Turn betting is an extremely important part of no-limit hold'em
betting strategy. In my opinion, the turn is the phase of a hand that most clearly separates the top-level players from the merelyBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us
passable ones. For those of you who normally roost in online no-limit hold’em tournaments, where the blinds go up quickly, this is the most likely area in which your game will be deficient, and will hurt you if you play for big money or in a multiday no-limit hold’em tournament. Except for the initial couple of betting levels, those who play in fast-paced events normally see only preflop and flop betting rounds, as players will be all in by the turn due to the high blind structure relative to the stack sizes. In fact, sit-and-go addicts do not seem to realize that there are actually four betting rounds in no-limit hold’em.
On the flop betting round, a draw is often played aggressively, especially with position, as there are usually two shots at making your hand. On the turn, even though one sees a big play made with a drawing hand once in a while, a display of power normally signals a good made hand, because a player on a normal draw is not getting decent pot odds for jeopardizing a lot of chips. So, a drawing hand played aggressively will usually be either a flush draw that has picked up an open-end straight draw or a straight draw that has picked up a flush draw. (I am not talking about the situation in which a player lead-bets on the flop and bets again on the turn, as that can be a quite moderate draw that simply wants to take another shot at the pot rather than check-fold; I am talking only about a raise or check-raise on the turn.)
The principle by which I normally abide regarding a bet on the turn is, “If you bet the turn, bet big.” I almost always follow this philosophy if two situations exist. First, the board is not paired. Second, there was a potential draw on the flop. Let me explain my reasoning. If the board is paired, an opponent can afford to slow-play if he has a boat. Therefore, just calling does not limit his hand. If the board is not paired, and he or I could be drawing, his hand is limited when he does not put in a big bet or raise to stop me from drawing out. There is no money-back guarantee that he is not sandbagging when he fails to bet or raise, but it is likely that his hand is limited — especially if he is a good player. This means that a call of my solid-size bet narrows down his probable hand, which is extremely important in helping me do the right thing in last-card betting.
To see the advantage of betting big on the turn, look at this betting sequence in a $5-$10 blinds no-limit hold’em money game in which the players involved in the pot all have about a grand apiece in their stacks. The under-the-gun (UTG) player opens for a normal pot-size raise of $35. A middle-position player and the button call. The flop comes Q
(a heart two-flush). The UTG player bets $100 (close to a pot-size bet), the middle-position player calls, and the button calls. The turn is the 3
, a total blank, and the UTG player bets $150. The button calls. What does the UTG player know about his opponent’s hand? Not that much. He could have top pair or a flush draw, or even be slow-playing a set. If the flush comes on the end, the UTG player is going to have to check, and then will be in a tough situation (I am assuming that the unlikely scenario of the UTG player having a couple of suited cards and then flopping a flush draw has not happened). Even if the flush does not come, if his opponent makes a big bet or a raise, the UTG player will not know if he is facing a busted draw or a big hand.
Why does a player often make wimpy-sized bets on the turn? There are several reasons. First, he may be a weak no-limit hold’em player who has “graduated” from limit poker (but not with honors). He does not make use of the tools given to him when the limit has been removed.
Second, the player may have a good hand and be looking for action. My philosophy is that the adage “Be careful what you wish for, it may come true” can easily apply here. When a big hand like a set gets cracked, it usually is expensive. Furthermore, if you think you may have shown weakness by your small-size bet, there is a greater tendency to pay the opponent off when he draws out. If you bet big on the turn, a draw seldom gets the right price to call, but a made hand may think you are trying to steal. The hands that could beat you have to fold, and the hands with little or no chance pay extra when they call. That is exactly what you want, so bet a decent amount and make it happen.
Another reason, more common than the previous one, is what I call “fear of checking.” The player who bets does not have a strong hand, and is taking a shot at the pot with a hand of only moderate value. When he gets called on the flop, he is worried. His hand may not be good, but he is afraid of getting robbed if he checks. This is especially true in the aggressive manner in which the game is often played these days. So, our fainthearted fellow takes the worst of both worlds and invests in a small turn bet. If he does not get the pot taken away from him right there, he may be happy, but he has not won the money. His opponent will likely call, and our wimpy bettor will have another dilemma on the river.
Look at the difference in this hand we just discussed if the UTG player bets a solid $300 on the turn rather than a wimpy $150. If he is called, he can be pretty sure that he is facing a hand like A-Q. A draw would be getting a bad price, and a set would likely think “the pot is big enough for me” and spring to life. That extra $150 is well-spent. Note that I have not even told you the UTG player’s hand. I think $300 is the right bet if the UTG player has an overpair, top pair, or a flush draw, or is bluffing with a hand like A-K. He has a good idea of how to handle the river because he made a solid bet on the turn. If he was bluffing, there is a good chance that he would not be called on the turn. I think the saying “Penny wise, pound foolish” describes this situation very well. Use that hammer on the turn and you will either nail down the pot or know how to play the river.