"The Turn" by Daniel Negreanu
Hi all, this is a bit lengthy so if you're impatient skip it...for beginners I find it excellent reading.
By Daniel Negreanu
In any form of hold'em, it is my opinion that the turn is the most difficult and most crucial street to play. Learning which hands to play before the flop can be learned, and simple rules can be used to play relatively well on the flop. The turn, though, is what separates the great players from the average players. It's the meat of the hand.
Of course, river play is important, as well: knowing when to value bet, save a bet, try to pick off a bluff, or attempt a bluff yourself. But by the time you get to the river, the pot's usually so big that it's correct to call with any hand you think has a reasonable chance of winning. Calling on the river can never be all that bad.
It's the turn then, that is the trickiest to play. In limit hold'em, the bet doubles, adding even more importance to fourth street. In pot-limit, preflop and flop action affect the size of the bet allowed, so you may have to face a very large bet on the turn, and possibly again on the river. This is not true in no-limit, as the maximum bet is equal on all streets; however, that doesn't mean that turn play isn't crucial in that game, as well. In no-limit tournaments, though, I think you'll find that the most crucial street is preflop.
By the turn, you should have enough information about your opponents' hands to narrow down their holdings some. After factoring in their preflop action, their play on the flop, and the texture of the board, the turn is the street where you'll need to make the key decision as to what your opponents are holding. Here is a simple example of a common, difficult turn decision in limit hold'em:
A player raises from first position preflop, and you make it three bets from middle position with Q-Q, and take the flop heads up. The flop comes K 9 6. Your opponent checks, and you bet. Now, he raises you. Let's say for this example that you decide to just call the raise and see what develops on the turn (reraising is another option here, but I'll save that play for another column). The turn brings the 2, and your opponent bets into you. What should you do?
Well, it depends on a multitude of variables. What could your opponent have? There are several possibilities to consider: A-K, K-Q, or K-X, for that matter; also, 6-6, 9-9, A-A, K-9, and so on. These are all hands that have you drawing dead to two outs, but what else could he have? Could he also have a flush draw? Possibly a hand like Q-J, J-10, Q-10, or 8-7? How about A-9, J-J, or 10-10? These are all hands you can beat.
This is when you'll need your poker skills the most. You'll have to go into your memory bank, and think through the action on this hand, and compare it to hands you've seen your opponent play in the past. Does this player play lots of hands, or is he usually very tight from early position? Is this player capable of making a move like this without having a king or better?
Once you've run all of this through your mind, it's time to take action. Let's say for this example that you decide there is a 50 percent chance that your queens are good; what should you do? I'm guessing that most of you are saying call on the turn and again on the river. That has to be the best way to play the hand, right? Wrong.
There is an even better way to play this hand if you decide to play it at all. Why not raise? Think about it: If you are going to call the turn and the river regardless, raising costs you no extra money (unless your opponent is a timid player and might check a king on the river if a scare card comes). Once you've raised on the turn, you can simply check down the river if you are worried you are beat, or that you won't get called by a worse hand in this spot.
The beauty of playing it this way is that if you happen to be wrong and your opponent does have a king, you'll win an extra bet on the river if you catch a third queen. And if you are right that your opponent has a draw, you'll be getting extra value from the hand by making him pay two bets to beat you rather than just one. And, heck, if your opponent is worried his king is no good, you may even be able to get him to lay down the best hand! All in all, if you are going to call him down anyway, raising is a win-win situation.
Of course, if you raise and are reraised, you will likely have to fold to the third bet and lose your opportunity to catch the third queen. However, you can be pretty sure that if you are reraised at this point, your opponent has you beat.
I recently played a hand in which this situation came up at the Four Queens Poker Classic tournament against T.J. Cloutier. We were threehanded in the $1,060 buy-in limit hold'em tournament when this hand took place:
I raised from the button with two black sevens, and T.J. reraised me from the big blind. The flop came Q 3 3, and T.J. bet out, as expected. I wanted to find out where I was in the hand, so I raised, and T.J. called. When he just called, I felt comfortable that I had the best hand.
The turn then brought the K, and T.J. bet out. Having played with T.J. for countless hours, his bet seemed suspect to me. I didn't believe he had a king, and decided I wasn't going to throw my sevens away, so I raised.
Raising had the same benefits in this hand as it did in the other example I shared with you:
1. If T.J. had a flush draw, I'd be making him pay two bets to make it.
2. If I was wrong and T.J. did have a king, I would win an extra bet if I was lucky enough to catch a 7 on the river.
3. If T.J. was semibluffing with anything from 8-8 to a pair of queens, there was a chance that I'd get him to throw it away, thinking I had a king, a 3, or possibly even a full house.
T.J. called, and the river brought the 2, and T.J. checked. If I was beat when T.J. called the turn, I didn't think he'd fold on the river, so betting seemed pointless. If I was wrong, oh well. If I was right, and T.J. was drawing, there was zero value in betting the river. So, I checked. T.J. said, "Ace high," and I won the pot. T.J. didn't show his hand, but I suspect he had either A-J or A-10 and was drawing to an ace and a gutshot straight. With seven potential outs, that was enough for him to call my raise on the turn.
Now, these are just two examples of hands in which the key decision came on the turn, but there are millions of examples we could cover. Before I let you go, I want to cover just a couple more.
Having played anywhere from $10-$20 to $500-$1,000 hold'em, I've noticed key differences in the way my opponents play the turn. In a typical $15-$30 game, it seems as though players are often so worried about being raised that they'll check a hand they should bet. This happens much less often in a typical $80-$160 game. Here is an example:
You raise before the flop from middle position with A-K, and only the big blind calls you. The flop comes 10 4 4 and your opponent checks to you. You bet, and he calls. The turn brings the 9, and your opponent checks. What should you do? It depends. (Don't you hate it when people say that?)
Really, though, it does. What type of player is the big blind? With what types of hands will he call you on the flop? If he had a 10 or a 4, would he check it to you twice? If he had a hand like 8-8, would he play it this carefully? The bottom line is, the correct play will come from your read on your opponent. That's why it's difficult to teach good turn play, because so much of it is read-dependent.
What I see more often in $15-$30 games than I do in $80-$160 games is the player with A-K fearing a check-raise, and giving away a free card. Of course, I'm not saying you should bet blindly, but I think it's important to stay aggressive on the turn; otherwise, you become very predictable.
OK, here's the last example. A player limps in from first position, and you raise from middle position with J-J. The big blind calls, as does the limper, so three of you take a flop of 8 7 4. Both players check and call your bet. The turn brings the Q. Both players check. What should you do now?
The Q is certainly a scare card. The flush got there, an overcard hit, and someone could already have a straight, two pair, or a set. This is all true, but it's also true that if you walk outside your house today, you might get struck by lightning - yet you walk out of your house every day. Getting check-raised is a lot less painful, but the way some players play the turn, you wouldn't think so!
What you should do in a situation like this is think. I'm not saying bet, and I'm not saying check. The correct play can be determined only by understanding your opponents' tendencies. Giving a free card in this situation might be a disaster. On the other hand, if you've picked up a tell that someone is setting you up, betting would be silly.
The more hands-on experience you get dealing with these situations, the better you'll be able to analyze them and make plays based on your read of opponents' tendencies. If you want to take your game to the next level, playing better on the turn is a good place to start.