ONE OF THE first things you need to determine is the range of hands your opponent might be playing. One of the next things you need to figure out is what your best value play is.
"Is the value in check-calling, or is the value in betting your hand?" explained top young pro Mike Sowers.
The answer to that question frequently changes when more cards hit the board, as Sowers showed in this hand from the World Poker Tour's $15,000-buy-in Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio in 2009.
With blinds at $500-$1,000 plus a $100 ante, action folded to Sowers, who drew Q-8 offsuit in the small blind.
"I limped with Q-8 because I had been raising his big blind," said Sowers, who has more than $2 million in career tournament winnings. "He's probably not going to raise me unless he has a decent holding like Broadway, stuff like that, and Q-8 would still get value out of random hands that he could have. If I raise, I'd only get called by hands that would dominate me.
"Plus, when you're out of position, you want to lose as little as possible."
The big blind checked his option. The flop came K-J-10, two spades.
"He's going to have a random hand, and I have an open-ended straight draw, which is usually better than a random hand," Sowers said, "so I went ahead and bet $1,400. I didn't want to get called, but once he calls, there are a couple draws he could be playing. Really, the only hands he could have for value are a king and a jack. I don't think he'd call me with a pair of 10s."
The turn came the 8 of clubs, giving Sowers a pair to go along with his open-ended straight draw. He bet out $4,700.
"I think it's worth it to fire another barrel because he's probably going to fold a jack if he has one," Sowers said.
"He's still probably calling me down with a king, if he has one. Another thing is, he's priced out of his draw on the turn because I bet two-thirds of the pot."
The big blind called again. The river came the 10 of hearts, pairing the board.
"Now he's not going to fold anything he was playing on the turn," Sowers said. "So, the only thing he would fold on the river is a draw because the 10 wouldn't have helped. So, it's not a good spot to bluff anymore.
"Once he's called two streets, I have value against the draws he'd check and I might even have value to check-call him, but there's no value in betting [because his opponent would only call with better hands]. If you're not going to get called by worse hands, then you're just bluffing."
Sowers checked. His opponent also checked, then mucked his cards when he saw Sowers' 8s.
"I think he was just calling me down with ace-high," Sowers said.
Steve Rosenbloom is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the author of the book "The Best Hand I Ever Played," now available in bookstores. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.