WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING
In Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10, the Sparrows are holding a trial for Cersei Lannister, which they expect her to attend. It is clear that the Sparrows have more military strength than Cersei. They have the Faith Militant, as well as the King’s army. Cersei, at this point, only has her zombie bodyguard, The Mountain.
When Cersei does not show up for trial, the High Sparrow is unconcerned and thinks that he has won; namely, that he may now take Cersei prisoner by force. However, Margaery Tyrell reaches a different conclusion. Margaery says to the High Sparrow, “Cersei understands the consequences of her absence, and she is absent anyway, which means she does not intend to suffer those consequences.” The High Sparrow responds with a shrug.
In David Sklansky’s book, The Theory of Poker, he discusses the concept of multiple-level thinking. Below is a rough idea of what it means to think on each level, together with an example from Texas Hold’em.
Level 0: What do I have?
Ex: I have a straight.
Level 1: What do I think my opponent has?
Ex: I think my opponent has 2 pair or something similar.
Level 2: What do I think my opponent thinks I have?
Ex: I think my opponent thinks that I was going for a draw. It could have been a flush or a straight. It is the river, and the 3rd flush card did not come, so s/he might think I have a busted flush draw. It is also possible that s/he thinks I hit my straight.
Level 3: What do I think my opponent thinks I think s/he has?
Ex: My opponent thinks that I think s/he has 2 pair. On the river, when my opponent bets, I raise, and s/he re-raises. I must realize that my opponent thinks that when I raised, I thought s/he was betting and would call a raise with two pair. If I am re-raised s/he likely has a hand that could beat the completed draws that would raise against two pair.
Level 4: What do I think my opponent thinks I think s/he thinks I have?
As you can see, the concept gets complicated quickly. Fortunately, by the time we reach Level 3, we are thinking deeper than most other players. It is important to both go through this analysis ourselves as well as having an idea of what level our opponent is thinking. If your opponent only thinks up to Level 1, s/he will miss opportunities where s/he may either bluff credibly or value bet thinly.
In our Game of Thrones scenario above, we can get an idea of what level Margaery is thinking on.
Level 0: We have the Faith Militant and the military forces of the realm.
Level 1: I think that Cersei has The Mountain. The Mountain is strong, but not as strong as our forces.
Level 2: I think that Cersei knows that we have a stronger fighting force. But she challenged us anyway. Margaery says, “Cersei understands the consequences of her absence.” Here, Margaery realizes that the only way Cersei’s actions make sense is if Cersei’s hand is stronger than Margaery initially thought.
The High Sparrow stopped at Level 1. When Cersei raised, he stuck to his initial conclusion. He failed to consider why she was raising when it looked obvious that she had been beaten. This turned out to be a huge mistake. If Margaery Tyrell sat down at your poker table, you might want to find a better game. In the game of thrones, you have to know what level you are playing on.