still on the freeroll level myself and there is a lot to be gained here, even on the German ones. I still make elementary mistakes and until I eradicate those, freerolls and 2NL will be my staple diet.

I agree too with panicky and part of my education is just watching 10 NL and slower low limit MTTs. SNGs I am always bubble boy and I need to plug those leaks as well.

I am due a big win in the German freerolls, luck has just not been on my side to date, and I have been all in against similarly stacked opponents just to get sucked out when I am ahead. AQ suited against J6 unsuited preflop is the sort of hand that stops my progress. LOL

I need to spend more time studying and in the next few days that will be my main preoccupation.


Thanks guys,

TC
 
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Tue Apr 19, 2011, 08:14 PM
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JDean's Avatar
Since: Aug 2010
Posts: 3,145
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PanickyPoker View Post
Good post, JDean. I'd like to think that I'm at the bottom end of level 3. This sort of reminds me of a 2+2 thread I read awhile back about the evolution of a poker player. That was a good read as well.

One point I have an issue with though:



'Fast' + 'Freeroll' = Bad way to learn poker, unless what you're trying to learn is the most extremely basic stuff, like how many betting rounds there are, and what buttons do what. When I started, I think my best learning experiences came from really studying how gameplay worked in places where people actually go to make some consistent cash, like the 10NL tables, or the slow structure $2 MTT's. Unfortunately, this resulted in me busting my roll several times (and thus goes against traditional BRM advice), but I think that what I learned from observing other players, and my own plays, was more valuable than what I would have learned in freerolls or play money games.

Some people might have an issue with that, but it's my take.
Fact is, I suggest that you NOT use those structured events for the focus of your "learning".

The thing is though, at level 0 of thinking, you basically have NO thought to your game. In that case, if you insist on playing of money anyway, you may as well seek a structure which makes the most of "luck" based play.

If you see though, I suggest also that you do NOT put much study into your play in those events, instead focusing on the play of OTHERS in the events you'd rather be playing.

A level 0 thinker has very little frame work to benefit from "experience" in playing, so he may was well off-set his dis-advantages as much as possible until he gets that frame work that allows experience to "teach" him things.

Last edited by JDean; Tue Apr 19, 2011 at 08:16 PM..
 
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Tue Apr 19, 2011, 09:06 PM
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PanickyPoker's Avatar
Since: Sep 2010
Posts: 3,168
Quote:
Originally Posted by JDean View Post
If you see though, I suggest also that you do NOT put much study into your play in those events, instead focusing on the play of OTHERS in the events you'd rather be playing.
True. I think that watching others play in games that you aspire to play is a severely underused learning tool. I think I'll try to do it sometime this week. It might help my game.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JDean View Post
A level 0 thinker has very little frame work to benefit from "experience" in playing, so he may was well off-set his dis-advantages as much as possible until he gets that frame work that allows experience to "teach" him things.
Here's the catch with this thought process. I believe that you need experience at a specific level before you can fully develop the framework to really learn from your experience at that level. In other words, if you've never played for money before, you're going to lose before you win, unless you get really lucky and have good BRM. If you're avoiding real money games because you want to get good at them by playing freerolls, you might be using an excuse to avoid losing money. If you really want to get good at money games, you eventually need to jump into the money game pool. And there's nothing wrong with busting your roll a few times if your losses are ultimately small, and you learn from them every time.
 
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Tue Apr 19, 2011, 11:40 PM
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JDean's Avatar
Since: Aug 2010
Posts: 3,145
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Panicky,

Mike Caro has a saying aobut poker "learning". It goes:

"In the beginning, everything is EQUAL"

By that, he refers to the fact that without the framework necessary to judge a situation, simply experiencing a situation is not going to do you any good; you lack the knowledge to know what you "should" learn from that experience.

A 0 level thinker who is studying poker will tend NOT to be a true zero level thinker for long, but for the time he is at that level, he is better served palying a structure which will tend to "reward" lucky play over pure skill. His "study" efforts are better spent reading about poker concepts he has never heard of, asking questions of and watching more experienced players, and actually playing very little. Once he does have a handle on even jsut the concept of basic start hand standards though, he is really no longer a level 0 thinker, and should be looking to move OUT of fast structure events.

The only reaosn why even mentioned fast structure events as preferable for the 0 level thinker is that most folks simply will NOT study when they can play. A 0 level thinker really should think aobut doing that: study with ALL their poker time, and play not at all until they do start to understand some poker concepts.

So in the bottom line, we are not REALLY in disagreement...
 
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Wed Apr 20, 2011, 12:46 AM
(#7)
PanickyPoker's Avatar
Since: Sep 2010
Posts: 3,168
Quote:
Originally Posted by JDean View Post
most folks simply will NOT study when they can play.
So true...
 
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Fri Apr 22, 2011, 12:20 PM
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Freckldgator's Avatar
Since: Dec 2010
Posts: 217
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Thanks for another thought provoking post.

I think I am mucking about in level 2 someplace.

My problem is processing and putting to use all the info that is out there.
Is this like math where a knowledge of addition is necessary before you start on multiplication?

Is there some sort of order in which to study and improve?

Thanks!
 

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