No-Limit Hold'em: BSS - The Turn (1)

The turn is the fourth community card, i.e. we now have six out of a total of seven cards available to form a hand. At this point in the game, draws are worth much less, while made hands have become much stronger.

It is very difficult to make the right decision on the turn, and mastering this can make the difference between a winning or a losing player. The pots become bigger, which means that irrespective of whether we play passively or aggressively, every action has a huge effect on our winning rate.

We have now reached a point in the game where it makes little sense to explain every potential situation from a theoretical point of view. Concepts are required to demonstrate in as much detail as possible the various ways that a player can reach the turn. This article will deal with precisely these concepts, which will be demonstrated using examples.

The concepts

There are five basic concepts that influence our decisions on the turn:

  1. Maximizing the value of our hand
  2. Pot control
  3. Bluffs (multiple barrels)
  4. Playing draws
  5. Semi-bluffing

These concepts will now be discussed in detail below.

1. Maximizing the value of our hand

Aggression is not only a key to success pre-flop and on the flop, but also on the turn. Two principles determine our actions:

  • Maximize profit with our good hands
  • Protect hands against draws

We should always try to maximize profit with good hands and try to protect ourselves from potential draws of the opponents. Apart from a few exceptions involving made hands, we should not give any free cards. Instead we should bet and make our opponents pay to see the next card. When we have to act first, i.e. we are out ot of position, we should simply bet and avoid making tricky moves such as check-raises.

  • Example:

Let's say that our opponent plays a draw in position and we already bet on the flop with our made hand. The turn is a blank, i.e. a card that does not complete any draws.

In this case checking would be a huge mistake as our opponent could simply check behind and would be able to see two more cards for his call on the flop. If our flop bet had been two thirds of the pot, the amount we should generally bet, then the opponent's call with a flush draw would no longer have been a mistake.

However, our aim is to get the opponent to make mistakes in every round of betting and we will fail to achieve this aim if we check.

Another argument in favour of betting rather than checking with good hands is to build up a big pot. At first glance this may seem obvious, but a lot of players forget this fact now and again: If we bet on the turn, we can make bigger value bets on the river! If we just check and our opponent does the same with a more marginal hand, then the pot will not increase in size and we can only expect limited value on the river card as a massive overbet would be called far too rarely. But if we bet on the turn and are called, then the pot and thus the chance of more value for our made hand will be bigger on the river.

We should therefore bet our strong hands on the turn, especially when OOP. There are of course exceptions to this such as special reads etc., but in general this is the best way of maximizing our profit and making opponents pay for their mistake(s).

Logically this principle also applies to situations in which bets were already made before. In other words: If we have a good made hand on the turn, then we should usually bet or raise.

  • Example of maximizing value

We limp UTG wit a pocket pair and hope that we can play this hand in an unraised pot. The flop gives us middle set and we bet directly. A check-raise is not an option in this situation as we don't want to be give any free cards on this draw-heavy board. Two players call our bet and the turn is the . Thus, the board is . An opponent may well have hit the ten or is drawing to a flush or straight – so we should continue betting "for value" on the absence of any special reads! We have now been called and have the chance to maximize the profit on the river.

2. Pot control

"Pot control" is when a player has control of the pot, i.e. the amount of money being invested in a hand. Within this context, "control" generally means not letting the pot size get out of control. Which is the direct opposite idea of what was mentioned above, i.e. maximizing value and protecting our own hand.

If we want to have a big pot, we should bet and try to maximize our profit. But if we want to play for a small, controlled pot, we should make small bets or check and stick to the "pot control" principle.

Marginal made hands have a certain showdown value, but we cannot be sure that we are holding the best hand, so here we want to play only small pots. We want to go to the showdown, but at as cheap as possible. This is the aim of this particular concept.

Big pots are for big hands, small pots are for small hands

Pot control can be used very effectively especially when in position.

  • Example:

We are on the button with and raised pre-flop. The flop is . We of course continue to bet on this flop and get one caller. The turn is the , and our opponent checks to us. What should we do?

We should check as well in order to control the pot and not to put us in a dodgy position, e.g. by means of a check-raise. The river card is now fairly irrelevant because if our hand doesn't improve, we can call almost any bet made by the opponent and can react to any check with a value bet (if our hand improves, we should usually raise). This concept is known as "inducing a bluff" as it often forces opponents to bet bad hands on the river as a bluff.

Pot control is somewhat more difficult to master when OOP. On the one hand it gives us the opportunity to check and then to call, depending on the type of opponent and on the size of the bet, but on the other hand the amount we bet can also determine the pot size being played for. Instead of a pot size bet, half of the pot would be enough to protect our hand from draws while preventing the pot size from getting out of control (we will often have to fold if an opponent raises).

