Our objective here is to start to use second-level thinking principles to anticipate the strategies of regular opponents. This information will be used in tandem with other information we know about our opponents to formulate strategies used to exploit them.

The State of Today’s Games

It’s no news to anyone reading this that today’s no-limit hold’em cash games are more difficult than probably any point before. There are more regulars and less fish, so the focus has switched from exploiting fish to exploiting regulars. Simply put, we have to adjust to the fact that there are more people in our games who know some amount about poker. Second-level thinking is taking into account what our opponent expects us to have in different situations based on what we believe they know about poker or about how we play. Using this type of thinking can help us to figure out ways to exploit our opponents. We will use this information in addition to the other types of information we have been discussing in this series to formulate strategies.

The Question to Ask Yourself

An easy way to break down second-level thinking is to just ask yourself: What does my opponent think about the strength of my range? If we are being bet into, then he has to think about whether or not we will be folding often.

In the case that he expects us to fold often, he will be more likely to bluff. Along similar lines, if he expects us to push back at him or to call often, he’ll be more likely to have a stronger range.

When we’re the ones doing the betting, he’s more likely to play back at us if he thinks our range is weak (ie that we will fold often). Similarly, he’s more likely to fold frequently if he thinks our range is particularly strong.

Remember the Premise

Our premise for deciding on exploitative strategies is to have our opponents put in money when we have strong ranges and to have them not put in money when we have weak ranges. All we’re going to be doing here is using second-level thinking to find more situations that fall into these categories. This is really nothing different than anything we have done so far in terms of deciding where our ranges should be weak or strong. It’s just more information we can use to help us make decisions.

Adjusting and the Relationship to the “ISF Theorem”

Suppose you are betting with a strong range, and your opponent folds often because he thinks that your range is strong. In this case, it’s obvious that you should make your betting range weaker. This would avoid wasting your strong hands on lines that won’t get your opponent to put in much money, and it makes your weak hands more profitable by giving them a spot where they can be bluffed profitably.

Now consider the opposite. What if you are betting with a weak range, and your opponent is rarely folding because he knows that your range is weak. Here, the natural adjustment is to make your range stronger. In the terms that we have been using in this series, it would make your opponent put more money into the pot when you have a good hand.

This idea of adjusting based on what your opponent thinks about your hand strength is closely-related to the “ISF Theorem” which you can read about at https://flopturnriver.com/poker-strategy/isf-theorem-19573/.

The Decision-Making Process

So how do you incorporate this information into your decision-making process? Second-level thinking will give you an indicator about which of your ranges should be strong or weak. We have looked at many such indicators during this series of articles, and they all influence our decision-making process.

Take a basic continuation-betting scenario for example: Does our opponent believe that our betting range is strong? Then this is an indicator that he will be folding often, so we should adjust by making our betting range weaker (and our checking range stronger). This gives us similar information as just asking if your opponent folds a lot to continuation bets, so it’s really the same type of information that we have been looking at before. We are just figuring out how our opponent is likely to think instead of looking at direct evidence of how our opponent plays to figure out what his ranges are like.

An Instructive Example

A tight-aggressive regular who is 21/17 with a 72% c-betting rate in six-handed games raises to 3x from the CO, and you call in the SB. You’ve played in games with Villain often, and you have about 400 hands on him. He hasn’t seen you lead very often, and you run about 20/16 with a c-betting rate of about 65% and a 3-betting rate of about 4%. You see the flop heads-up.

In this situation, you have to decide how you want to play your ranges. Before anything else, you’re going to have a leading range and a checking range, so you need to work those ranges out first. This is the type of thinking we have been doing throughout this series. Do you want one of these ranges to be weak? Do you want one of these ranges to be strong? These are the questions we are having to answer in the moment so that we can exploit our opponents.

So let’s take everything into consideration. He hasn’t seen us lead very often over a decent sample, so he will be likely to think that our leading range is strong (this is second-level thinking). We would be inclined to think that he will fold at least somewhat often if we lead the flop here at this point in time. Nothing in our stats would indicate that we get out of line too often, so he doesn’t have much motivation to challenge us on most boards.

Back to our question we’re supposed to ask: What will he think about our leading range? He’ll probably think it’s strong. Along similar lines, he’ll also think our checking range is pretty weak, especially if it’s unlikely for us to hit a certain board. Also, he continuation bets often, so we should be inclined to avoid having a weak checking range. The obvious conclusion that all of the variables point to is for us to lead some weak hands to make our leading range weak and our checking range stronger.

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The Incorporation of Second-Level Thinking
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