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Head Games: Confused About Turn Play?

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by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Apr 18, 2012

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The Pros: Nick Schulman, Andrew Lichtenberger, Alex Fitzgerald

Craig Tapscott: Some players are confused many times on how to proceed on the turn. What are sticky spots you can run into and how do you maneuver through them?

Nick Schulman: Very often on the turn, when players are unsure of what’s going on in the hand, they have a tendency to commit themselves to the pot in order to take some of the thinking out of it. This can be a mistake for a variety of reasons. Firstly, very often you don’t allow your opponent to bet, and also you sometimes find yourself in a spot where you’re no longer getting value out of your hand because playing deep-stacked no limit hold’em, you may only be involved with a hand that beats your hand were the money to go in. An example of this would be $100,000 stacks, the board on the turn reads JSpade Suit 9Club Suit 3Heart Suit 10Club Suit, and you have K-J. There is $60,000 in the pot. Very often in this spot, you are better situated to check-call, or bet roughly 30 percent of the pot. Granted, versus certain opponents, or with certain game flow factors, many different options are available, but quite frequently a mistake here is to bet 70 percent plus of the pot size and call an all-in. Your hand can be a bit more disguised playing it another way, and there are certain hands you fold out that are great hands to be involved with. K-10 comes to mind, among many others.

Andrew Lichtenberger: I tend to always just fire my overpairs on the turn as I would my bluffs, in order to remain balanced, which I think has more or less become the norm. Tricky spots on the turn are where your opponent could have easily improved, but could also be bluffing you with certain other hands. There’s no real easy way around it, sometimes poker is hard and you get owned.

Alex Fitzgerald: Oftentimes, when we begin playing poker seriously, we gulp when we have an overpair or an otherwise medium-strength hand on a wet board. We know our hand is good enough to bet again, but if our opponent raises or check-raises we fear they might have a straight or flush already. It’s going to be very difficult to call down in what’s now a huge pot, or three-bet all-in and expect to get called by worse. We also fear our opponent will sense our hesitance and put in a raise or check-raise, making us fold the best hand. There are a few tricks that help you navigate these spots. If you’re out of position against a very aggressive opponent, monitor their turn aggression frequency and their bet in position vs. missed continuation bet. These are indicators of how often a person bets when you check to them. If their turn aggression frequency is approximately 30 percent or higher, and an opponent bets most of the time on the flop, you can go ahead and check, letting them value bet your hand for you. If you’re in position before you bet, you can monitor their check-raise percentage. Many players check-raise infrequently, and when they do rarely check-raise they usually have it, so you can safely bet-fold your hand. If their check-raise percentage is very high, then you need to either plan to bet/three-bet and get it in versus their expanded range of draws and weaker pairs, or not bet at all. Bet-folding is not an option.

Craig Tapscott: What are some things you can do to give players massive headaches on the turn? Set up the dynamic that allows you to take the initiative away from a player on the turn, whether you have a hand or not.

Nick Schulman: Well, for starters, I very often like calling with big hands on the turn on draw-heavy boards when playing no limit. Your hand is extremely well disguised and it can be a very deceptive, somewhat underutilized play. I feel people give away equity very often trying to always win a massive pot. Informational or probing type bets can be exploited on the turn playing deep-stacked no limit assuming your read is right. Very often players simply aren’t willing to lose a huge pot with one pair, when a straight card or flush card, or a card that makes trips gets there, and being able to sense that and capitalize with a well timed bluff is essential. What the turn brings is very often the illusion or reality that another bet will be coming on the river, given the board doesn’t change dramatically and sometimes if it does. Use this wisely; meaning against players that you sense are generally not looking to go broke without a big hand. Again, I definitely love calling with sets and such on very draw-heavy turns, and prefer raising them on very dry boards, but of course there’s a time and place for everything in this great game we play, and as the years go on and players keep improving, identifying those key situations and responding to them, and playing them well is the key to improving and staying competitive or falling by the wayside. Good luck everyone!

Andrew Lichtenberger: I suppose the situations which I outlined in my first answer which are difficult for the aggressor now become the ones in which you’d want to identify as the one without the lead. Typical bluffing spots include when flush draws complete and your opponent is likely to have worse than top pair, while you are likely to have top pair or a flush, but in this case you don’t. What I mean is that with a good hand you may not want to be aggressive on the turn, because someone may fold a worse hand that they would maybe bet the river with. Against good players this is understood and the spot doesn’t occur as frequently as a result. However, when it does, it could be a bluff because of the unlikelihood of having something good and raising with it. That said, it’s also possible that due to its infrequent occurrence and the unfortunate fact that people do get dealt good hands and play them fast on wet boards you could just be screwed. It’s a leveling thing most of the time which is why I trust my instincts.

Alex Fitzgerald: To give your opponent trouble on the turn, take the most aggressive action more often – bet. So often I see players try to take pot control lines on the turn that cause them to lose value and gives their opponent unnecessary free cards. Your opponent can make multiple mistakes facing a bet on the turn. Say the board is QHeart Suit 10Heart Suit 4Spade Suit 5Club Suit and you have JClub Suit 10Club Suit. You called a bet on the flop and now you were checked to on the turn. I see so many people check here, but I prefer betting. Your opponent can make multiple mistakes approximating your range. If they’re a little too tight, you might get them to fold a hand slightly better than yours, such as K-10. If they’re attached to the pot after they’ve continuation bet, then they will likely call you with K-J, a heart draw, 10-9, and sometimes even A-J. That’s a lot of hands you beat. If you check on the turn, will those hands pay off your value bet on the river? The draws certainly won’t, unless they hit. You’re only value betting against a slightly weaker ten at that point.

When you check, you also let your opponent decide the second post-flop bet size on the river. If your opponent does have a queen here, and you check the turn, then you will often call a much bigger bet from them on the river than what you would have bet. If you bet yourself on the turn, you will decide that second postflop bet size. It’s not often someone donk bets the river into you after you’ve bet the turn. This saves you money when you are outkicked or outcarded, and gets value from draws while they’re still live.