No-Limit Hold'em: BSS – The Turn (2)
The most important concepts for playing the turn were already presented in the first part. Now we're going to look at how they can be applied.
It is very favorable to play in position. Most of the situations that we are going to analyze on the turn are therefore hands where we are in position. This article will initially concentrate on strategies to be applied on the turn when in position, followed by a few strategies to be used when OOP (out of position), which is less common.
In position plays
If we have a good made hand on the turn and we are fairly certain that we are currently holding the best hand, then we should almost always bet or raise in case someone else has already bet in front of us. We have now got so far in this hand that it rarely makes sense to slow play such strong hands. Usually the pots have grown to a certain size, meaning that our opponents will often tend to pay us off in order to increase their chances of winning the pot.
So if we have a hand where we are usually ahead and the opponent checks to us, then we should bet. If he bets, we should raise. If an opponent makes a donk bet on the turn and we were the aggressor, then a raise will often be enough for us to win the pot immediately.
A bet can also be very profitably if a scare card appears. As the name suggests scare cards do just that – they scare players. As the aggressor we would use the multiple barrels concept. The best example of this involves kings or aces if the flop only brings fairly small cards. If we are in position, an ace comes on the turn and our opponent checks to us; a bluff bet could easily force him to fold, since we can now represent a hand such as Ace-King. However, this tactic should not be overused and generally only deployed in heads-up situations. If possible, we should also have additional outs when we decide to bluff (semi-bluff). Experienced players may realize that we only bet because a scare card appeared and therefore call us.
The following applies in general: We should bet or raise if we
- believe we have the best made hand or
- the turn card changes the structure of the board to such an extent that we can force better hands to fold.
If we fell victim to a check-raise, we have to re-analyze the range of plausible hands we can still beat. In general, a check-raise, especially on the turn, is considered a sign of great strenght.
- Example of a bet hand
The favourite hand of a lot of poker players is a pair of aces. Of course we avoid slow playing and start with a raise pre-flop and a continuation bet on a flop of . The turn is a good card for our overpair: the . Now we will beat our opponent, even if he is holding . With certain scare cards we can play check behind to prevent the pot from getting too big, but in this case a value bet would make more sense.
- Example of a raise hand
After Villain 2 limped pre-flop, we also decide to play . On the flop we hit an open-ended straight draw and our opponent bets eight BBs into a pot of ten BBs. Since he has only about 55 BBs left, we decide to just call (a raise could cause the opponent to go all-in). All of the other opponents fold. We hit our straight – the nuts – on the turn. As our opponent bets, we raise to three times the amount of his raise and of course call his all-in. This hand is a very good example of why you shouldn't slow play aces.
Checking on the turn is a rather passive play and is thus not part of our tight-aggressive playing style, but in a lot of situations it can minimize potential losses and even maximize profit.
Of course we want to maximize profit with our made hands, but every no-limit hold'em player is regularly in the situation where he has a good hand such as a top pair with a good kicker, but cannot be sure that he really is ahead. In order to get round this problem, there is a very effective betting line that was already described in article I: check turn –
We have in late position and raise pre-flop. We then see a flop of together with two other players. We of course bet this flop and are called by an opponent, meaning that we see the turn: . Our opponent now checks and we can choose whether to bet or check: We check so that we can call or bet almost any river. Here we have no problems giving a free card as there are not many draws possible, thus giving the opponent the opportunity to bluff on the river or, if he thinks he is ahead, to make a value bet. This also allows us to protect ourselves against a check-raise on the turn, and helps us to avoid having to make difficult decisions (if our opponent hits a set or has ).
The main reasons for checking on the turn are if we
- want to check behind on the turn and then call or bet on the river with a made hand,
- only have a trash hand,
- were not able to improve our drawing hand
- or if there were too many opponents in the hand in order to make a bluff or semi-bluff profitable.
- Example of a check behind hand
In this hand we have in middle position and isolate a very loose player by means of a raise. We see a fairly good flop heads-up: . After Villain 9 checks, we of course make a continuation bet and are called. The turn is the and completes the flush, which means that we can play check behind as the opponent's range now includes a lot of hands that can beat us (and only a few that we can beat). The river is the and thus a very good card for us, as we can now win a big pot. If the had not come up, we would often have had to fold against a solid player.
If we are in position and one of our opponents bets, then we should only call if we can draw profitably according to the odds, outs and probabilities rules, i.e. if we still have outs or a made hand too good to fold but not good enough to raise.
The following applies in general: We try to play aggressively and therefore raise or fold most of the time. There are some situations that necessitate a call though.
Let's say we hit a marginal made hand on the flop. One of our opponents bets and we just call. If the opponent again shows strength on the turn, then we should simply fold most of the time.
If we call on the turn with mediocre hands, there will hardly be any cards on the river which can provide us with more security. If our opponent bets again, we have another difficult decision to make. The easiest thing to do now is therefore to raise or fold. With experience, a call can be a profitable tool, especially against aggressive players such as maniacs.
- Example of a call hand
We are in position holding on a flop of , which means that we have a gutshot straight flush draw. Villain 5, who only called pre-flop in the small blind, now bets. Since he probably had raised with hands such as or before the flop, we can call without running the risk of being drawing dead. The turn is the , which gives us four additional outs to a straight up to the queen. Our opponent now bets half of the pot, which gives us pot odds of 3 to 1. As we have a total of 15 outs, we will win in approx. 31% of cases (according to the rule of thumb – outs x 2 + 1). In other words: We can draw profitably by calling.
