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Four Tips for Playing the Turn

Take advantage of people’s mistakes

by Ed Miller |  Published: Feb 01, 2011

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The turn is often the betting round in a no-limit hold’em hand where the first big bets come out. Flop bets are usually small enough that you can call with a speculative holding and a wait-and-see strategy. On the turn, unless people are making undersized bets, playing to wait and see is too expensive.
Not only are turn-bet sizes fairly big, they actually play even bigger due to a principle called leverage. Calling a turn bet doesn’t get you to showdown. It just gets you to the river, where you may have to pay off an even larger bet to see the showdown. For instance, if someone bets $150 on the turn out of a $500 stack, he’s implicitly saying to you, “It’s $150 now, and on the river it might be another $350.” This possibility makes turn bets play bigger than their nominal size.
In practice, however, many players misplay the turn and river, and misunderstand how leverage works. Here are four tips for playing the turn to help you take advantage of the mistakes that people make:
Tip No. 1: Call the turn in position with marginal hands with a wait-and-see strategy.
In the first paragraph, I said that playing to wait and see on the turn is too expensive. Now, I’m saying that you should play with a wait-and-see strategy. What gives?
A wait-and-see strategy on the turn is too expensive because of leverage. You can’t be calling turn bets willy-nilly when your opponents will often hit you with very large and very uncomfortable river bets. The trick is that most players don’t play the river well at all. They play it far too passively, bluffing rarely and betting only very strong hands. This tendency renders their turn leverage nearly moot, because you no longer have much to fear from a river bet. Most of the time, your opponents will check the river. And when they bet, at least when they bet big, you’re looking at a monster and can fold.
You can take advantage of this passivity by calling turn bets with hands like pairs that you want to show down and even flush or straight draws. You should call with pairs when you think there’s a good chance that your opponent is betting a draw or a weaker pair. If your opponent checks the river, you check it back. You can call with draws under the same conditions, but the idea would be to put in a large river bluff if you miss your draw and your opponent checks.
If your opponent was more aggressive on the river, these marginal calls wouldn’t pay. Too often, you’d simply be forced to fold to a river all-in bet. But passive opponents permit you to play more flexibly and allow you to swipe pots that, theoretically, you shouldn’t be winning.
Tip No. 2: Check draws on the turn if you aren’t prepared to fire on the river.
This is the corollary to Tip No. 1. Don’t be the player who postures on the turn but turns into a pussycat on the river.
Perhaps you’ve heard a player grouse that so-and-so just won’t fold. “You should have folded to the turn bet!” he’ll complain after his draw misses and someone else drags a large pot with bottom pair.
The player who called with bottom pair is likely a weak player who just likes to call turn bets to see if he’ll improve on the river. But when turn bluffers are too timid to drop the hammer on the river, the weak player is unwittingly following Tip No. 1 by calling the turn.
Aggressive players bet their draws on the turn, and if called, sometimes also bet the river when they miss. They don’t bet every draw on the turn, and they don’t bet the river every time when they miss, but they bet each street often enough to take advantage of leverage and punish players who make lazy turn calls with a wait-and-see attitude.
If you aren’t prepared to fire again on the river sometimes, don’t bluff the turn.
Tip No. 3: Check the turn with good hands against nits.
Nits play tightly and don’t pay off for stacks without very strong hands. Nits also understand the principle of leverage. They look at a turn bet, look at the remaining money, and calculate how much they could lose if it all went wrong.
By and large, nits fold top pair on the turn to good-sized bets with stacks behind. If you had a big hand like a set against a loose or normal player, you’d usually want to bet all streets to play for maximum value. But against a nit, consider checking the turn. Show a bit of false weakness. He’ll still be scared by your river bet, but he might have just enough doubt to look you up.
Don’t overuse this play. Big hands demand big pots, and the best way to build a big pot is to bet the turn. But on some boards against very snug players, betting the turn is sure to blow your opponent off nearly any weaker hand. In these cases, consider checking.
Tip No. 4: Bet the turn.
Most live small-stakes no-limit hold’em players are too passive on the river. They’re also too passive on the turn. Most players need to learn to bet the turn.
If someone called your flop continuation-bet and the turn bricks, bet.
If you semibluffed a flush draw on the flop and the turn bricks, bet.
If you flopped top pair and an opponent called, bet again on the turn.
If your opponent bet the flop and you called, and your opponent checks the turn, bet.
Of course, it’s not as simple as bet, bet, bet all the time. But if you’re like most no-limit hold’em players, you don’t bet often enough. Try betting in these situations (and others) and see what happens. Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. ♠

Ed’s latest book, Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em, is available for purchase at smallstakesnolimit-holdem.com. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor, and you also can check out his online poker advice column, notedpokerauthority.com