Player Levels

OK, this is going to be a bit arbitrary, playful, and at times silly, but over the next few weeks I thought I’d define a progression of the skill progression of an imaginary player.

Level 1:
Here’s a cool new game. It seems somehow fascinating. The players hide their “hole” cards from each other, and try to make the best 5 card hand from the combination of the cards in the middle with their hidden cards. Card rank, card rank… ok, looks like it is normal: A, K, Q, J, T, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Ummm, let’s google this… ok, best hands: royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind, full house, flush, straight, 3 of a kind, two pair, pair, high card. OK, I’m ready to go and crush-em!

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Level 2: Poker is about Deception
I’ve watched a few TV shows on poker now. Wow… it’s all about deception, and making big bluffs. They can’t see my cards… I need to trick them. OK, when my hand is really weak, I need to bet big and look strong, and when I really have it, I need to check and call, or just bet really small. Haha! Watch out! Here I come!

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Level 3: Any hand can flop a full house. I folded 72 preflop and the flop came 722. I won’t let THAT happen again. No, siree!


Level 4: No More Trash
OK, I’ve been playing for a few weeks now, and while I’ve moved up to 5/10 several times and even 10/20 once, I keep busting back to the Duck Pond. Maybe playing better hands will help. It looks like most of the other players are playing close to 100% of their hands, but it sounds like unsuited, unconnected cards just don’t do very good. OK… let’s start folding Q6, T4 and 62 off suit before the flop and see if that helps at all.

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Level 5: Why We Bet
I thought about delaying this until level 50 or even 100, as I think it is one of the critical skills, but think many people can be exposed to this without developing some complimentary skills that allow them to really put it to use effectively.

Why We Bet

  • to get worse hands to call
  • to get better hands to fold
  • for protection (to deny equity share)

Any bet that does not do one of these things is a mistake, and the last bullet is markedly less important that the first two. So what kind of hands does that mean we should bet with?

  • primarily strong hands, where we think there are more hands that will call and lose than hands that will call and beat us
  • secondarily weak hands, that are unlikely to be ahead on the current street, where we think a bet we might make will get a fair number of better hands the opponent might have to fold
  • rarely with more middling hands, when hands behind us can have significant equity in the pot

Level 6: What do they have?
Gee… I see this thing about why to bet. I’d mostly just been thinking about my own hand. Do I have a pair: OK… all in then, a pair is supposed to be pretty good.

So I guess I should be trying to guess what hand my opponent has. If I think they have a hand that is worse than mine, it sounds like I should be betting. If I think mine is worse… I guess I’m supposed to bet. Wow, if I always pick one or the other, does that mean I’m always supposed to bet? This will take some work… and that last category didn’t make any sense to me…


Reminds me of a tournament hand between Patrick Antonius and Doyle Brunson. Doyle limped with pocket 3s and Antonius jammed with A2o. Doyle makes the call, and the 3s hold, giving him the chip lead with three players left.

After the hand, Antonius was incredulous. He asks Brunson, “How can you make that call?”

Brunson looks at him, smiles, and says," How can I make that call? How do you make that bet?" He then adds what I think is one of the greatest lines in poker history, “We’re playing poker, not solitaire.”


Level 7: The Continuation Bet
Oh, wow… if I raise pre-flop, I’m hearing I can mostly just fire a bet on the flop with every hand if opponents are over folding. With a half pot bet, I don’t even need to get better hands to fold very often for it to show a profit. So maybe I can try this with raising a little more pre-flop?

I did want to briefly mention that while the third bullet (betting to deny opponents their equity share) doesn’t normally stand on its own as a sufficient reason to fire a bet, it often creates additional value for bets fired for either of the other two reasons.

Level 8: Pot Odds and Outs
Wow… this is useful. Now I can figure out when my calls will pay out over time, on average, or what price I’d need to set to make a call a bad investment by my opponent. Well, that should turn out useful. Maybe I can finally climb above 1/2 for good finally now…

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Level 9: Opening Ranges by Seat
Gosh… I thought I was being tight just by folding 83 off in first position. It looks like I should really be much tighter. OK… lets see how super tight goes. Errr… something I can remember while I’m at the board…

  • Under the Gun (6): AA only
  • Early Position (5): AA and KK
  • Middle Position (4): AA through QQ
  • Low Jack (3): AA through QQ and AK
  • High Jack (2): AA through TT and AK
  • Cut Off (1): AA through TT, AK and AQ
  • Button (0): AA through 99, AK and AQ
  • Small Blind (-1): AA through 99, AK through AJ
  • Big Blind (-2): AA through 88, AK through AJ
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Level 10: Set Mining
Wow, I can’t believe how well playing tighter has been working. It feels kind of boring though, and I’ve hated throwing away some of the hands I have been folding. I wonder if I can’t add some more pairs to mix… I’ve seen some other players get some huge pots when they flop a set. We’ve been doing ok on 5/10 finally. Let’s see if we can’t play a few more hands…

