Playing The Turn in Small Stakes Holdem

The turn is the place where your AKs is beaten by K2 offsuit.  Remember that.

The turn is a great place to pump it up or get out of dodge.  If you felt you had the best hand on the flop and check raised it there you have a choice.  Usually you should bet out the turn but sometimes, if you hand was further improved and if that improvement likely improved one of your opponents as well, you can check and raise again on the turn.  

You might think that after checking and raising on the flop that no one would fall for it again.  Think again.

many of your opponents will frequently call but find it much harder to bet, so you should make sure they have something to call when you have a hand.

Another tactic if you have an especially strong hand on the flop is to just go with the flow of betting and then check-raise on the turn.  Because the bet is double-sized on the turn you can get some extra money in the pot.  This is especially effective if you hold a hand like:

You Hold:   And The Flop Is:
Ace of Hearts King of Hearts
Hole Cards
King of Spades Ten of Diamonds Two of Clubs

and you check raised on the flop from early position.  Then the turn brings:

King of Spades Ten of Diamonds Two of Clubs   Ace of Diamonds
Flop   Turn

You can often check and raise again because any Ace out there is going to bet into you and you want to make any J or Q that is contemplating continuing their gutshot draw to be making a mathematical mistake. Be careful if you are re-raised in this spot (top two pair vs. a possible straight). You definitely won't throw your hand away but you can switch to a more passive check and call approach until the showdown (or until your hand improves). If your hand does improve to a full house when a second Ace or King falls you should usually bet out on the river unless you are pretty sure one of your opponents is itching to bet for you. One recurring theme of these low limit or small stakes holdem games is that many of your opponents will frequently call but find it much harder to bet, so you should make sure they have something to call when you have a hand.

Getting People Out vs. Getting Money In

The way you bet your hand on the turn (coupled with your position) will influence whether people with marginal hands will stay in or dump their hands.  You should know whether you want to knock out the marginal hands or keep them in before you check or bet on the turn.

This influence is weaker in a typical loose low limit game.  If you've ever driven a rental U-Haul truck you know the difference between steering one of them vs. steering a "normal" car.  Low limit holdem is your U-Haul truck when it comes getting people out of the pot.  Often the best you can do is influence the amount of money that goes into the pot, and most times you can't influence even that by more than a bet or two per player at the showdown.

Of course if you are going to fold then your play is much easier, but be considerate of the rest of the table don't muck your cards out of turn.

When you bet out on the turn your opponents will often react cautiously especially if the turn card is a "scare card"--usually one that allows for a straight, flush, or a card which pairs the board.

For example you're holding this hand under the gun.

You Hold:   And The Flop Is:
Ace of Clubs Five of Clubs
Hole Cards
Eight of Spades Two of Clubs Five of Diamonds

You check the flop and call a bet from a late position player.  Five other people are in the pot with you.

The turn card is

Eight of Spades Two of Clubs Five of Diamonds   Ten of Clubs
Flop   Turn

At this point you have four options:

  1. Check and Fold
  2. Check and Call
  3. Check and Raise
  4. Bet

With this particular hand (nut flush draw plus one pair, with a kicker over the board with no straight on the board) the first option is out of the question with six players (including yourself) in the pot.

The second option (check and call) is viable, but should you make your flush on the river and bet out you may not get many callers.  The advantage here is lower variance since you can easily dump your hand on the river if a club, ace, or five does not hit and if there are multiple callers.

If you check and raise in early position here you will cause weaker hands (8, 2 or 5 with weak kickers or gutshot straight draws) to fold their hands instead of calling two big bets. This is not advisable here because you may or may not have the best hand right now but chances are you do not.  Anyone who calls your check raise here probably has you beat.

Betting the turn on this hand is probably the best choice because people will be cautious about re-raising you (unless they have a bigger hand than a pair of tens), on the other hand many low limit players will call your bet with as little as a gutshot straight draw.  If you make a flush on the river and bet out again you stand a good chance of being raised by anyone else who made their flush as well (in addition to anyone who made their gutshot straight draw).

Key Advanced Skill: Determining which player (if any) will bet when you check or raise if you bet.

One skill that comes from experience and observation that can pay huge dividends is the ability to gues which of the opponents after you will be when you check or raise when you bet.

If you take the above example and bet the turn with your Flush draw + bottom pair/top kicker hand and the next person to act raises you then you have made a serious mistake. After all, what you wanted was to get more money in the put, but because the person acting after you raised your bet now everyone after him has to call two big bets to continue in the hand so he will be driving out many of the worst draws (that you reallyh want to stay in the hand).

Another example, you hold the following in early position:

You Hold:   And The Flop Is:
Jack of Spades Ten of Spades
Hole Cards
Seven of Diamonds Ten of Clubs Two of Hearts

If you check and call, or bet the flop and the turn card is:

Seven of Diamonds Ten of Clubs Two of Hearts   Jack of Diamonds
Flop   Turn

In this case, if you have a lot of opponents, your opponents have a lot of potential draws (and potentially even a made straight with 8 9).  You should attempt a check raise here because it is very likely that someone will attempt to bet at this pot if you have multiple callers, yet you stand a good chance that you have the best hand with top two pair.  You need to make straight and flush draws pay as much money as possible to draw out on you.

(and here's hoping you get:

Seven of Diamonds Ten of Clubs Two of Hearts   Jack of Diamonds   Jack of Clubs
Flop   Turn   River

on the river)