When Should You Bet the Turn? (It's Not What You Think)

Should You Bet the Turn?

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

When it comes to poker strategy, the turn play is somewhat neglected or glossed over compared to other streets.

There’s an abundance of information about preflop play, there are tons of charts and step-by step guides, and there’s no shortage of information about flop textures and optimal c-betting frequencies.

But by the turn things start to get a little foggy. And it’s no wonder.

The turn is arguably the most complex street to play in no-limit Texas Hold’em. It is the crux of the hand in some sense, as you have to consider the most information with one variable still unknown (i.e. the river card). 

This is where all your theoretical game knowledge comes into play at the same time. You have to be aware of the previous action, the board runout, your opponent’s range, pot odds and implied odds, just to name a few. 

Since there are so many variables to consider, and every poker hand you ever play is unique, it’s impossible to give a clear cut answer as to what you should do in a certain spot.

Sometimes your bet will clearly be for value as in this recent video that BlackRain79 made:


Other times, it will not.

What this article will focus on instead is give you better questions to ponder in order to make the best in-game decisions possible.

There are some general questions to have in mind in every hand and every spot you play. 

Poker is a game of incomplete information, so the more questions you can answer, the bigger your edge over your competition. 

Ideally, you should already know your opponent type in order to assess their range and respond accordingly. It’s virtually impossible to narrow down someone’s range effectively if you don’t have something to work with.

Defining what kind of opponent you’re up against is already winning half the battle. You wouldn’t play the same way against a loose and passive fish than you would against a tight and aggressive regular.

So when you get to the turn, here is a rough outline of the information you should have in mind: What type of opponent(s) you’re up against, what was the previous action, are you playing in position or out of position.

The turn is a street where you have the most information to consider. 

By the time you get to the river, the situation is somewhat clearer, as all the cards are revealed, so you know if you have a strong made hand, a mediocre hand or a busted draw, so you can act accordingly. 

The turn still has one additional unknown variable (i.e. the river card) so you have to take that into consideration as well. 

Since every hand is unique, and there is so much info to consider, it’s virtually impossible to provide an answer as to what to do in a certain turn spot.

But before getting into the nitty-gritty of the turn play, here are a few general guidelines to adhere to.


1. What Type of Opponent Am I Up Against?


Your opponent type will determine whether you should fire a bet on the turn as a value bet or as a bluff. If you are playing against loose and passive recreational players (aka the fish), you should only value bet the turn as a default.

And yes this means getting over your fear of getting raised occasionally as BlackRain79 discusses in this recent YouTube video.

  
Subscribe for more weekly poker strategy videos from BlackRain79 by the way, right here.

If you got to the turn as a preflop aggressor and if you fired a c-bet on the flop as a value bet, you should be inclined to double barrel on most turns, with the sole exception of particularly wet and coordinated boards if you suspect your opponent might have connected in some meaningful way.

If the turn bricks, on the other hand, you should keep barreling for value if you suspect your opponent might have a lot of drawing hands in their range, so you should make them pay the premium price for chasing their gutshot draws, flush draws and so on.

If you are up against tight regulars, on the other hand, you should add some bluffs into your turn betting range as well. This will prevent you from becoming overly exploitable against your more aware opponents.

A large majority of players know by now that c-betting the flop a large majority of the time is a standard play, but don’t have the heart to keep barreling on the turn without a strong hand. 

You should be on the lookout for that kind of players, the ones with a huge gap between their c-betting flop and turn frequencies, as you can pick up a number of easy pots against them by flatting their flop c-bets in position with a wide range, and simply fire a half-pot bet on the turn when they check to you. 

And in order to not be exploited this way yourself, you should be willing to fire a double barrel as a bluff from time to time. You should do so when a scare card comes on the turn (like an Ace or a King) if it favours your perceived range.

By the way, for a complete breakdown of all 9 player types, check out Modern Small Stakes.  


2. Am I Playing In Position or Out of Position?


Next, you should be more inclined to keep barrelling on the turn in position than out of position. 

I won’t be going into much details here, as general advantages of positional play are an important factor on every street, so suffice it to say that you’re better off betting the turn in position either as a value bet or a bluff, because 

A) you can get more value by betting in position because you are closing the action and can dictate the price of the hand, and 

B) you can bluff more effectively because, again, you can dictate the price, and also have more fold equity, as your opponents are less likely to call multiple consecutive bets out of position without a strong hand (and strong hands in no-limit Texas hold’em are more of an exception than the rule. 


3. What Was the Previous Action?


Finally, it's important to consider the previous action in order to deduce whether or not it’s profitable to fire a turn bet. 

Donk betting (i.e. betting into the previous street aggressor) isn’t really advisable as a default, and you’re better off check-raising either for value or as a bluff.

This is something that fish mostly do as BlackRain79 discusses in this video.


If you’re betting for value, you can inflate the pot more than you would with a donk-bet, and if you’re bluffing, your check-raise on the turn will appear very strong. 

