Turning points

Lou Krieger looks at the right way to approach betting on the turn and river

Some people say the turn plays itself, but I don’t believe them – and neither should you. You just can’t play the turn on autopilot, especially when you realise you’ve seen most of your hand already, and the cost to take a card on the turn and perhaps another on the river is much more expensive than the cost of seeing the flop. You need a valid reason to see the turn, and that usually means holding what you think is the best hand, or a draw to a straight or a flush that you believe will be the best hand if you make it. Against one – and perhaps two – opponents, you can even go to the turn with the intention of bluffing and taking the pot right there, but if you have three or more opponents thoughts of running a successful bluff shouldn’t even enter your mind.


When your draw connects and your straight or flush figures to be the best hand, you’ve hit the mother lode. On occasion, a pocket pair will make a set on the turn. Furthermore, you can also improve when the turn provides you with two pair or you back into top pair with a flush or straight draw. Even when the turn misses you completely, you still benefit if the turn card doesn’t figure to help your opponent.

Whenever you’re holding top two pair or better and one of your opponents bets the turn, you should raise unless there’s some compelling reason not to do so, such as three cards of the same suit. If you’re in late position and none of your opponents have acted, you should bet. In early position, you can check with the intention of raising if you’re fairly certain one of your opponents will bet.However, if you think your opponent might check, go ahead and bet.

If you raise and are reraised, your opponent has probably made a set or a straight. However, if you were the bettor and are raised, your opponent could also have two pair – and since you’re playing the top two pair, his will be smaller.

If you know nothing else about your opponents and are raised on the turn when all you have is one pair – regardless of how good that one pair may be – you’re probably behind in the hand and should consider folding. Discretion in poker, as it is in life itself, can be the better part of valour.

But please heed this warning: this advice isn’t valid for online six-handed games, where raises on the turn don’t necessarily represent all that big a hand. In short-handed games, raising requirements drop significantly, and a raise on the turn can represent top pair or even a bluff. In any event, it doesn’t necessarily mean your opponent has a particularly strong hand.


Most of the time, the turn card won’t help you, and so what you do next depends on the relationship between the pot odds and those of making your hand on the river. This is where you need to look at whether you still belong in the hand: do you have a hand or a draw that’s good enough to continue playing? If you don’t, then muck.


  • Betting, or trying to checkraise, when you’re sure you have the best hand.
  • Calling with an open-ended straight or flush draw against two or more opponents under most circumstances you’ll encounter.
  • Making it expensive for opponents with weak or drawing hands to play against you.
  • Trying to get to the river as cheaply as possible when you’re drawing.
  • Betting whenever you think it will cause your opponent to fold.
  • Being alert to picking up a draw or a pair on the turn that allows you to continue playing a hand you otherwise should throw away.
  • When you’re raised on the turn, deciding whether you have a hand that’s good enough or a draw that’s big enough to justify playing.


If you’ve made it to the river, your hand’s value is fully realised and ‘potential’ is no longer part of the equation. If you completed a draw, go on and bet it. If you’ve been checking and calling all the way to the river but now come out betting when a flush or straight card appears, chances are your opponent will call, even if they suspect they’re beaten. If you check, however, your opponent might just check behind you and spoil your plans for a checkraise party. Just having the best hand isn’t enough to justify a checkraise: you should be sure your opponent will bet if you check.

In the more likely scenario that you missed your draw, then the decision-making process is a bit more complicated. You might be in there with second pair, or perhaps top pair with a marginal kicker and your opponent comes out betting. You’re holding a hand you would throw away if the pot was small, but with all that money in it, what should you do? Suppose the pot is offering a 10/1 return on your money? If you call and are beaten, it will only cost you one additional big bet. If you throw away your hand and your opponent was bluffing, you made a ten-bet mistake.

If you believe that your opponent would bluff more than one time in ten, go ahead and call – in other words, don’t throw away your hand unless you’re damn sure that your opponent will seldom, if ever, bluff. This rule of thumb alters substantially if there’s more than one player involved by the time you reach fifth street. Occasionally, you’ll act last against two or more opponents on the river. If one bets and the other calls, you’ll have to credit at least one of your opponents with a legitimate hand.

While the first player might have been bluffing, the second player wouldn’t call unless he had a legitimate hand.While he might bluff-raise – and if you’re in a game where bluff-raising on the river is commonplace, you might be in a game that’s too tough to be profitable – there’s just no reason for you to overcall unless you can beat a legitimate calling hand. A good practical guideline is to overcall only if your hand would have been worth a raise in a two-handed confrontation. However, if you have a hand that beats a bluff and not much else, you’ll save money in the long run by folding rather than overcalling in these situations.


  • When the river card is exposed, your hand no longer has any potential value – its value is fully realised.
  • Your decision to check or bet if no-one has acted – or fold, call, raise or reraise if there has been action – can only be based on your hand’s realised value.
  • If you aren’t certain you’ll have the best hand if you’re called or you aren’t sure one of your opponents will bet if you check, don’t checkraise. Unless you can answer ‘yes’ to both of these questions, you should bet instead of trying for a checkraise.
  • When you make two pair, it’s usually the best hand. Be careful, though, if the turn or river brings a third suited card, as your opponent might have a flush.
  • When you’re in a heads-up situation and the pot is large, you’re better off committing the small error of calling with the worst hand than the atrocious error of folding the winner.
  • To overcall, you need a hand strong enough to beat legitimate calling hands.
Pin It

Comments are closed.