  • 6: AA, KK
  • 5: AA - JJ
  • 4: AA - 99
  • 3: AA - 77, AK
  • 2: AA - 55, AK - AQ
  • 1: AA - 22, AK - AQ, AJs
  • 0: AA - 22, AK - AJ, ATs, KQs
  • -1: AA - 22, AK - AT, KQ, QJs, JTs
  • -2: AA - 22, AK - AT, KQ, QJs, JTs
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Level 11: Implied Odds
Oh… so I’d been using direct odds by comparing the size of the bet I was facing with the current size of the pot (current potential winnings), but I could/should have been thinking of the average amount that I win (the possibility that I’ll pick up extra bets when I hit my outs) relative to the amount I’m risking to decide if a call is correct with a drawing hand.

Wow, does this mean that all of the people I’ve been describing as calling stations have actually been playing better than me all along??? I’ll need to think about this one…

(I love the idea of this topic I can’t wait to see your ideas at levels 50-60)
suggestion for the next level : the semi-bluff
I let you the privilege to write it if you want to put it

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Interesting question. There is a player who I frequently encounter in tournaments who might be described as a calling station.

For example I played a pot against him last night in which I made top pair of 9s on a medium-low flop, and then bet more than a full pot, which he called. He won the pot on the river with a King having called with K8o. I checked back and he had called the flop bet with no flush or straight draw and no pair either. So why did he do that? I noticed that he often tended to make large bets on the river, which may or may not have been bluffs.

So maybe his tactic is to limp any two cards, and then make large river bet bluffs when it looks like no straight or flush has come home and that if he actually makes best hand on the turn or river, then that is a bonus for him.

Anyway, I kind of decided that when I am playing him, I will play small ball down to the river, then reevaluate on whether to call his river bets. No point wasting money on large flop bets if he is not going to fold, unless I have flopped a made hand better than AA.

In the blinds he limps everything from SB, so again there are opportunities to profit by raising preflop with superior hands, in which case he usually will fold.

However it is really important to stay cool and not lose your rag with these players.

Level 12: The semi-bluff
Oh wow… this is cool. So, hmmm… it looks like some hands are a bit better to bluff with than others. If I have outs to a really big hand, even if my hand is really weak if it doesn’t improve, if I bet then I have two ways to win: if my opponent folds, or if I hit one of my outs (kind of “doubling” my chances). Oh, this could get fun…

Level 13: SPR and Effective Stack Depth
Oh wow… this seems big, especially in light of some of the stuff I’ve recently learned. I wonder if I can’t climb above 25/50 now…

It sounds like a lot of my drawing, multi-way holdings (small suited connectors, small pocket pairs, Ace small suited) gain in value a lot as stacks get deeper (meaning there are implied odds for a bigger pot relative to the initial investment), and conversely lose a lot of value when stacks are small, or when the ratio of effective stacks to the pot are small (denying significant improvement in direct pot odds versus implied pot odds). So in small stack and low SPR (stack to pot ratio) situations, high card value becomes more important, and connectedness and suited-ishyness less important.

So it sounds like I should at least alter my opening ranges based on how deep I am, and how deep possible opponents are. I’d never done that before…

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Level 14: Table Image
It seems like I’ve been getting my biggest wins after I have a stretch where my betting frequency has been a bit higher, and then I hit a big hand. Even if I haven’t shown down any bluffs, if people have seen me make a lot of recent bets, I seem to get more calls. Hmmm, so in that spot, I think in general I need to reduce my bluffing frequency, and probably bet a bit thinner for value.

I suppose on the flip side, if I’ve been quiet for a while, I might be able to profitably make a few more bluffs, and widen my ranges, but might need to steer away from thinner value bets? This will take some work…

Level 15: Less Limping
Wow, just read this… “limping strategies do have their place in GTO play. Solvers like applying them primarily in blind vs blind battles in rake-free environments such as tournaments. However, given the nature of modern games where most player populations under-defend their blinds, over-fold to c-bets, don’t 3-bet often enough, and don’t peel as often as they should (even in tough games), raising has a lot of added value and will remain the dominant strategy.” (Modern Poker Theory, Acevedo)

OK… let’s give that a try. Less limping pre-flop… more raising.


Level 16: 3 Betting
Well, if less limping is good, I’m guessing for similar reasons 3 betting will generally be better than a cold call? But just like I can’t raise every hand from every seat, there’s a question of which hands are good to 3 bet. It seems somehow easier with the first raise, especially on tables where it is rare for that raise to get 3 bet,

Ummm, well I guess I’m mostly raising hands that I think will be best most of the time, so I think the hands I 3 bet should generally be stronger than the raising range I’m facing? But if someone is raising 20% of hands from a particular seat, AA-99, AK, AQ, AJs, ATs and KQs is only 6%, and the bottom few cards already feel kind of wild there??? But it seems like I should probably be able to attack a raise even wider than that, by the same logic that supports the first raise (???). But I’m not really sure what other hands might make sense…

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