NLHE 6-max: The Turn (2)
As described in the previous article, against a single opponent on the turn we can play our hand in various different ways. This gives us the opportunity to select the optimum strategy for the current opponent and thus maximize our chances of winning. Of course, the concepts explained in part 1 are not laws, and mixing up your game is itself a concept for long-term success.
In this article we want to look at playing hands out of position, how we can and must adapt our game to different opponents, and how we react to a raise on the turn when we were the pre-flop and flop aggressor.
Out of position
The guidelines for playing the turn in position also apply by and large when we're out of position. We continue betting our made hands and lots of semi-bluffs, but we now have difficult decisions to make if we're raised or called again. But more on that later.
Although when we're out of position it's still important to fire a second barrel on the turn on lots of boards. But we should fold our hand when it's clear that our opponent is not going to fold or when we can determine his hand within a narrow range, based on the current board. It is often the case that our hand can't improve or win a showdown (e.g. when our hand has no "showdown value"), and in such cases we should fold on the turn.
- Example 1
We're holding under the gun and raise while the player on the button calls. We see a flop with hardly any draws (few possibilities for a straight and none for a flush draw) and we make a relatively big continuation bet to test whether our opponent really has an ace. He calls; in most cases this means he has an ace, in rare cases it means he has a weaker hand such as a medium pocket pair or a seven, and in very rare cases he has the only possible straight draw with or a set with or . Of course he could also have a couple of unlikely gutshots or nothing at all, but in most cases we are simply playing against an ace, with an unknown kicker.
If we now want to fire another barrel against this opponent on the turn when we're out of position, we should only do so when we have a read on him. If we know that he is a very tight player and can fold aces with a mediocre or good kicker when faced with a big bet, then we can consider firing a second barrel. The best situation would be one in which we have already observed how he plays his top pair hands and against what bet size he folds when he has already called a flop bet.
But a second, far more important point, and one which in this case speaks against a turn bet, is the opponent's stack size! He has only half a stack left and calls a pre-flop raise and a flop bet. Since almost no draws are possible, we have to assume that he already has a hand he is prepared to go to showdown with. Our pair of tens is simply too often not the best hand to make it worthwhile investing in another bet when our opponent has a stack size like that. A second bet would only be a quasi bluff with the intention of getting an ace to fold. Another variant of turn play against a specific opponent is, for example, the following:
C/R AI (check raise all-in)
There are a lot of opponents who love calling us in position on the flop, only to take the hand away from us (and with it the pot) with a strong bet on the turn as soon as they sense weakness. For this reason, betting more often on the turn is the right thing to do, but despite this, against certain players we could also select another option here.
We know that this opponent often calls us on the flop with the intention of bluffing on the turn. This is also known as floating. The player is floating with not much chance of improving his hand, while at the same time we are in much the same situation, because we don't know where we stand against him. He is therefore able to take advantage of the situation with a bluff. But we can counter this strategy by playing check-raise all-in. In this way we get an additional bet for our hand on the turn, which we would not have got for a normal bet because our opponent would have folded. He may even call the all-in with only a draw, in which case we would be a favourite to win his entire stack.Here's an example:
- Example 2
We're in the small blind, all of the opponents in front of us have folded and we raise with to 3 BB, because only the big blind is still left to act. In small blind vs. big blind situations we don't want to build up too big a pot pre-flop because in this hand, the big blind is always in position against us. Besides, we know from previous hands that the big blind is very aggressive and enjoys using his positional advantage, also for big bluffs and semi-bluffs. A relatively small raise is therefore recommended. The big blind calls and we hit a dream flop where only , a flush draw and various gutshot straight draws to a Broadway straight () could beat us. So we make our standard continuation bet, two-thirds of the pot, and are called again. The call at this point unfortunately doesn't tell us much about the range of our opponent's hand, because he can float us (see above) here with a very wide range in order to see if we have an ace, and simply plays his position in order to (semi-) bluff us later. His hands range from a weak through gutshots to flush draws. But is very unlikely now because in that case he would probably have raised on the flop, in order to build the pot and not scare us off in case another heart appears on the turn. We're sure that we're way ahead, then. The turn card is in principle not dangerous, and only a wheel (the straight from ace to five ) is possible. However, we don't think he would have made such a weak pre-flop call with and still believe that we're way ahead.
Now for the decisive phase of this hand: we want to give him the opportunity to execute his plan and we would like to get him to use his float and his position play to his "advantage". We check and let him bet so that we can counter by going all-in. In this way we not only get an extra bet that we would not have got had we simply bet, but in this case we also induce another mistake from him: he makes a call with a relatively good draw, but it is a draw for which he doesn't really have the necessary pot odds, thanks to our all-in. He has to call $85 in order to win $121, meaning that the pot odds are just 1.5:1. He has eleven outs (eight remaining hearts without , , and ) and he will make his hand with the last card in only 21% of cases. He therefore needs pot odds of almost 5: 1 in order to make a profitable call. He misses the river and we rake in his complete stack, which we wouldn't have done if we had followed a strategy of betting the flop, betting the turn and betting the river.
However, this move was very dependent on our read of this particular opponent, who likes utilising his position to the full extent for a (semi-)bluff. Of course, he could just as easily have checked behind here, in order to take a free card with his good draw. But if he does hit on the river, we would only lose a small pot. Our bet on the flop is meaningless for him in principle because we would almost always make a continuation bet, particularly on ace high boards.
