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The Three Levels of Expert Poker Playing

What do we mean to be a great poker advanced player? The answer is that it depends. To be specific, it depends on the skill of your rivals. To be a great poker player, one should not only consider how a rival plays but also how well he plays. This is true of the game as a whole as well as of the individual player.

Expert poker playing has following three kinds:

Level 1: Expert mathematical strategy.

Level 2: Expert counter strategy.

Level 3: Expert mixed strategy.

The tougher the game, the greater the level of poker strategy you must use so as to beat the game for more money. The experts are much skilled only at Strategy 1. Higher-stakes players are generally best at Strategy 2. The world-class players who you might have heard of sometimes use Strategy 3. However, almost no one knows how to play every one of these three levels of strategy when the time calls for it. We can use only four or five exceptions in all of poker. These are truly great players.

Let's discuss each level one by one.

Correct mathematical strategy involves factors like the value of your hand, the size of the pot, the number of players in the pot, and your position. In seven card stud game, the cards that are out are more important factor. This can be treated as the first level strategy because it is by no means simple. It is similar to the computer-derived blackjack strategy that "counters" use except that it is more complicated. However, like the blackjack strategy, mathematical strategy is basically automatic. One factor is not really considered, i.e. how the rivals play. It is assumed in this strategy that all your rivals are playing straightforwardly, meaning betting or calling with a good hand, raising with a very good hand and checking or folding with a bad hand.

This mathematical strategy is better against loose, weak players. In a weak game, a higher-level strategy would not do that well. Even if there are other few expert players in the game, you should adhere to Level 1 casino strategy as there will fairly always be at least one bad player in the pot, which keeps the experts from getting too fancy.

The main point is that many best players do not know the best way to gain money from suckers. When a sucker does enter the game, the best players feel frustrated as they fail to get his money, while some good but not great player is getting it all. The truth is that in this game, the weaker player has become the best player in the game! This is because he is skilled at the Level 1 strategy that the game now requires.

As the game becomes tougher it is necessary that you move it to the high-level strategy. This is because you can gain by playing the mathematically straightforward strategy is more than counterbalanced by the fact that your rivals will be able to read your hands. You should be tricky from here onwards. The type of manipulation you will use depends upon your rival. (In tough games, hands limit down to two or three players. When there is a multi-way pot you should stick to close to the right percentage play.)

When you use Level 1 strategy, you can play a particular hand the same way every time in a particular situation. This is untrue for higher level strategies. You might very well play the same hand differently from one time to the next.

When you use Level 2 strategy, one essential thing that determines how well you play your hand is how your rivals play. We are talking about counter strategy. If you know your rival plays, it is very possible that you can take big advantage of this information by playing your hand differently from what correct percentage would indicate. For instance, you will check frequently with a very aggressive player yet to act.

The different ways you should adjust your play depending on how your rival plays could be the subject for the whole text. For more discussion refer to the chapter "Evaluating the Players and Adjusting to Them" in The Theory of Poker by David Skylansky.

When your rivals are good enough to realize that you change your play according to your rival, but still play a particular rival the same way, it is time to move one step ahead. In extremely tough games you should play similar hands in similar situations differently against the same rival. This is Strategy Level 3. If there is more than one decent way to play a hand you should give strong consideration to playing it little bad way only to throw off the other players. You can again play it the standard (Level 1) way as your rivals will be worried that you are tricking them and therefore don't really have what you are representing.

Level 3 strategy like Level 2 strategy involves mixing up your play. The difference is that in Level 2 you can play the same way against a particular rival, based on the way he plays. By using Level 3 you can keep changing your play even against the same rival.

The question arises how do you decide how to play a hand some particular time against tough player? There are two ways. If you have great instinct yourself, you should try to outguess him. This means that you should think back to how you have played against him recently. Now you should recall it. (Remember, however, that you shouldn't go to extreme to be tricky. If the alternate play is poker mathematics inferior then you shouldn't use it.)

However, against the great players you can hope that they expect you to reverse your play, so you don't! Against great players you can use better off the best method to mix up your play. Do it randomly. Use irrelevant factors, like color of your cards, to decide a close decision. For instance you may check a hand if more than three-fifth of your cards is red. Otherwise you can bet. Now even the champions won't be able to figure it out.

The best way to play poker is "randomizing" your strategy. Don't forget it can always work better against few players. Deciding what proportion of different playing patterns to use randomly requires real insight into poker and your rivals. This is a mathematical discipline which tells you the best way to mix up your play. It is called the Game Theory.

Game Theory is quite sophisticated to go in detail over here. (For more discussion refer to The Theory of Poker and Getting the Best of It by David Skylansky.) In fact, no one knows how to play the more difficult poker games purely according to the Game Theory. Even if they did know, it does not work as well as other strategies unless your instincts are somewhat lacking or you are playing against world calls superstars.

As we move up the levels of play we start with a mathematical strategy and then stray from it as we get better and the game gets tougher. Then when we achieve the best strategy, we find that we are back to mathematics again.

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