AS YOU TRY to assess the strength of your hand relative to your opponent's, you also should assess the quality of player you are facing.

Is he a rock who predictably plays only good hands? Or is he looser and perhaps smarter, someone who will call if he suspects you are trying to outplay him?

The best players call it playing one level above your opponent, an ability that can help you maximize value when it comes to betting on the end.

At the 2007 World Series of Poker $10,000-buy-in main event at Las Vegas' Rio Hotel, with blinds at $500-$1,000 plus a $100 ante, top pro Bill Edler drew A-J suited and faced a raise to $3,000 from the player under the gun.

"A guy to my right had been raising a lot pre-flop and was a fine player - I assessed him as the best player at the table - and I was getting tired of it," Edler said, "so I was going to flat-call his raises and play pots with him in position."

Edler and his opponent, both of whom had deep stacks, took a flop of K-10-5, two diamonds, giving Edler a gutshot straight draw to a queen. The player under the gun checked.

Edler bet $5,500.

"I bet enough that it would look consistent if I had called his raise with K-Q, which would be an obvious hand for me to have," said Edler, who won a WSOP bracelet and World Poker Tour event in 2007. "I thought he might check-fold if he had 9s or something. He check-called, so now I don't know if he has diamonds or a part of [the flop]."

The turn came the 8 of spades, giving Edler the nut-flush draw, along with a straight draw.

"He checked and I took my free card, hoping to catch a queen or a spade," Edler said. "If I had blanked and he bet the river, I was going to fold."

The river hit Edler with the 9 of spades, making his backdoor flush.

The under-the-gun player checked again. Edler made it $11,000, which was more than half the pot, making the bet look like more of a steal than a value bet.

"When you make a surprise hand, like backdoor spades, you can value-bet more," Edler said. "That's the key lesson. If a real blank had come, it would've been a bad time to bluff, but this kind of looked like a real blank, so it was a good time to make a bigger value bet than normal."

His opponent called, then mucked his cards when he saw Edler's flush.

Edler got good value from his hand by giving his opponent credit for being able to recognize the difference between a normal value bet and something suspicious.

"It looked like a bluff," Edler said. "It looked like I missed diamonds."*

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