  • Example of pot control

In this hand we have a pair of queens and make a standard raise pre-flop. The flop is , i.e. our opponent has to have at least a nine in order to beat us. As it is checked to us, we should then of course make a continuation bet. Our opponent calls, which he will often do with hands such as a flush draw, a nine, a small pair or even with overcards. The turn is the , which completes the flush. The opponent checks again but this time we do the same. This protects us from a check-raise and gives him the opportunity to bluff on the river with worse hands. The profit is therefore maximized and potential loss minimized.

3. Bluffs (multiple barrels)

The third concept also applies to turn and river, but is of more importance on the turn. In no-limit hold'em we often raise pre-flop with a typical starting hand such as and then make a continuation bet on the flop without having hit and are then called by the opponent. Now we have not managed to form a made hand on the turn, but still think that we can force the opponent to fold and therefore bet again. This is known as "multiple barrels".

The following requirements must be fulfilled in order for this type of bluff or semi-bluff to be profitable:

  • The opponents have to be able to fold their hands if they think they are behind. A bluff never makes sense against a calling station.
  • The stack sizes have to be of a corresponding size. E.g. there is no point in bluffing a player who is already committed. Our bet should let our opponents know that the hand will cost them a lot of money if they are behind.
  • Our hand has to be logical. It doesn't make sense to represent a hand that appears illogical to the opponent. He would then realize that we are bluffing.
  • Our own image is also very important because, if we are considered as being loose-aggressive, we will get called more often than a tight player.
  • If a scare card appears, i.e. a card that could be dangerous to other hands, we can use it to our advantage and it would make our bluff more successful.
  • The hand that our opponents could have is also very important as no one wants to fold a monster hand. If the opponent's range is limited to just a few very good hands, then multiple barrels should be avoided.

If any or even several of these requirements have not been fulfilled, we should consider whether checking would be a better and less expensive option (which is often the case when in position).

4. Playing draws

With only one more community card to be dealt, draws have a much lower value on the turn than on the flop. A bet of an opponent therefore provides us with far greater problems. With all typical draws, e.g. a flush draw, we no longer have the right odds to see the river card when betting the normal amount (half to the size of the pot).

The implied odds alone can be decisive as to whether we can make a profitable call or not. If we think the opponent will call a big bet on the river if we hit our draw, the iplied odds are considerably higher. He needs to be either very loose or have a very good hand to do so. In addition it is still necessary to have a corresponding effective stack size and to ensure that our draw is not too obvious because otherwise we will rarely get paid off if we actually hit our draw.

In most cases draws on the turn should be considered as trash hands and should thus be checked or folded as long as it is not worth playing a bluff.

  • Example of a draw hand

In this example hand we are in the small blind and have raised. On the flop we make a continuation bet. After the turn the board is , i.e. we have an OESD with and bet again as a semi-bluff. But now our opponent raises the minimum of 10 BBs to 20 BBs. The pot now already contains 48 BBs, which means we get pot odds of approx. 5:1 (~16.66%). As we will complete our OESD in approx. 17% of cases and we may also be able to count the remaining three aces as outs, a call would be profitable here (even if it is a close call).

5. Semi-bluffing

Semi-bluffing means that we are holding a hand that isn't strong enough to win a showdown, but still has outs on the river which can help it to become a winning hand. If the opponent has already shown weakness, a semi-bluff could be a very effective tool to win the pot immediately without having to put ourselves at risk. In contrast to a pure bluff, with a semi-bluff we still have the chance to win the hand in case we hit one of our outs on the river.

We should attempt to semi-bluff on the turn, when:

  • our opponent has already shown weakness,
  • we have a tight image,
  • a scare card appears on the turn,
  • we get additional outs,
  • we don't commit ourselves to the pot,
  • our opponent is not pot committed and
  • if our opponent is able to lay down a hand.
  • Example of a semi-bluff

No one raised pre-flop, which allows us to limp with in the small blind. The big blind checks and we see a flop of . The nut flush draw and the additional straight outs give us a number of opportunities to get the best hand. The board is also pretty dangerous, so a lot of opponents will fold better hands if we bet. An opponent calls our bet and we see a turn. As the flop call does not tell us much about the strength of the opponent's hand, we fire a second barrel on the turn and try to win by means of a semi-bluff. If our opponent folds, we can enjoy the win. If he calls, we still have a lot of outs. The now appears on the river and we can make a value bet without being worried.


This article has now covered the most important concepts. The second part will look at situations in which these concepts can be used as well as the tactics to be deployed when in and out of position.