NLHE 6-max: The Turn (1)

We continued playing our hand after the flop and are consequently now on the turn. Here we are again faced with a number of various decisions. They will be strongly influenced by our previous actions and those of our opponents on the flop. For this reason our article is divided into two sections, both of which are directly related to the previous actions on the flop and on the different positions. The first part is about turn play when we were the pre-flop aggressor and in position.

Turn play as pre-flop aggressor in position

Let's begin with one of the simpler scenarios that occurs very often. After our opponent checked on the flop we made a continuation bet and were called. These situations occur very often because as the pre-flop aggressor we will usually make a continuation bet, regardless of whether we have hit the flop or missed it completely. 

Many opponents make what is known as a loose call on the flop in such situations with marginal or weak hands even when they are out of position because they don't often expect us to have a really strong hand, particularly in shorthanded games. Far too often they are worried about being bluffed with mere overcards or a draw, since pre-flop aggressors usually make exactly this continuation bet.

What do we do now if it's checked to us again on the turn? Do we bet or do we check behind? If we want to bet, we have to make the fundamental decision about whether we:

a) are holding the best hand and are betting for value,
b) are possibly holding the best hand at the moment, but want to force those hands that could improve and beat us to fold, or
c)  are almost sure that we do not have the best hand, and want to force all hands that beat us or could beat us to fold.

Given that lots of bad players, especially loose-passive ones, tend to call continuation bets with just about any pair or draw, so we have to make a second bet on the turn with a large number of hands in case the board isn't that dangerous, the so-called second barrel. Here we distinguish once again between heads-up and multiway pots.

Heads-up pots

If we're holding a strong made hand in case a) we must always bet. A single player is much more likely to make a loose call on the flop when we've made a continuation bet than when we've bet the size of the pot in a multiway pot, i.e. against several players. On the turn, a bet of between two-thirds and three-quarters of the pot is appropriate. A smaller bet wouldn't protect our hand adequately from draws, and a bigger one would often scare off players we have beaten but want to stay in the hand up to the showdown.

  • Example 1:

We're holding on the button, and isolate a limper with a pre-flop raise. The flop brings us top pair/top kicker, but at the same time three diamonds. We can at first assume from the lack of resistance on the flop that we have the best hand and that our opponent has to improve. He either needs the fourth diamond or he's holding a weaker , in the fewest cases a . The turn gives us top two pair, but it possibly also gives a lot of the hands that called us on the flop more outs. In addition to the flush draw, there are now gutshot straight draws possible with the or . We would be beaten by a flopped flush, but if our opponent doesn't put up any resistance then the probability of this can be ignored for the time being. would have the nut straight and we would be behind as well. Against a weak we would be ahead, just as we would against a single diamond. These last-mentioned hands are much more likely than hands that already beat us. So, we have a "clear" decision: we have to bet in order to protect ourselves from those hands that could catch up with us and at the same time to increase the value of our made hand against other aces. We bet two-thirds of the pot, $18 into a $27 pot. However, we must consider the possibility of folding in case our opponent puts in a big raise, because we would now be beaten by or a flopped flush.

In cases b) and c) we can't gauge with certainty whether we have the best hand, but we can assume at this point, that our opponents have a draw or relatively weak hands. In this situation we can fire a second barrel on just about any turn card, as long as it doesn't complete any of the obviously possible draws, and we often have to do exactly that in order to remain unpredictable for our opponents. If we bet the flop and then check on the turn too often, we give our opponents a good opportunity to attack us and our game becomes more transparent. But by contrast, if we also bet hands on turns where we didn't hit, or bet ace high on a safe board, our opponents will soon form an image of us as very aggressive players and we can therefore hope to get paid off with future made hands, which, of course, we'll play with the same aggression. Moreover, a lot of cards that appear on the turn can be so-called "scare cards" for our opponents, for example , , , or as the turn card on a board with a lot of small cards, i.e. a rag board, is an additional threat (to possible overpairs) for a loose caller who hit in some way on the flop.

  • Example 2:

We raise from the the cutoff and the small blind calls. We see a relatively draw-heavy flop with two spades and cards with rankings close to one another. Our opponent could be holding a lot of possible hands here; a flush or a straight draw (or both), bottom to top pair, a pair and a draw or a pocket pair. We fire a continuation bet on the flop and get called. Thus, our opponent obviously likes the flop, but aside from that, we're often called here because as we have already mentioned, our opponents often assume that as pre-flop raisers, we're holding a hand with overcards such as // etc. We don't know whether ace high was the best hand on the flop. Now the turn gives us four additional outs in the form of four for the nut straight, and our overcards may also be good as outs against our opponents' possible one-pair hands. What is important, though, is that we again fire a second barrel here on the turn. The is now a threat to all the previously held pairs and all the drawing hands on the flop! It may very well have helped us as pre-flop aggressor, if our opponents didn't believe us on the flop. A bet is thus worthwhile, because we can exert more pressure and increase the fold equity (see the article on flop play) in addition to the outs of our hand. If we're called again, we will have built up a big pot if we hit one of our outs on the river and can look forward to a great payout. Moreover, it's possible that our ace high on the turn is still the best hand and that our opponent is holding one or several draws. For this reason it makes no difference in principle whether we're holding a made hand or ace high. The reason with respect to betting on the turn is identical. If we miss and one of the obvious draws arrives on the river (another spade or one of the possible straight draws with , or ), then we wouldn't want to pay off our opponent, even with a good made hand. Every other blank on the river makes a big bluff possible, but this should always depend on the type of opponent we are up against and on our own image. In addition, it is even possible that our ace-king high is still the best hand if no draw arrives on the river.

