The turn is one of the most difficult streets to play correctly. The turn card can completely change your plan for the entire hand. It is important to remember the plan you had on the flop but be prepared to modify it according to the turn card and your opponents’ actions. It is also helpful to have planned for the turn card, no matter which card it is. Have a plan in place for what you will do if the turn completes a possible flush draw and your opponent bets into you or if you have to act first when out of position.
If the turn does bring a scare card, don’t worry too much. You will definitely want to act with caution, but don’t fear the card until your opponent takes an action that makes you believe the card improved his or her hand. The times scare cards fall are when position pays huge. If you’re in late position and the flush card comes, you have easier decisions. You can check behind and avoid the potential check raise or you can bet again if you’re up against a more predictable opponent.
The problem with being out of position is that you aren’t going to receive any information until after you put more money into the pot. If you bet and the opponent only calls, you’re going to have another difficult river decision. If you check and the opponent bets, you have no idea if he is bluffing you, value betting a worse hand, or if he has the made hand he is representing. Do not ever forget the power of position in no-limit hold ‘em. It can mean the difference between a big win and a large loss.
Pot control becomes even more important as you get to the turn and river cards. If you’re at the turn with top pair, your opponent is still in the hand with you for a reason. Practicing pot control means remembering what size of pot you planned to play with this hand, how much heat you’re willing to take from this particular opponent, and taking actions to keep the pot to a manageable size.
If an opponent makes a large all-in raise and you have top pair or even top two-pair, the only hands you’re beating are bluffs. It doesn’t matter how big your pair is, your opponent is representing a bigger made hand. A good rule of thumb when facing raises is to pretend your opponent puts you on AA. You have represented a strong hand and your opponent is still putting money in the pot. Sure he knows you may have a wide range of hands, but to keep yourself out of trouble keep that rule in the back of your mind.
If you have position on the turn and think your hand may be in trouble but aren’t sure, a safe play is to check behind on the turn and then call a moderate sized river bet. In early position, you will want to either bet again and see how your opponent reacts or check and re-evaluate. During all of this, don’t forget to plan for the river. If you check and call a turn bet now, what is your plan for the river? If you are going to check and fold on the river, consider making a fold on the turn and save yourself the money. If you check from early position and your opponent bets, you’re now playing on the defensive side.
It’s not an error to be in this position, but it is difficult. Checking your hand from early position shows weakness so you will not know if your opponent has a hand or is only betting because you checked. Betting out will make the pot bigger and more expensive to either show down or fold. There is no easy answer for these situations.
This is where experience, knowing your opponent, and hand reading become extra important. There is no easy answer for what to do. No matter the outcome of difficult hands, you can benefit by remembering these hands, saving the hand histories, and evaluating the logic of your play on each street.
I suggest betting when in doubt because you will get more calls from weak opponents with weak hands, especially at the lower stakes. Betting out will also make it harder for your opponents to raise – for example, you check in a $15 pot, your opponent can bet $10 or so and take it; but if you bet $10 or so, he’s going to have to put in a minimum of $20 and more likely $30-40 if he wants to run a bluff.
Also note that a lot of opponents like to wait for the turn to put in a min-raise. Like the last example, they often raise a $10 turn bet to $20. If you bet out and they min raise, you will have good odds to draw out if you need help on the river. If you do not have a strong hand, fold to turn min-raises. They often mean the opponent has a made hand and is stringing you along.