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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: What Your Opponents Are Saying On The Turn

Miller Explains What Each Turn Action Is Really Telling You

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The turn is a critical point in most no-limit hands for a few reasons. First, it’s where the betting usually starts to get big—big enough often to put stacks in play on the river. Also, it’s where people begin to abandon some of the maneuvering and posturing they sometimes do preflop and on the flop.

A core skill in small stakes no-limit hold’em is being able to listen to what your opponents are saying on the turn. I don’t mean literally listening to them talk—though sometimes they will talk and of course you should listen. Instead they will often say a lot through their betting, and you should take those things seriously.

Here are a few things your opponents could be telling on you on the turn.

“I’m worried about getting drawn out on.”

This is a common one. Often the player saying this one will have been driving the betting earlier in the hand. Usually the turn will bring a scary card — perhaps a three-flush or three-straight card. Look out for an abnormally large-sized bet for the player. Like let’s say a player usually bets $20 preflop and $40 on the flop and $60 to $80 on the turn. In this hand, the player bets $120 instead.

It’s a bad idea to try to bluff-raise the turn against a player like this one, because you’ll almost certainly get called. But if there’s sufficient money behind — at least a few hundred in this example with the $120 turn bet — you may want to call the turn with the idea of possibly bluffing the river if one of the scare cards comes.

Because you know the player is worried about getting drawn out on, it will usually be easy to get the player off a hand if the fourth straight flush card comes. They will be expecting that you called the turn trying to draw to whatever hand happened to make it on the river.

“I don’t want to play a big pot.”

This is another very common one. When an opponent has been driving the betting in position and then chooses to check behind on the turn, almost by definition they don’t want to play a big pot.

This betting pattern tends to deny the nuts or often even draws to the nuts. It’s most often a medium-strength made hand.

Most players understand that the checking behind makes them appear weak, and they will often call normal-sized river bets as a matter of course. Say they bet $20 preflop and $40 on the turn and you called both streets. They check back the turn. If you bet $60 on the river (about half-pot or so), a player who says “I don’t want to play a big pot,” on the turn will call. They’ve kept the pot small like they wanted—they feel like this is exactly the size river bet they can call.

These players are often vulnerable to an overbet, however. Instead of $60 you could bet $200 or even $300. If your opponent doesn’t want to play a big pot, then it makes sense to make a huge bet to force the big pot, doesn’t it?

“I’m taking a shot at the pot.”

Many players will take one good shot at the pot on the turn. They know they may win or they may not, but they figure it will work often enough to justify the play.

If you see an opponent make an out of turn bet that’s on the small side, often this is what they’re saying.

Say you raise to $20 preflop and two people call. You bet $40 on a 10-7-5 flop, and one player calls. The turn is an ace, and now he bets out—but only $60 into the $140 pot. There’s a good chance this one is just a one-and-done shot at the pot.

“You might want to fold now.”

Some turn plays are real power moves, almost never bluffs at small stakes. The flop bet, turn check-raise is usually screaming at you to fold.

Let’s say an opponent open-raises preflop, and you call. The flop has two clubs, and your opponent bets and you call.

The turn is a low third club, and your opponent checks. You bet $70 and your opponent makes it $210. You might want to fold. This will often be the nuts or close to it.

“I’m probably not calling the river.”

This one comes up when the flop is draw-heavy and the turn card connects with the board in some way. If your opponent calls you on a turn like that, it’s often because they have a medium-strength hand with live draws and they want to see a river. If they don’t improve, however, they’ll often fold.

(Another option of course is that they have the nuts and they’re going to bomb the river.)

Let’s say you raise preflop and an opponent calls. The flop is Q-9-6. You bet and they call. The turn is a 7 that puts a flush draw on board. If you make a nice-sized bet and they call, there’s a pretty good chance they don’t plan to call a brick river like a deuce or a threatening but non-connected card like an ace.

Final Thoughts

Many small stakes players take hands one street at a time without thinking too much about how much information they can be giving away based on the situation and how they’re acting. The turn is one of the most reliable streets to catch opponents more or less telling you what they have, how they feel, and what they plan to do later in the hand.

If you get good at decoding your opponents’ signals on the turn, many hands at small stakes no-limit up to $2-$5 or so will tend to play themselves. You just get to the turn, wait for your opponent to tell you what you should do, and then you do it. ♠

Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.