The Difficult Turn

In case you’ve missed the other 38 times I’ve mentioned it in my other columns: I run Assassinato Coaching. It’s a poker strategy consultancy that puts players in touch with fitting performance and strategic coaches. We have 1,000+ players who have worked with us, and I have easily done the work in 90% of those consultations.

I can tell you from all that experience that where you’ll really see the men be separated from the boys is the turn. Many guys can memorize an opening hands chart. Many people know that continuation bets tend to be a good idea. It’s the turn where people get really tripped up.

This has always confused me, because once I finally figured out how to be a better player on the turn I was surprised by how simple the solutions were.

If you’re out of position, go for three streets or charge people to play you in position.

If you’re in position, bet the turn to buy the showdown.

That’s it. For most cases this advice will suffice.

Let’s first discuss being out of position. Many people express extreme discomfort when they raise preflop from the cut off, get flattened by the button, and then find that their flop bet didn’t work.

My first question in this situation is always, “why did you think that was going to work?” Yes, when poker started, people didn’t understand their positional edges.

They would fold too often to flop continuation bets. Now, people want to see if you balk on the turn. They know if you check on any coordinated board then you have capped your range, as you’d likely barrel with your overpairs, sets, or two pairs (that is, unless you were planning a checkraise…an equally dangerous and underutilized play).

When you raise preflop and get called by somebody in position you have to realize: You are donk betting when you bet the flop. You are leading out of position. Yes, you have the betting lead. Big whoop. This guy flatted you with a very taut range. People don’t cold call with dry aces. A good percentage of boards are going to hit him. If he has backdoors at all (which he’s likely to have given his cold calling range) then he will peel to see if you blink on later streets.

If you’re going to donk bet, ever, you need to plan for three streets. If you check at any point during the hand you are signifying weakness and a capped range. This wouldn’t be a problem if you were in position, but you don’t have that luxury right now.

If you want to make this a shorter game then you must charge people to play you out of position. You need to use bigger bets. You can even consider over-bets (see my previous article for details).

Sometimes, this difficulty of playing out of position is also resolved by value betting very thinly. Maybe second pair with second kicker isn’t a normal triple-barreling hand for you, but it better become one when you’re out of position. You will occasionally value own yourself versus a better pair, but you’ll also be pleasantly surprised by how often people call you down with ridiculous hands…just because they had position.

In position, there is still a play that bafflingly works all the time. A Romanian friend of mine called it “buying the showdown” and since I’m not creative at all I’m going to steal that. Don’t look at me like that. I’m sure he got it from someone else too.

Anyhow, when you’re on the turn you need to put in more double barrels. People still pay far too much with their draws, especially out of position, so you need to charge them on this street. Obviously, you won’t be able to do this on the river, as they’ll have hit their hand or their hand will have been reduced to nothing.

You will also get a number of calls from weak pairs who just want to see what you do on the river. It’s very in vogue now in poker to call the turn to “re-evaluate” the river. It used to be cool to call on the flop to “re-evaluate” the turn, but apparently people have shifted their valuations to a deeper stacked street.

Go ahead and get another street of value, and blend those bets in with your semi bluffs. People often grossly overestimate how much their semi bluffs need to work. With all the bluffing equity and the future implied earnings of hitting your hand many of your bets can fail 80% of the time on the turn and still turn a profit.

You will have to balance your range a bit more with a couple absolute bluffs. These are best accomplished by asking yourself “what called the flop?”

Most people say, “yeah, yeah, I know that.” I would disagree with that.

One example I always see is a board comes something like Ks-7h-6h. The preflop raiser fires with nothing and gets flatted. The turn is the Jack of clubs. The preflop raiser checks and folds.

This always blows my mind. If he called you with a seven or a six this card sucks. A flush draw missed. A straight draw missed. That turn is a very bad card for most of the flatting range. Why wouldn’t you fire again and fire the triple barrel frequently? (Not everybody can call three streets there with a king).

Yet, 90% of guys will just check there and give up. You never see them run a triple barrel, ever, thus making their triple barrel range exclusively value.

Now, of course, there is one obvious counter to betting the turn with such a blended range here, and that is the checkraise.

You do not have to worry about a checkraise. Advanced cash game players will check and call with their flush draws to check/jam the turn, but it’s rare to see most low-stakes players and tournament players do that. You’ll also see some regs turn third pairs into bluffs or something similar. This play is similarly underutilized in tournament and low-stakes play.

If you want some metric you can depend on then I would look at the person’s checkraise statistic. If it’s anything less than 15% then it’s likely the person doesn’t bluff much. If you highlight the stats often you’ll see a breakdown of when those checks raises happened. If all of them happened on the flop then you have even less to worry about.

As always, I hope these tips have helped open your mind to the beautiful game of No Limit Hold’em. Good luck to all of you.

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