Another possible situation for a C/R AI is where we think we are way ahead and can reduce our opponent's range to a minimum number of possible hands where we know that we would usually force him to fold with a turn bet, at the latest with a river bet. To increase the value of our hand we can use the C/R AI out of position so that it looks like a possible bluff to our opponent. This possibly enables us to get an extra bet when our opponent bets after our check on the turn and it also gives him the opportunity of risking his entire stack because he thinks we're bluffing. Here's an example:
- Example 3
We raise in middle position and are called by an aggressive player on the button. Our experience of this opponent at the table leads us to categorize him as relatively hot-headed and very aggressive. The flop is one of the best possible for because on this board we're way ahead of any . He's drawing to a maximum of two outs because hitting his kicker doesn't help. We always have aces up, i.e. the better two pair. Against a two we're way behind, but this is very unlikely both in his hand range and in general ( suited and would be almost the only possibilities). We make a relatively weak-looking continuation bet that will more likely be interpreted as an attempt to represent a that we don't have. Our opponent will think that we are merely continuing our aggression as the pre-flop raiser as a bluff. He calls and we can reduce his range to a king or a bluff. Now we play C/R AI because we can assume that he will either bluff the turn or protect his king by betting. We thus give him the opportunity to fall for our "counter move" (which often looks like an act of desperation), and call because he sees himself ahead with top pair.
A fundamental problem when playing against two or more opponents in contrast to heads-up pots is the following: because several players have already called our flop bet, irrespective of whether it was a (semi-)bluff continuation bet or a continuation bet with a strong hand, the pot has already become very big. The first question we have to ask ourselves is therefore: what hands did our opponents call with? Depending on their abilities, these players do one of two things. They either call bets (often even pot size bets) with weak or drawing hands, or (which presumably happens more often), at least one of the two players really does have a relatively strong to very strong made hand. Because the pot is already so big we also have to consider whether or not it still makes sense to bluff, or whether we are still convinced that we have the best hand. A bet on the turn with a size of two-thirds to three-quarters of the pot would be huge in relation to our remaining stack. With a further bet we would almost always be committed. It is extremely important here to be able to consider the strength of our own hand, the structure of the board, and the changes in the situation brought about by the turn card. The following hand is an example of a difficult and relatively close decision for or against a turn bet.
- Example 4
We're holding and raise after the player in the cutoff limped in. One of the blinds and the limper call. We hit top pair with a mediocre kicker and make a pot-size flop bet because there's a possible flush draw on the board. The big blind calls and now on the turn we have a close decision between a further bet and checking behind. Up to now we beat only weaker aces such as and and lower, as well as various flush draws and middle pairs such as a . Because the possible flush draw has not arrived and we want to continue protecting our hand, we decide to bet on the turn. However, if we were raised here we would in most cases have to fold against solid opponents.
On the river we check because none of the hands that we saw ourselves ahead of would call another bet. A has improved, the flush draw hasn't arrived, and a weaker ace will most probably not call the river bet. Moreover, there is a small to average probability that we're playing against a strong or . As can be seen, the turn bet decision is a close one and in many cases it will also depend on the type of opponent. If our opponent has already made some loose calls on the flop and on the turn, then a turn bet is definitely worthwhile. But if our opponent is more rational and usually doesn't call pot size bets with only a flush draw, then turn bets are considerably less often worthwhile.
Getting raised on the turn
In principle, raising a pre-flop aggressor who bet on both the flop and turn always is a great sign of strength. If we're playing against a turn raise with hands such as top pair/top kicker or other similarly strong hands, we must seriously consider whether, given so much pressure, our hand is still strong enough to win a showdown. The following factors are decisive here:
- How does our opponent play? Is he naturally aggressive? Does he like (semi-)bluffing?
- How could the turn card have helped our opponent?
- How big is the raise? Do we still have outs in case we're behind, and is it still profitable for us to call?
- How strong is our hand? Will we have to play for our entire stack after calling the raise or after we have reraised? Is our hand strong enough to play for our whole stack?
A check-raise on the turn is even stronger than a simple turn raise made against us when we're out of position. The raiser uses our aggression and the fact that we apparently like our hand in order to get more value for his hand and be able to play for the entire stack. Here we should often tend to fold our top-pair hands and only continue playing when we have strong hands. When we're holding a hand such as top pair against a turn raise or a check-raise and the board completes an obvious draw, this is clearly a situation where we should fold: the third flush card or a straight card has appeared. A simple example:
- Example 5
We raise in middle position (MP), the cutoff (CO) calls and we hit our ace on the flop. Unfortunately the flop makes a lot of draws possible and we're also behind against weaker aces such as or , even against . We make a continuation bet of two-thirds of the pot and are called. The turn completes not only a lot of possible gutshot straight draws, but much worse than that, it also completes the possible flush draw. In addition, lots of other aces with , or kickers beat us as well. We have few to no outs and our turn bet is raised three-fold. We have to fold here because we are probably beaten. The turn raise here is a sign of great strength and we're holding only top pair/good kicker, so that we don't have good chances of improving our hand or are already drawing dead against a straight or a flush.