Level Three Thinking
While the level one thinker considers only the two cards in his/her hand and whether or not it is a “winning” hand, and the level two thinker takes into account the cards his opponent may hold, level three thinking can best be summed up with the concept “What does he (my opponent) think I have?” Understanding this idea, and incorporating it into your play when appropriate, gives you a huge edge over players who are not taking it into account.
Let’s take a look at the simplest example: You raise pre-flop from the cutoff with K-Q suited, and are called by the player in the big blind. The flop comes A-7-4 rainbow, and your opponent checks. What do you do? Leaving the fact that most players will make a continuation bet in this situation out of the equation, let’s look at it from a level three standpoint. First of all, what is your read on the other player? Is he at least a level two thinker? Notice that if he is not, he won’t even be considering what you have in your hand, and therefore you will need to make your decision based on other factors.
However, if he is, what does he think you have? The most common hand that players assume that a raiser has is a big ace. If that is the case, you need to make a continuation bet here nearly 100% of the time, since your opponent will be hard-pressed to make a call unless he himself has an ace or hit the flop even harder than that, in which case he will probably let you know with a check-raise, which will end the hand quickly.
A similar situation arises when a danger card comes on the turn or river. Let’s say that your opponent raised pre-flop and you called in the big blind, and the flop once again came out A-7-4, but this time, the A and 4 are of the same suit. You called his continuation bet, and then a third card of the suit came on the turn.
Whether or not you hit the flush, you can put a lot of pressure on a level two opponent by either betting or check-raising the turn, or if it is checked by both of you, betting the river. As long as you play the hand consistently, and develop a story that makes sense at every step of the way, you can lead your opponent to the wrong answer when he is considering what he thinks you are holding.
It is at level three that a player begins to move from being a losing player to consistently turning a profit. As you can see from the above examples, level three thought enables you to be able to more clearly identify situations that are ripe for bluffs, however, this level also allows you to know when it will be profitable to value bet moderately strong hands as well, which can really help build your bankroll.
Once you have reached level three consistently, you still need to be aware of when and when not to apply this level of thought. The most important concept to grasp is this: “Only play one level above your opponent.” Therefore, if the other player is clearly a level one thinker, just utilize level two. If they play at level two, incorporate level three, and so on. There is absolutely no point in executing a fancy advanced play against someone who has absolutely no clue what it is that you are doing, and you will only look foolish when they call your elaborately constructed bluff with middle pair.