Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
While looking over and thinking about questions I’ve been asked about hold ’em, I’m seeing a huge omission. Almost none have been specifically about how to play the turn in general. (In case you’re just getting started with hold ’em, the “turn” is the name we give to the fourth face-up board card. The three-card “flop” precedes it and the final “river” card follows.)
There have been a few questions about how to play in an exact situation at the turn, but the emphasis wasn’t on the turn itself. The first betting round seems of greatest interest, then the flop, and finally then the river. What happened to the turn?
This won’t be a comprehensive analysis of the turn, but we’ll use this self-interview to investigate it in a few important ways.
Question 1: Can you tell us about a mistake hold ’em players make regarding the turn?
Let’s start with this. It’s a mistake to think players who didn’t bet on the flop must have connected if they bet on the turn. Those turn bets are very typical of players who had powerful hands on flop and checked, but couldn’t lure a bet. That’s especially true if the turn card isn’t high ranking.
Suppose you see an opponent change from passive to aggressive mode on the turn. Unless that fourth board card is the highest one, pairs the board, or makes a straight or flush likely, you’re more often facing a hand that was already powerful on the previous betting round than one that was just enhanced.
So, instead of thinking, “What could he have made on the turn,” first consider, “What could he have had on the flop.”
Question 2: What are some other tips about the turn?
Well, if you’re playing limit hold ’em, the betting amounts typically double. If you don’t have a quality hand after seeing the turn, that’s a normal time to fold. A large majority of calls by average players on the turn in limit hold ’em are unprofitable. Make sure yours aren’t.
Also, remember that decent hands can be wrecked by the turn. Here’s an extreme example: You hold 2-2 with a flop of 4-4-2. Now if another four arrives, you’ll lose to any pair.
In no-limit hold ’em, you should be much more likely to bet if the turn shows a third of the same suit and has an ace of that suit on board. You want to make opponents pay an unfavorable price for the opportunity to make a flush. Of course, this assumes they don’t already have one! If they fold and you take the pot immediately, that’s okay, too.
Exception to betting: If you have the highest or second-highest rank of that suit, you might check, even with an probable advantage. Maybe the same suit will land on the river and you’ll pick up extra money with a commanding flush. Checking the second-highest available rank of that suit is also acceptable, because by betting, you’d be more likely to chase away a hand you might end up beating for extra money than one containing the only card that could beat you.
Question 3: What else?
Flops like 7-6-5 that see a 4 on the turn aren’t as dangerous as most players assume. To have a straight, an opponent would either have had to hold one already with 9-8 or 4-3, have a pair of 8’s or 3’s, or be playing some uncoordinated or weakly coordinated hand that included an eight or three. If those things don’t seem likely, based on the previous action and the opponent’s traits, this is a good time to bet larger pairs or semi-bluff with hands like A-K.
This might not be a particularly valuable tip, because the situation rarely occurs. But you should almost never bet an ace when the turn shows four of a kind on board for all to share. Checking and calling, even checking as the last player to act on the turn is the most profitable decision. Give someone a chance to bluff.
And you should routinely fold overpairs when an average player who hasn’t been betting suddenly flings chips at you after a non-threatening card hits on the turn. Average players who’ve previously been calling seldom try to bluff, unless the turn looks threatening.
Question 4: Do you have any final advice regarding the turn?
There’s so much to say that it’s hard to choose.
Don’t be afraid if the board pairs small against a semi-sensible opponent when there’s been significant previous action. If you thought you had the best hand and bet when you saw the flop, now is a good time to continue betting.
The biggest turn mistake is to bet too big trying to protect a large overpair, especially aces, on the turn against an uncoordinated board. You want a call, assuming your bet isn’t tiny.
You’re either already beat or the only thing likely to beat you is a river card that gives your opponent three of a kind, a straight, or a flush. Usually, it’s worth the risk of inviting a call.
Many pros over-bet in these turn situations, costing themselves money in the long term, although increasing their chances of winning the pot. What they’re really doing is buying insurance. But you don’t want to buy insurance in poker.
You want to take risks when the percentages work in your favor. Betting to provide safety is exactly the opposite of what a profitable strategy dictates.
When you hold a big hand in poker, you always want to bet enough to invite risk at a profit and then you hope to be called. Remember: The object is to put yourself in jeopardy at favorable odds, not to avoid danger. That applies to all poker confrontations, not just those relating to the turn.
In hold ’em, the turn can be treacherous and tremendously profitable. Give it the respect it deserves. — MC