Poker: Get inside your opponents' heads

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The Independent Culture
SOMETIMES poker seems a very easy game. That is when you catch good cards. And sometimes it seems a very difficult game. That is when you read David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth, the acknowledged masters of poker theory.

One of the issues they discuss in their book Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players is levels of thinking at poker, or more colloquially 'getting into your opponents' heads'. 'First think about what your opponent has. Second, think about what your opponent thinks you have. And third, think about what your opponent thinks you think he has.'

Here is a simple example. 'Suppose you hold nothing and bluff at a pot that contains a pair. You get raised by a strong opponent who knows you would bluff at this flop. Since you know that he knows you would bluff at this pot, his raise does not not mean that he has a hand.' The right move, therefore, might

be for you to re-raise and then bet again on the next card. (Which I would say probably needs the courage of a winning streak to carry off.) This sort of play, warn the authors, only works against a strong player whose thinking makes sense. 'Just as you can't put a weak player on a hand, you can't put him on a thought either.'

Very sophisticated Hold 'em can go beyond this third level of reasoning, they say. For example, suppose two suited cards flop and there is a bet from player A in early position. Another strong player, B, who feels that his opponent is probably on a flush draw (since player A likes to check raise a lot when he has a legitimate hand) may now raise holding only bottom pair, and then bet again on fourth street. At that point player A may realise what B is thinking and try to

check raise his flush draw. The initial raiser B, realising this possibility, may now call his opponent down. When the hand is over, assuming the flush does not come on the last card, B's calls will look fantastic to the other players at the table. On the other hand if player A really had a good hand all the time, the calls will look like sucker bets.

I don't doubt that this elaborate thinking goes on, but in practical play the judgement you make must be intuitive. Otherwise the effort of trying to outwit your opponents can extend to so many levels that your judgement collapses on itself. There is no substitute for reading your man and betting your hand.

Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players is available from the Gamblers Book Club, 630 South 11th St, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101, price dollars 29.95.