Playing the Turn

By Tom "TIME" Leonard

Once the flop is delivered you know 71 percent of your final hand. This lesson will focus on the turn, which produces 86 percent of your hand. Many poker pundits express the belief that the turn is the most difficult street to play in hold’em – so let’s explore some differences in how one might approach this street for improved results.

The turn card normally defines the hand. It is the card that makes most draws or the price to venture forth can become very expensive. While the turn can become tricky, especially in no-limit, if you are in with a quality holding it shouldn’t be that difficult unless the turn card adds a new dimension such as three suiting or three straightening the board. If you’re still in post flop you really need to have something – even if that something is just a plan.

The following are several elements that should command your attention on the turn.

Re-Assess Your Table Image

This is a good time to re-assess what you believe to be your current table image. If you have been playing a tight-aggressive game and have only shown solid hand values when called down, then if you’re being called by an equally solid player – it’s reasonable to put him on more than just air. Here is an example:

You limp from early position with tcth and the flop comes qc9d3s. You make a semi-bluff bet with second pair and an opponent smooth calls. Now that same opponent bets into you on the turn. The most prudent course of action is to give that opponent credit for a better hand than pocket tens and fold. While some may opine that this is too tight a way to play, one should have top pair or better by the turn or at least a viable draw or they should probably be checking and folding.

While playing in this manner should keep you out of trouble, you need to be aware that your more observant opponents will see right through this and take advantage of your one dimensional play. In order to thwart this type of predatory behaviour you need to mix in some check raises so that your checks do not indicate that a bet on their part will automatically move you off your hand. Predictability is the sign of a weak player.

Drawing Hands

There are both the defensive and offensive aspects of drawing hands which simply means – are you on a draw or is your opponent? When you believe you currently have the best hand but believe your opponent is on a draw with one card to come, you need to make a bet. You should bet on the turn so as not to allow your opponent to draw for free. Obviously you need to make it mathematically incorrect for him to draw. Depending on what you perceive his draw to be, he has as few as four outs (inside straight draw) up to as many as fifteen outs (flush and open ended straight draw).

Not to bet on the turn is incorrect for two reasons – first, as mentioned, you should not allow him to draw for free and secondly, if you check now and the draw doesn’t come in you will not make any money by betting the river as he will probably muck his busted draw. So, bet to make your money now and hope the draw doesn’t arrive.

What if you are the one on the draw? If you’re getting the right price for your draw then you should obviously proceed. If you called on the flop with a drawing hand but missed on the turn then you’re probably facing a bet where the odds have gone up significantly. This is what tends to happen. If your opponent suspects you for a draw then there’s a good chance he’s going to make you pay for it. Many poker players make the mistake of calling on the flop by using the odds to make their draws with two cards to come, then fold to a big bet on the turn. If you find yourself in such situations with regularity then start avoiding this conundrum on the turn by using the odds for one card to come on the flop.

If you’re facing a wager that doesn’t supply you with the correct pot odds to call, then implied odds can sometimes be taken into consideration. The implied odds of a straight draw is usually higher than the implied odds of a flush draw. This is because many players freeze up when a third suited card lands on the board. A double belly buster straight draw has the highest implied odds due to its stealth nature. Since it is not an obvious draw but still has eight outs one should normally go to the river, especially if the board is not paired or triple suited.

Scare Cards

A scare card is one you don’t normally want to see. If there were two hearts on the flop and you have two black hole cards you certainly do not want to see another heart on the turn. But what if you do? Well, now is the time to put the knowledge you’ve accumulated about your opponents to work. If an opponent now bets into two or more players, then you should probably fold as he would realize it’s too likely someone will call so he must have a real hand. If on the other hand this opponent is known to be tricky, loose or generally enamoured with bluffing then a call or even a raise could be in order.

Also, aside from player tendencies always be aware of the odds the pot is offering to help guide your decision. Personally, I would rather use a scare card to my own advantage than be put on the defensive. Remember this – if the card in question is scary looking to you it may well be downright intimidating to your opponent.

Floating the flop

To float the flop is to call a continuation bet with a weak hand in position with the intent of pushing your opponent off his hand on the turn. This strategy is based upon the knowledge that most pre-flop hands do not improve on the flop. Many times after showing pre-flop aggression, players feel compelled to follow up with a continuation bet in hopes of taking the pot down. When that continuation bet is met with a flat call it signals to the better that his opponent may well have a hand worth an investment. When due to that concern the turn is checked the “floater” then bets and takes down the pot.

The float play is a successful strategy that works due to the fact that most holdings do not connect with the flop and epitomizes the saying that top flight players tend to play their opponents, not their cards. While there are some turn cards that should cause you to abandon the play, don’t get scared when it’s time to act. Of course, there is the inherent risk of running into a strong starting hand or a ragged flop which was custom made for a hand. However, poker is full of risks and while the meek may well inherit the earth they don’t make very good poker players.

Firing the Second Barrel

Firing the second barrel is the most effective way to thwart an opponent who was floating the flop. Certainly having your continuation bet called will give you pause and make you wonder what your opponent is holding. The strategy of the float relies upon this concern and many players then hesitate to bet again or fire the second barrel. If you put yourself in the floater’s shoes, firing the second barrel is enough to make him give up his plan of pushing you off your hand with a bet. Firing the second barrel is normally the antidote to the float. Normally is not totally as, mentioned above, you could be stepping into a slow play trap but as we all know there are no money back guarantees in poker.

Both floating the flop and firing the second barrel should not be done blindly and as your default move. They should be used when supported by knowledge of your opponent’s tendencies for best results.


If you find yourself somewhat stranded on the turn without much of a hand you are probably playing “wish poker” which is to say, too loose. Many times after an aggressive pre-flop betting round and more betting on the flop players put the brakes on at the turn when their optimism wanes. If you’re in position, this can be an excellent time to pick up the pot with a well timed bet.

As in all of poker, it is essential to gain an understanding of how your opponents play the game. Does your opponent(s) only enter the fray with quality hands or do they enjoy being aggressive with high cards and then commit themselves to remain aggressive right through to the river?

The turn may well have been given its name because at this juncture in the hand a player’s optimism can TURN into the stark reality that he is bringing up the rear. The turn becomes decision time. Generally if you’re in on the turn you’ve punched your through ticket to play the river. A busted draw would be the exception.

In closing I would like to share one of my favorite poker expressions which may sum up how to address decision making at this critical stage of the hand… when in doubt, get out! A dollar saved is a dollar earned.

By Tom "TIME" Leonard

Tom has been writing about poker since 1994 and has played across the USA for over 40 years, playing every game in almost every card room in Atlantic City, California and Las Vegas.