Q. Scott, can you please help me through a situation that has been troubling me lately? I live in Vegas and play $2 to $5 no-limit hold 'em. I'm a winning player and predominantly happy with the decisions that I make at the table. My confidence is good, but in sticky spots like this I could use a bit more polishing:
Action preflop folds to me on the cutoff, and I open for $20 with Jc Js. Both blinds call (we each have about $700), and the flop comes Kd 8h 3s. Small blind checks, big blind bets $35, and now what? What should I be thinking/doing? - Adam, Las Vegas
A. Adam, let's first look at the hand from a perspective other than your's. We should analyze every line the big blind could potentially take. Once you assess all motives for his lead-out, you should be able to counteract that play.
What would you do with Kh 7h if you were the player in the big blind? I consider this to be medium strength, and leading out would be the worst option. With a medium-strength hand you don't want to lead into the preflop raiser, because you have to assume he will continuation-bet most flops based on the board texture showing no danger. Check-calling allows the opponent to put money in with worst hand, while leading with a medium-strength hand in this spot will generally cause your opponent to fold, thus giving you no value. After leading, most often the hand only continues if you are beaten.
How about when you are super-strong - for instance, with 3d 3c? The board texture is such that not many cards on the turn could kill your super-strong hand, so I favor checking. However, there are cases where I like betting out strong, because that can disguise my hand. Most players tend to slow-play and not bet when they are strong, which is precisely why I do bet.
The third option is leading with air. This line of play balances frequency if you are also capable of leading strong. In order to get full value for strong leads, you have to lead weak also. Weak leading can be a good play that takes down many pots. You are taking the aggressive action, forcing others to make tough decisions.
Now that we've assessed the big blind's options, this helps us decide how to best counteract their lead. My first thought is to call and see what happens on the turn. I almost never raise the flop, but I almost never fold right there either. Your real decision will come on the turn, but that obviously depends on what comes out.
As you get deeper into the hand, your decisions should become easier if you are a good player. Your decision with pocket jacks in this spot partially depends on your table image and your previous history versus this opponent, along with your evaluation of his options for leading out. If you're always doing the same thing in a situation like this, that's a mistake. There are times when you should be continuing on in the hand despite the overcard on the flop, and times when you should immediately fold.
These gray-area situations often come down to your opponent and your feel at the table. If, as you mentioned, you're making good decisions and playing with confidence, then you'll make the right decision more often than the wrong one.
Scott Fischman is a professional poker player who has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated more than $2 million in career earnings. He is also the author of the poker book "Online Ace." Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Poker Pros will appear every week.