Check behind turn

Now let's look at situations in which we don't want to or shouldn't fire a second barrel on the turn. The first case to consider here is when we are up against a loose-passive opponent, who frequently calls our continuation bets on the flop with a lot of weak hands and small pairs.

When we're playing against this type of opponent and we know that we're holding the best hand on the flop and on the turn, and that they don't have many opportunities of catching up, OR if we know that the turn card can be just as much of a scare card for our opponent as for us (a flush that has arrived, for example, or an obvious straight), then we should often decide not to make a turn bet. The reason is that it is precisely this bet that would motivate a raise from hands that called on the flop but that now beat us, while at the same time causing hands that we clearly beat to fold.

With a check we could let the opponent in the first case think that he's still holding the best hand on the turn or feel courageous and perhaps want to bluff on the river. The other way round, we shouldn't build the pot unnecessarily if the board on the turn contains one or more combinations that beat us. We're therefore in a situation where we're either way ahead or way behind. In other words: it's very difficult to decide whether we are in the lead on the turn, or whether we're already way behind. In this case there's no advantage from a turn bet. 

The advantage of a check behind on the turn, however, is far greater: as mentioned before, many opponents who think they see a sign of weakness from us due to our check on the turn will come up with the idea of betting again on the river although they are beaten by most hands. They do this because they think our check on the turn means that we have a weak hand. In this case then, our check on the turn induces a bluff from our opponent. In this way we get some value on the river from the weaker hands, which we would not have got with a turn bet. If we really were already behind on the turn and we have to pay a small river bet, we only lose the minimum. But if we bet on the turn and are raised, we have to make the difficult decision of whether to continue the hand or fold. In the latter case we would lose a part of our stack without having seen a showdown.

  • Example 3:

We raise from UTG and the small blind calls. We hit top pair with a weak kicker, but the flop provides a lot of draws to the nut straight besides hitting a lot of other hands as well. We make a continuation bet and are called again. The turn completes an obvious straight and for that reason, this card is also a threat to us. We could be beaten. In case we're not, then this card has a reverse effect and will be seen as threatening by our opponent. In this situation it doesn't make sense for us to bet the turn. We check behind and call his relatively small river bluff.

If our opponent bets more here we could occasionally consider folding. But the pot odds give us a little over 4:1 on the river, which means that our opponent would have to be bluffing in just 25% of cases in order for our call to be profitable in the long run. We can certainly justify this because our opponent also noticed that we weren't happy with the turn card.

We will go into more detail about how to play the river in the corresponding article. If our opponent in this case had been holding a and we had bet the turn, we would have been raised and would have had to fold, like it or not. Moreover, we would have manoeuvred ourselves into a situation in which even a hand WITHOUT a could have made us fold with a bluff raise.

All that remains to say about this action is that the decision on whether it would be more advantageous to bet on the turn or to check behind is always a tightrope walk. The board and the type of opponent are the two factors that should have most influence on this decision. We should constantly keep in mind the hands from which we want a call on the turn, from which hands we can expect a call at all, and from which we would much rather call a small to medium river bet, because we want to avoid the difficult decision against a raise on the turn by checking. A check behind can also sometimes make sense when we are holding a monster hand, if we're certain that our opponent will bluff the river or won't call a second barrel.

Preliminary conclusion

Let's summarize. The advantages of frequently betting on the turn in heads-up pots are:

  • We often force hands to fold that would have beaten us or could have improved to the point where they would have beaten us.
  • We create and strengthen our aggressive table image.
  • We improve the chances of getting paid off on our very good hands.
  • We don't give away any free cards to drawing hands.

The advantages of a check behind on the turn in situations in which we're uncertain whether we're way ahead or way behind are:

  • We control the size of the pot and don't allow it to escalate when we only have a marginal or moderately strong hand.
  • We induce a river bluff from weaker hands that wouldn't have called a turn bet, and increase the value of our marginal to moderately strong hand.
  • We avoid difficult decisions we would have had to make on the turn if we get raised, and lose the minimum on the river if we really are beaten and go to the showdown.

The second part of this article deals with playing the turn out of position, playing against a turn raise or check-raise, and playing the turn in multiway pots.