All trash and drawing hands where we don't get the right odds should be folded, of course. Only on appropriate boards or in case we have specific reads it can make senses to bluff. If, for example, someone continuation bets every flop after he has raised pre-flop and then checks on the turn, this would give us the opportunity to continue playing these bad hands. Weak made hands, with which we are often behind, can also be folded as we always have to reckon with a river bet.
The following applies in general: If we are rarely ahead or cannot force any better hands to fold, then we should fold.
Playing out of position is always difficult. In particular, made hands such as top pair with top kicker will often mean trouble since we have a strong hand that can beat a number of hands, but we will often be behind as well. A standard line out of position as aggressor is "bet/fold".
If we are e.g. the pre-flop aggressor, and we hit a good hand on the flop and get several callers who are on a draw or who have also hit a good hand, then the bet/fold tactic is often an option on the turn. Let's say the turn completes a draw. In this case we should bet in order to see how our opponents react. If they raise we should generally fold our hand. We can of course check as well, but then it would be very difficult to find out where we stand if someone bets behind us, since a check-raise with such hands is generally not profitable.
The following applies in general: We play bet/fold with marginal made hands when we were the aggressor.
If we weren't the aggressor, then we can also make a donk bet on the turn in some cases. If opponents tend to check a lot of turn cards, then the bet/fold tactic is a good way of getting as much value as possible. We should however make sure that this bet does not happen for the wrong reasons: We should always make that bet in order to maximize value or to protect our hand.
As aggressor we should clearly play bet/re-raise with all monster hands. If an opponent raises, he most probably has a very good hand, so we should try to put our money into the middle. Usually a re-raise with normal big stacks leads to an all-in re-raise.
This line is very conservative and weak and should therefore only be used in appropriate spots.
If we slow play our hand, this play can be used profitable in certain situations. We should only check or call while holding strong hands rather than raise them during a slow play. The idea behind this is to enable the opponent to hit a hand on the river that is fairly good, but is still only the second-best hand.
Another advantage is that aggressive opponents still have the opportunity to bluff on the river without knowing that they are up against a monster hand. Check/call (or just calling when in position) keeps the pot small on the turn, but with the intention of maximizing profit on the river.
However, before deciding in favour of a slow play, we should consider the structure of the board and the quality of our own hand. On coordinated flops such as , the check/call tactic with hands such as two pair or bottom set would be fatal. In addition, our opponents may also have a good made hand, meaning that we could gain value with a bet or check-raise.
To summarize, a slow play should only be considered if
- we have a disproportionately good made hand,
- the board is not very coordinated,
- our check isn't too obvious
and, most importantly,
- our opponent would most probably fold to a bet.
As soon as any of the above points do not apply, we should avoid slow plays.
Other situations in which check/call can be used include: when we have a draw and get the right odds, and in a way ahead, way behind situation. However, in most cases we should either bet or check.
Everyone likes to do it, and a lot of people do it far too often – the check-raise. This move can be used successfully on the turn against very aggressive opponents.
Let's assume that we raised pre-flop and made a continuation bet on the flop. After the turn card has been dealt, we have a very strong hand and fear that the player behind us will fold if we bet. But we already raised a lot pre-flop, bet on the flop and then played check/fold on the turn if we didn't have a very strong hand. Attentive opponents will notice this and try to force us out of the pot with a turn bet, even though they have nothing themselves. We can of course take advantage of this situation and counter with a check-raise (we don't even need to have a particularly strong hand for this).
Another opportunity to play check-raise is if we have only called on the flop out of position, and the turn then completes our draw. However, in this situation we should bet rather than check-raise, since a lot of players will check behind on the turn as soon as a draw arrives. In this case we should only check-raise if our opponent is loose-aggressive.
Here are all of the points in favour of a check-raise:
- We think that one of the opponents behind us will bet more hands than call.
- We have a very good hand and think that one of the opponents behind us will bet and call our raise, but would only call if we bet.
- We want to bluff and appear strong.
We shouldn't place too much emphasis on the third point as only one more card is to be dealt after the turn, so semi-bluffs become less effective. A lot of opponents also don't want to fold their good hands if the pot has already reached a certain size. One crucial factor in favour of a check-raise as a bluff is therefore the effective stack sizes.
In relation to the pot, the stack sizes are small and therefore a check-raise generally ends as an all-in.
- Example of a check raise
We are under the gun holding and raise four times the big blind. A very loose and aggressive opponent calls. We think that he bets a lot of hands, if we check to him. The flop of gives us top set: a monster hand. Unfortunately there aren't many made hands that our opponent could have. In this case we follow our read and let him bet for us. The plan works and we see a turn card: the . This is not a good card for us as it also doesn't hit the opponent's range. Since he doesn't have many chips left, we can follow our "read" again, but this time we play check-raise. But, as mentioned before, this move shouldn't be used too much and only against certain, very aggressive opponents.
The check/fold tactic applies to all hands where we would fold to a bet even when we are in position.
Now we have looked at all of the concepts and plays that can be used on the turn. The next articles deal with playing the river – the last round of betting in no-limit Texas Hold'em.