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Level Four Thinking

Level Four Thinking
Level Four thinking is the gateway to the most complex and intricate plays at the poker table. This level can best be summed up by the statement “What does he think I think he has?” A player who can consistently act from this level is the most dangerous opponent imaginable in a game, because he or she becomes almost impossible to predict. This player will develop strategies to carry out over an entire cash game session, or over the course of a tournament, to combat whatever you own style is.

Let’s look at a recent high-stakes example: In an episode of The Big Game, Tony G. made a raise to $1,200 with 6-5 in the small blind and Vanessa Rousso woke up with pocket aces and decided to smooth-call and disguise her hand. Tony G. then bet $2,000 in the dark, and flopped 6-J-5, for bottom two pair. Rousso raised to $5,000 and Tony G. made it $20,000. Rousso called, and the turn brought the as, which, in addition to giving Rousso a set, was a third spade on the board. Now, Tony G. bet $10,000, and kept up a steady stream of table talk, trying to goad Russo into shipping all her chips into the middle.

Let’s pause the hand for a moment, and look at it from the perspective of each of the levels of thinking. For Level One thinkers, it’s likely that all the money would have gone in on the flop. After Tony G.’s re-raise, Rousso, if she were a Level One thinker, would have just assumed her aces were still good and pushed. However, at that point, Rousso was operating at least at Level Two, considering what Tony G. could have that could beat her. She knew that he is a VERY aggressive player, capable of huge moves with nothing at all. However, she also realized that he could have either hit a set or two pair, or he could have a flush draw that he would be willing to gamble with, so she did not want to let the pot get too big with just an over pair.

Once the as hit on the turn, both players needed to be aware from a Level Two perspective that the other one could have a made flush, but they needed to consider Level Three as well, “What does he/she think I have?” For both of them, the answer was that it was unlikely that their opponents had an accurate read, Tony G. because Rousso didn’t re-raise pre-flop, and Rousso because of Tony G.’s pre-flop raise with low, unsuited connectors followed by his bet in the dark.

After Tony G.’s turn bet, Level Four came into play. Because of Tony G.’s betting patterns throughout the hand, Rousso could answer this question in a number of ways. The big re-raise on the flop, followed by the small bet on the turn could lead her to believe that Tony thinks she thinks that he was on a flush draw and hit it. With her not holding a spade at all, and knowing Tony G.’s reputation for gambling, it was hard for her to raise or push at this point in the hand, because Tony G. would surely call with a made flush, and might even call with something like K-J with the king of spades. Her decision to call this bet as well incorporated all four levels, and allowed her to see if the river would clarify things for her.

Tony G. checked in the dark prior to the river card, which turned out to be another five. Now, the result of the hand was really pre-ordained, as it had devolved into a classic cooler. At this point, the players had been so skillful that neither could really put the other on the hand they actually had. In the actual hand, Rousso, with Tony G. continuing to prod her into making a big bet, now pushed all-in and was snap-called by Tony G. Rousso won a pot of almost $200,000 in a hand where all levels of thinking were very much in play. 
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