Winning the Leveling Game
The ultimate rush in poker comes from outplaying a poker pro. You trick him into thinking you have one hand, when actually you have something else. You deceive him with your line and sizings and win a monster pot. You win the leveling game.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of leveling, this is where players talk about “what does he think I have” or the next level: “what does he think I think he has”. To succeed with a hand you must correctly identify the level your opponent is on and go one level further. If you go two levels further, you end up outleveling yourself and lose.
When it comes to leveling, I notice that players tend to make one of two possible mistakes. They err in one direction or the other.
Too Smart for Your Own Good
The first mistake is giving your opponent too much credit. You assume he’s at least somewhat clever and is thinking deeply about what you’re doing. There are a few problems with this though:
1) He may not have enough history with you to realize you’re a thinking regular.
2) He may be playing many other tables or otherwise distracted to the extent that he is not able concentrate on your particular hand.
3) He may just not be as clever as you. I’ve definitely observed this in sharp, young players especially. You naturally think other regs grasp concepts as quickly and deeply as you, when the truth is they don’t.
Consider this example. You 3-bet 44 from the SB versus a reg open from the button. He calls.
You triple barrel the following run-out: A 5 3 K 5. On the river you reason that it’s just not the kind of runout that a reg ever bluffs with his entire stack. The pairing card means most Aces are chopping, so your opponent should realize this and give you more credit for a hand. Well, your opponent must not only realize this, but know that you know this. Many regs will just assume they’re chopping enough that calling is correct.
They’re Better than You Think
The second possible mistake is the opposite problem: players fail to realize how close to their level other regs are. This has become far more prevalent as the games have grown tougher and the average skill level has increased dramatically.
Gone are the days that it’s possible to continuation bet your entire range versus other regs on bone dry boards, at least at SSNL and above. You hopefully realize by now that you have to be calling continuation bets with KQ on A92 and so do the other regs.
When you check-raise 622 after defending against a reg’s steal, of course he too will be suspicious. Even in the 25NL Stars games, most regs are pretty good hand readers and especially in the games on Carbon poker in the States.
If your opponent has reasonable looking stats: a VPIP and PFR in the upper teens or lower twenties (for 6-max), a 3-bet between 6 and 9%, and a continuation bet on every street between 50 and 70, then he’s likely a thinking player. For every play you make versus him, take the additional step to consider how you would respond to your own play. Then level up accordingly!