Explanation of Levelling

The concept of “levelling” carries a great deal of psychological depth and is best illustrated with an example. 
Imagine player A open-raises, is 3bet by player B and proceeds to fold. The very next hand the same action occurs, player B 3bets and player A folds. Again, for a third time, player B 3bets, but this time, player A 4bets. What is going on here?

It could either be that player A is frustrated and putting in a light 4bet, or it could simply be that player B finally ran into the top of player A’s range. Which is it?

It could be either. If player B understands the psychological state of player A well, he’ll be able to think on the correct “level” and make the correct strategic adjustment. If he finds himself on the wrong level, he’ll often end up making the exact opposite of the best play.

Within such levels exist an infinite amount of smaller levels (a little bit like looking at a mirror in the reflection of another mirror). While analyzing the structure of player A’s psychology, player B needs to factor in the possibility that player A is also attempting to adjust to player B’s psychology.  I.e. perhaps player A’s decision to 4bet is more a function of how he imagines it will be perceived by player B than how he perceives player B. Perhaps player A decides to 4bet a range only consisting of value hands because he imagines it will be perceived as a light 4bet by player B. 

The depth of these levels can continue indefinitely. Perhaps player B knows that player A will expect him (player B) to interpret his 4bet as a pure value-range. It’s hence possible that player A is 4betting light as an exploit. Player B is hence able to think one level deeper and realise the 4bet is light based on his knowledge of how player A perceives him. If player A could think one level deeper than this, he would choose to 4bet purely for value again.

Although the amount of levels are infinite, we are often toggling back and forth between two opposite plays i.e. to weight towards value, or to weight towards bluffs. The goal is to be precisely one level ahead of our opponent. If we are two levels ahead, we generally end up making the wrong play. This is often referred to as “levelling ourself”.

To cite a common example, imagine we are facing a river bet in a spot where it’s very hard for our opponent to bluff with enough combinations. The level 1 play is simply to say “my opponent is probably not bluffing here, we can fold frequently”. The level 2 play is to think “ah but my opponent knows that I wouldn’t give him credit for bluffing here so he is probably doing his best to bluff extremely frequency”. 

The level 2 play in this example is often giving our opponent too much credit for understanding the game and results in us making the exact opposite of the best decision.

Example of Levelling used in a sentence -> We have a lot of history and there is a lot of levelling that goes on.

How to Use Levelling as Part of Your Poker Strategy

Levelling is a notoriously complex area of poker and has very deep roots in human psychology. It’s very easy to get carried away with convoluted thought processes “he thinks, that I think, that he thinks….” etc.

It might come as a surprise to many that the average opponent we face is not thinking on any deep level at all, but is instead simply playing his cards. Giving unknown opponents credit for an advanced thought process often results in us making significant strategic errors.

Although levelling can require to any situation where the thought process of two players excert an influence on each other, the following levels are commonly given as an example.

Level 0 – No awareness of strategy.
Level 1 – Just playing our cards. (Beats level 0)
Level 2 – Playing based on our opponent’s range. (Beats level 1).
Level 3 – Playing based on our perceived range. (Beats level 2 but ironically may lose to level 1)

See Also 

Mental Game, A-game, C-game

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