Limit Hold'em: The Turn old

In limit the turn is a decisive moment and has the reputation of being very difficult to play, because the bets are now twice as high as they were before the flop and on the flop. Mistakes on the turn therefore weigh more heavily than mistakes pre-flop and on the flop.

It is often correct to call a small bet on the flop with a marginal hand such as a gutshot or overcards and then to fold on the turn against a big bet. For this reason it's important that when we're the flop aggressor, we also bet on the turn, especially if we're playing against only a few opponents.  

When we're the aggressor and have a strong hand

In limit we will often raise pre-flop, hit a good flop and bet or raise on the flop. Then it's very important to remain aggressive on the turn, (almost) irrespective of the turn card, if we think that we still have the best hand.
When we're out of position, i.e. when we have to act before our opponents, we have two options:

  • a) Bet
This is the "normal" action. We ensure that all the other players have to call at least one bet in order to see the river card. As a rule of thumb we should always bet if we're unsure whether the other players will bet or not.
  • b) Check-raise

This is the riskier action. We can attempt to do this when we're sure that one of the players behind us will bet. This works particularly well against aggressive opponents. Furthermore, the pot should be big and a free card shouldn't be able to cause any great damage. On boards where a lot of draws are possible, a check-raise is not as good an option as on uncoordinated boards with different suits.

If the check-raise it is more profitable than betting out directly. This is because in general, twice as many bets go into the pot on the turn as with the standard bet option. At the same time we protect our strong hand, because the players between us and the player who bet the turn (our aggressive opponent), have to call two big bets after the initial check if they want to stay in the hand. Since a very strong hand is needed to do that, these opponents will probably fold.

If we're in position, i.e. last to act on the turn, with a strong hand we should (almost) always bet if the action is checked to us. Players with draws should be forced to put money in the pot again if they want to see the river card.

As opposed to this, we shouldn't bet if we suspect that an opponent has hit his draw and is now trying a check-raise. The reason for this is that we save two big bets in this case, which is an immense advantage.

When we're the aggressor and have a weak hand

This situation is much more difficult. If we bet again on the turn we speak of firing a second barrel. This is a special kind of bluff. Thus, you try to force all of your opponents to fold by betting. Since you have already bet on the flop, we can often make our opponents believe that you have a strong hand. If we have to decide whether to fire a second barrel, we should take the following points into consideration:

  • The number of opponents
In general, we should only fire a seconnd barrel when we are up against only a few opponents. The more opponents, the lower the probability that they will all fold.
  • The board structure

Some board structures are more suitable for continuation bets than others. The former include, for example, boards with one high and several low cards. Boards that make several draws possible are less suitable for firing second barrels, especially if we have several opponents.

  • The opponents' playing styles

In general we should avoid firing second barrels against weaker opponents who tend to call most of their hands down to the river. As a rule, we can only win here with the best hand.

  • Our own position

If we have a fairly weak hand we should often check/fold when we're out of position. In position, however, we should consider retaining the initiative and betting if the action is checked to us.

When we're not the aggressor but want to take over the initiative

There are situations in which we play fairly passively up to the turn, but then want to take over the initiative. This can be due to the following reasons:

  • We now have a strong (probably the best) hand.
  • We have a strong draw and are trying a semi-bluff. A semi-bluff is a bet or raise with a hand that is currently probably beat, but that has the potential of becoming a strong hand up to the river (e.g. a flush draw). It is our aim to force all opponents to fold their hand. If that doesn't work we still have a chance to win the hand in case we hit our draw.
  • We want to protect our hand.

If we're in position against the former aggressor, this is quite easy: we can simply raise. But out of position we have two options:

  • a) Bet
  • b) Check-raise

In general it is in the majority of cases correct to try a check-raise. The reason is that this forces every player who wants to stay in the hand to put 2 big bets in the pot, while at the same time we protect our hand against players with weak draws, who will fold. However, we'll lose a lot of money if we had the best hand and all the other players check behind us. If as an alternative you bet, you force every other player to either call a bet or fold.
The more aggressive our opponents are, and the more probable it is that they will bet the turn, the more we should try a check-raise. However, if we suspect that our opponents will check, we should bet.

Calling bets

In general we should always try to play aggressively. This means that we should often fold or raise instead of calling. If we're unsure whether calling or folding is the correct decision, we should ask ourselves the following:

  • How probable is it that we have the best hand?
  • If we don't have the best hand, how probable is it that we'll improve to the best hand on the river?
  • If we have the best hand, how probable is it that our opponent will improve to the best hand on the river?
  • What are my pot odds?

Calling raises on the turn

A lot of players make the mistake of calling too many raises on the turn. This often leads to a situation where, because of the size of the pot, they also have to call on the river, and the mistake just gets much more expensive. We have to keep in mind that many opponents with strong hands only call on the flop and then raise on the turn when the bets are twice as big. If we want to call the opponent's raise on the turn, we should first consider very precisely the conditions under which we would call on the river as well.
Of course, deciding whether to call a raise on the turn or not also depends on our opponent. Against passive opponents who raise only when they have premium hands we should fold average hands like top pair with a low kicker or middle pair. By contrast, against aggressive opponents who are possibly (semi-) bluffing the turn we shouldn't fold an average hand.

Generally we should assume that a raise on the turn means a strong hand.