If you check-raise as a bluff, it’s better to do so against players who are aggressive themselves and double-barrel a lot, as they will have a more significant amount of bluffs in their range.

You shouldn’t bluff if you don’t have some fold equity (i.e. the villain actually has a fold button), or if you don’t have any hand equity to fall back on, so semi-bluffing is more advisable than just going out of line with air, especially if the villain has shown strength earlier in the hand. 

Only after you have answered all the previous questions (what was the previous action, what type of villain you are up against, and are you playing in or out of position), you can start answering additional questions below to further narrow down the villain’s range and make the best turn decisions.


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4. What is My Opponent’s Range?


You can narrow down your opponent’s range substantially by the turn using the funnel principle. 

The funnel principle dictates your opponent’s range starts with 100% of all possible hands they can theoretically have, and narrows with every consecutive action street by street. 

In theory, the stronger and more aggressive the action, the tighter and narrower the range. 

For example, a player who 3-bets preflop will have a considerably narrower range than if he only calls the open raise.

This is something that BlackRain79 discusses in much more detail in the hand reading sections of The Micro Stakes Playbook.

This is why it’s crucial to be cognizant of the action on the previous streets. The more passive actions your opponent took, the wider and weaker his range, and conversely, the more aggressive actions, the stronger the range.

Again, this is a general rule and there are exceptions. A player might opt for more deceptive lines, i.e. slowplaying their monster hands, or getting out of line with a stone cold bluff. 

This is also why you should be aware of your opponent’ general tendencies and take them into account. But as a pure default, you should have the previous general rules in mind.

If you can’t accurately assess your opponent’s range and narrow it down to a manageable number of hands (and you won’t a large majority of time, as there’s way too many variables to consider in a limited amount of time), you should at least ask yourself is their range wide or narrow, weak or strong. 

This question alone can often give you a general idea to work with. 

The wider their range, the more often you should consider double barreling, and the tighter their range, the more selective you should be with continuing your aggression.


Example Betting the Turn Hand


Effective stack size: 100 BB
You are dealt A♣Q♣ on the BU.

You open-raise to 2.5x.
A TAG regular calls in the BB.

Pot: 5.5 BB
Flop: J8♠2♣

Villain checks. You bet 3 BB. Villain calls.

What is the villain's range? Let’s try to narrow it down.

You assume the villain is a solid thinking player and doesn’t get out of line too much. 

Villain calls an open-raise from the button. Your button open-raising range is pretty wide, so his calling range should be wide as well. 

He didn’t 3-bet, meaning his range is capped, so you can already exclude premium pocket pairs (Jacks and better), Ace King and probably Ace Queen. 

This leaves a number of speculative hands, pocket pairs, suited connectors, Ax, Kx types of hands and so on. You can’t narrow down his range too much, so suffice to say his range will consist of playable hands at least.

On the flop, villain check-calls your c-bet. Now you can already narrow down his range substantially. Based on the player type, you can exclude all the sets, because he would have check-raised those instead. 

So his continuing range can be roughly Jx hands, drawing hands like  Q9, T9, QT, maybe pocket Tens or Nines.

This is just an example, of course. Your range estimates will never be perfect, and at times you’ll be way off. 

It’s not about narrowing down the villain’s range perfectly, it’s more about the thinking process, i.e. making broad, general assumptions and working your way down to the specific hands. 


5. Does the Turn Card Favour My Opponent’s Range?


Once you figure out your opponent's range, or at least have a vague outline of one, consider how the turn card favours your hand and your opponent’s range.

Which hands could have improved with it, and which hands got relatively weaker with it? Is the turn card a brick or did it change something dramatically?

This is especially important if you have a massive draw on the turn for example.


If the turn bricks (meaning it doesn’t change the board texture because it doesn’t complete straight or flush draws, for example) you should continue betting for value on the turn, or bet as a bluff if you expect the villain to be on the more timid side of the spectrum. 

As mentioned before, most players know by now that you should c-bet the flop often, and they know that you should float the flop wider in position and try to take down the pot on later streets. 

But most of them won’t have the heart to call down the double barrel without a decent hand, and if they find themselves in marginal situations (which is most of the situations in poker, anyway), they’ll err on the side of caution and simply give up and not put a considerable portion of their stack at risk. 

So consider double barrelling as a bluff especially if you suspect the turn didn’t change anything dramatically, or if the turn is a scare card. 


Let’s use the previous example hand


Flop: J8♠2♣
Villain checks. You bet 3 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 11.5 BB

Turn: K♣
Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should continue betting.

This is a perfect situation for a double-barrel bluff. 

You picked up a ton of equity on the turn, improving to 12 clean outs (any clubs or any Ten), meaning you’re drawing to the nuts. The King favours your range more than it does the villain’s, and his range got relatively weaker.

All Jx hands (except KJ) are now second pair, and all the middle pairs and drawing hands don’t fare any better. So the majority of the villain’s range probably won’t stand the pressure of a double barrel. 


