This post from Shamus today details Darvin Moon's recollection of the big hand in which he knocked Billy Kopp out of the World Series of Poker main event, just before getting to the final table. Shamus also points to this interview with Kopp, in which he lays out his thinking as the hand was progressing. I haven't been paying much attention the November Nine, so I had not been aware of either of these sources.
The contrast is stunning. Kopp is thinking, oh, about 17 levels ahead of Moon. Moon isn't even correctly aware of what the cards on the board are, let alone getting inside Kopp's head. He's playing somewhere between that infamous Level Zero and Level 1.
This reminds me of several things, all of which are basically making the same point. First is a little tidbit I read just today in Jeff Hwang's column in Card Player magazine (November 4 issue, vol. 22, #22):
In poker, we might assume that our opponent took a certain action for a
reason, when the reality may be that he has absolutely no idea what he is doing.
For example, your opponent--a tourist who has never played poker
before--bets $600 into a $1,000 pot on the river. You wonder what he has. You
wonder what he thinks you have. You wonder what he thinks you think he thinks
you have...and so on. And you try to analyze his bet amount.
For all of the multiple levels of thinking you've done, it's possible that
his bet size and action is completely random. Maybe the minute timer on his
watch read "00," and maybe a girl walked into the room who looked like a "6," so
he simply put the "6" and "00" together and decided to bet $600!
Next is this from Bryan Devonshire, which I posted as a "Poker Gem" last year:
I always laugh when people fail to realize when players are not paying
attention and try to put moves on them, because some people wouldn't notice if
an African elephant walked across the table, much less what your bluff bet was
supposed to be representing.
Then there was this from Dave Irish:
You can't play level 3 poker against people who don't understand Level
And finally, there is a great chapter by Rafe Furst in the Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide, in which he cogently discusses what can be learned about poker from roshambo (rock, paper, scissors). The basic idea is summarized nicely in this exchange between Furst and Michael Craig, the book's editor (p. 414):
FURST: Against expert roshambo players, you have to go many levels deep in your
CRAIG: How many levels do you usually have to go to win?
FURST: The amount never varies: one level deeper than your opponent.
The point is, of course, that going one level too deep is just as disastrous as going one level too shallow, and that is true no matter what your opponent's depth of thinking might be.
Billy Kopp probably knew that before this year's World Series of Poker. If not, he learned the lesson in the most expensive way possible. Either way, my guess is that he will never, ever forget it.