Action: Big blind bets $70.

Question: What's your play?

Answer: Your first job is to figure out just what your opponent's bet meant. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can be precise about this. It's good enough to come up with a couple of the most likely possibilities. That's all the top players can do, despite what they may tell you.

Obviously, he could be betting a pair you have beaten. Alternatively, he could be making a simple probing bet. If he didn't bet, you certainly would have, so he could be making his only play to win the pot. Now you need to figure out a defense against a probe.

Note that the texture of the flop was good for you — no cards higher than your pair. It could be better, if three different suits were represented or there was no possible straight draw, but those are small risks. You shouldn't be worried that your opponent stayed with nine-eight or four-trey. It's more likely that he has one of the following five hands.

  1. He paired the board.
  2. He made a straight.
  3. He made a flush draw.
  4. He's bluffing because three low cards came.
  5. He has a big pair or trips.

You've got two choices. You can just call, or make a pot-sized raise, something like $200 or $250. If that bet gets reraised, though, you're up against a big pair or trips, and you're throwing the hand away. The low-risk approach to this pot is just to call, and if your opponent doesn't have anything, you'll find out after fourth street.

Action: You call. Pot now $270. Fourth street is AV. Big blind now checks.

Question: What's your play?

Answer: The big blind might be setting an elaborate trap, but you should like to go with the simple explanation. He's got a couple of high cards, the flop missed him, and now the ace didn't help him. He's made one play at the pot, but he's unwilling to make a second play for it. So you should bet out, and expect him to fold.

Beginners are prone to fall into the trap of assuming that their opponents are totally inscrutable, and every play is part of some convoluted snare. In fact, most bets mean what they appear to mean. Remember this, because it will help you make a lot of money. If the action around the table indicates you have the best hand, then you probably do, and you should bet it accordingly.

Resolution: You bet $250, and the big blind folds.

Hand 6-12

Situation: Early in a one-table satellite tournament.

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