6. What Does My Bet Accomplish?


You should get into the habit of asking this question in every spot you play. You should have a why for every action you take. Betting because “it’s standard”, or “to get a read” isn’t good enough. 

The former is like saying: “I am betting because I need to bet”, and the latter is just as nonsensical.

For example, you bet the turn and your opponent calls. 

What read does that give you? He might have a drawing hand, he might be floating with Ace high because he thinks you’re bluffing, or he might be slowplaying a monster hand. 

Either way you’re none the wiser, but you’ve put money in the pot nonetheless. 

The correct approach instead is asking why you’re betting. If you can’t answer that, you’re better off not doing it. This is something BlackRain79 discusses in his video course.

When you know that you are betting either for value, as a bluff, or for protection, ask yourself which hands will give you action, and which ones will fold. 

If you’re betting for value, you should only do so if you can get called by weaker hands. If you’re bluffing, do so only if you are confident enough stronger hands will fold.

It all ties back to the previous point of figuring out what type of opponents you’re up against. 

Your value bet can get called by a lot more hands if you’re up against a calling station, and you can generate a lot more fold equity by bluffing the nits.

So clearly define the purpose of your bets, and size them accordingly. If you are value betting against an inelastic opponent, why not go for a pot sized bet or even an overbet?

If you’re up against a timid opponent who overfolds, go for a smaller sized bluff.


7. Do I Want to Give a Free Card or Not?


Last variable to consider is the river prospects. 

When you play poker, you shouldn’t make decisions in a vacuum, so to speak, meaning you should take a proactive approach and figure out not only what to do in a certain spot, but also consider the future action.

So when deciding whether or not to bet the turn, it’s important to have a plan for the river as well. 

Having all the previous questions to ask in mind, consider how certain river cards could influence the action, is your hand vulnerable, does your opponent have a made or a drawing hand and so on.

If you play in position, you can get a free card by checking behind your opponent, and conversely, you can prevent your opponent from doing the same by charging them a premium for their drawing hands. 

If you have the board totally smashed with a nuttish hand, you might want to consider checking behind for a couple of reasons.

First, you allow your opponent to catch up hand strength-wise, (completing their draws, spiking a set on the river with their middle pocket pair and so on). 

Secondly, you conceal your hand strength and can induce more action on the river. 

Needless to say, checking the turn (or any street) with a monster hand against huge calling stations is out of the question. 

There’s absolutely no need to go for these kinds of deceptive lines, and the straightforward approach is the way to go. 

Missing a round of value betting can be absolutely detrimental to your bottom line because of the pot geometry. 

This means that failing to build up the pot on earlier streets will have a huge impact on the size of the pot by the end of the hand. 

This can spell the difference between taking down a meagre pot and completely stacking your opponent.

So if you decide to miss a round of value betting, the potential payoff has to be well-worth the missed opportunity to build the pot as much as possible.


Summary 


Turn play is somewhat overlooked, but nonetheless a crucial aspect of your overall poker strategy. In fact this is the point in the hand that a lot of advanced poker strategy focuses on.

It’s where all your theoretical game knowledge comes into play at the same time, and there’s so many variables to consider that it can easily get overwhelming. 

A lot of players feel stumped at this point and are not sure how to best proceed. The solution to this problem is simply asking better questions.

Poker is essentially a game of deduction. 

You start with the general understanding of the underlying principles, make broad assumptions based on your observations, and try to zero in on the solution with every additional piece of information.

Put more simply, you reason from the general to the specific.

Some general information you should always keep in mind is what type of opponent you are up against, are you playing in position or out of position, and what was the previous action.

These three alone will at least give you a vague idea of your opponent’s range.

If you can’t narrow it down to specific hands, at least use the general wide and loose, tight and narrow approach.

Then, ask yourself how the turn card interacts with your opponent’s perceived range. Does it help or not? What draws might have completed with it? Did their range get relatively weaker or stronger?

Having answered that, ask yourself what is it you’re actually trying to accomplish with betting? If you are betting for value, what hands will give you action? 

If you’re bluffing, what hands can you get to fold, and is your bluff believable? Also, is the villain even capable of folding?

Finally, there’s the river prospects to consider. Do you want a free or a cheap card, or would you rather prevent the villain from getting one? 

Which cards could lead to a lot of action, and which ones would kill it altogether? Should you wait for the villain to catch up, or would you rather deny them their equity by just shoving the turn?

These are just some of the questions to keep in mind when deciding on betting the turn. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means. 

What it’s meant to illustrate is the thinking process that goes into making the most +EV decision. The secret to winning poker isn’t knowing all the answers, it’s asking better questions.

So stay inquisitive, stay curious, and of course, and keep reading BlackRain79 articles.

And also, make sure you grab a copy of the free BlackRain79 poker cheat sheet to learn the entire strategy to crush small stakes poker games.

Pick up your copy for free right here.

Should You Bet the Turn?