Phil Gordon is one writer/commentator who often brings up the different levels, so I’ll just refer to an old column of his to spell it out here.
Says Gordon, Level 1 thinking never gets past the question “What hand do I have?” That’s the beginning player who fails to consider anything beyond his or her own hand when deciding whether or not to proceed. Level 2 thinking additionally asks “What hand does my opponent have?” when making such decisions. Level 3 thinking goes even further, wondering also “What hand does my opponent think I have?” Level 4 then adds the question “What does my opponent think that I think [he or she has]?” And so forth.
When I see writers discussing these levels, I can’t remember ever seeing any of them take it beyond Level 4, which is probably just as well. We probably don’t need to be discussing what I think my opponent thinks I think my opponent thinks I think my opponent thinks I think my opponent thinks I have.
I don’t think so, anyway.
I’ve mentioned how I cashed out a big chunk back in December and decided to drop back down to play some $0.50/$1.00 limit hold’em. I know a lot of folks find LHE deadly boring, particularly at the micro stakes, but I’m having fun down here. I have mostly stuck with six-handed games, which are significantly less tedious than the full ring (and, for me, more profitable). You certainly find yourself up against a lot of Level 1 types at these stakes. But there are plenty of Level 2 people, and even Level 3, too. However, there is another type one encounters down here that generally doesn’t get discussed.
The Level Zero thinker.
This would be the player who doesn’t even seem to be thinking about his or her own hand. I’ve never played middle or high stakes LHE, but I’m reasonably sure one never finds any Level Zero folks at those levels -- except, perhaps, if they have imbibed so much they can no longer see their cards.
Here’s an example of what I’m referring to (RSS folks click on through to see this one):
Bad break for Challenger, who flopped bottom set to Champ’s top set. But really, how to explain Level Zero’s play with here? At no point does Zero even have a draw, and he even calls on the end when anyone with a six or higher beats him.
The fact is, at these stakes, one will see this sort of play more than just once-in-a-blue-moon. It’s rare, to be sure, but there most definitely are these Level Zero guys out there who’ll pop up now and then. I actually referred to another example of one in a post last month called “Lost in the Funhouse.” There’s a replayer hand there, too, which shows a guy call a last bet on the river with with the board showing . Okay, so he chased a gutshot draw to the wheel to the river, but calling the river? Only if the other dude has four-high (and is thus playing the board, too) does he not lose.
Another clear example of Level Zero thinking.
I should note that some strategists actually call “Level 1” thinking “Level 0” and adjust the other levels accordingly. That’s because, as Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger say in The Poker Mindset, when a player is focused only on his or her own cards “many poker theorists don’t even consider this a level of thinking at all.”
But there is something rattling around in there if the player appears aware of his or her own hand. And I suppose the Level Zero guys at the micro stakes are thinking something, too. Just not about poker.
The name is apt in another way as well. It also describes the eventual size of their stacks.