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Holdem Lesson 7: The Turn


This may seem to contradict Lesson #5, yet we can assure you it does not. In Lesson #5, we were discussing the merits of checking (thereby taking the risk of giving a 'free card' to hands that have draws that can beat you) versus betting.  In this case, we're discussing those times when you've bet, and subsequently been raised by a player who initially checked. Now obviously, it always helps to 'know your opponents'. But in most low limit games, a player will only check-raise the turn for one reason; to get more money into the pot with a very strong hand.

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Consider this example: you have AcAs and there's 3 other players who see the flop with you. The flop comes Th 9s 5h. A player in front of you bets, you raise, a player behind you calls your raise, and the original bettor calls. The turn brings the 3h. The player in front of you checks, you bet, the player behind you calls, and now the player in front of you springs to life and raises! What's your play?

In our experience you should strongly consider folding. In a higher limit game, where the players are typically more advanced, you'll often have to call here, since the pot has gotten big and it's possible that your opponent is making some kind of play.  But in the lower limit games this is fairly uncommon. Occasionally you'll be shown a strangely played KT here, but more often then not you'll be looking at either a flush or a hand that flopped big. Low limit players, as a rule, aren't in the habit of making speculative check-raises on the turn. When they employ this play, it's usually because they have the goods. Also, note that you have no 'outs' to improve to a hand that will beat the hand your opponent is representing.  If your aces were hearts and diamonds, instead of clubs and spades you would unhesitatingly call, since there are either seven or nine cards (depending on whether or not he's already made a flush) that could improve your hand to the best hand.

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That said, there are plenty of times you'll have to call in this type of situation. This occurs when the pot has gotten huge, say over 15 big bets (in a 3-6 game that would be a pot over 90 dollars), or when your opponent has shown a tendency to overplay his hands. When the pot is enormous you often have to call because making an incorrect fold would be a disaster. Also, you'll have a clear call when you're holding a hand that has outs to the hand that your opponent is representing. If, for example, the flop gave you a set of nines (3 of a kind), you'll absolutely have to call, since you'll improve a full house or four of a kind about 22% of the time. When you have two pair you'll improve a full house about 8% of the time, which means you should call when the pot contains 10 big bets or more (see the article on Pot Odds for details on how to make this kind of calculation). As a rule, you'll want to lean towards calling if:

a) you can improve to a hand that will beat the hand your opponent is representing, and/or

b) your hand is such that it can beat a fair number of the hands that your opponent might reasonably have. For instance, if you had T9 you'd probably call, since your opponent may simply have an inferior two pair, and there are four cards still in the deck (any nine or ten) that will give you a very strong hand.

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Note: we know how hard it is to lay down an overpair (a pocket pair higher in rank than the highest card on the board) on the turn. Yet, if you keep track of the times the check-raiser has you beat, compared to those times when he's making a move at the pot, you should find that the former outnumber the latter by at least a margin of 8 to 1. Again, this is simply our experience; as the saying goes, 'your mileage may vary.' The important thing here is to at least consider folding, and not to blindly continue on with the hand.

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