What is the turn?

The turn is the fourth community card to be dealt in Texas Hold‘em. Players now have six cards with which to make their best hand (their two hole cards, plus the four community cards on the table). Following the exposure of the turn card, all players have an opportunity to bet, check, raise or fold. The turn card is an intermediate card – there is still a fifth community card to be exposed from the deck – the river – and another round of action after that.

Principles for playing the turn

Too often players regard playing the turn as something just to be gotten out of the way on their road to the river, but that’s a serious mistake. You won’t be in a position to make a strong move on the river if you haven’t carefully considered your play on the turn.

The principles to keep in mind are the same as for playing the flop:

  1. Position – know your position in the playing order and the relative strength or weakness of that position.
  2. Reading – read​ ​the turn. Understand whether it’s helped you or your opponents and whether you’re in a winning, chasing or losing position relative to them.

Reading the turn

Reading the turn means understanding how the turn card has helped you or your opponent. There are a few questions you should ask yourself.

  • Has the card improved my hand or my opponents'?
  • Is my opponent going to think it’s helped me?
  • Do my opponents want me to think it’s helped them?
  • Do I want my opponents to think it’s helped me?

This kind of analysis is not complicated, but it does take practice to do quickly and efficiently in the heat of a hand. Try to practice thinking these points through when watching poker as well as when playing yourself. So often, players take a “leap of faith” approach on the turn, as if it’s somehow more mysterious than the flop and river. It’s not; the same principles will apply. Think through the situation and try to improve your poker strategy every time you act.

Below we look at some general examples of playing on the turn from an early and late playing position. Keep in mind that the position is just as important on the turn as it is for betting pre-flop, on the flop and on the river.

Early position with a strong hand

As a general rule, if you think you have the winning hand you should play. If anyone is chasing a hand that might beat yours, it gives them reason to fold and you will take the pot. If they match your stake, you will still be odds-on favorite to win (as they will need to hit their card to have the winning hand) and you will have increased the pot size that you stand to win. Keep in mind that if you want your opponent to call – because you want to increase the pot size – don’t make such a large play that it would scare them away.

Early position with a weak hand

On the other hand, if you think your opponent’s hand is probably stronger than yours at this point, you should probably be looking to check and fold if anyone bets to you. Of course, bluffing is an option, particularly if you bet on the flop representing a strong hand. But you need to be very careful here. Be sure (or as sure as you can be) that your opponents will fold to your bluff. If they don’t, it’s an expensive situation and not a very pleasant one for any poker player to be in.

Early position with a drawing hand

You might also be drawing to a flush or straight, in which case you probably want to check to see the next card as cheaply as possible. You might also want to play to increase the pot and thereby increase your pot odds (i.e. make the pot more profitable should you hit your flush or straight). This can be a good play, but it is also risky. Your opponent might see what you’re doing and raise, forcing you to either forfeit the pot or risk even more chips to see the river.

You don’t know whether you have a winning or losing hand

This is a tricky spot to be in, especially from an early position. You essentially have no information with which to make an informed decision and are therefore almost certain to make the wrong one. Your best bet is to play it safe - assume you have a losing hand, check the turn and fold into any play.

Late position with a strong hand

The general rule about playing with a strong hand applies here too. In fact, even more so, because you should have more confidence in the strength of your hand, having seen everyone else’s play on the turn. If your opponent checks, you should play. If they play, you should raise.

Late position with a weak hand

This is pretty similar to playing a weak hand from early position. Most often, you should check and hope to see the next card for free. Let’s face it, a weak hand is a weak hand. However, you will have had the benefit of having seen how everyone else has played. If your opponents have all checked, you might think that a raise on the button will scare them off the pot. It’s not a bad strategy but be careful. It only takes one slow-playing opponent or just someone who feels like taking a risk to call your bluff. It could be an expensive and embarrassing situation.

Late position with a drawing hand

If your opponent has played, you need to consider whether the size of the play is worth calling. Consider your pot odds – what are the chances of making your hand relative to the amount you stand to win? If it’s a big pot and you have a decent chance of making your flush or straight, now is probably a good time to call.

If your opponents have all checked to you then a lot depends on how you played the flop. If you play the flop, playing now probably makes sense for two reasons. One, your opponents might put you on a winning hand and fold. Two, even if your opponents call, you’ve increased the size of the pot that you stand to win should you make your draw. If you didn’t play the flop, it makes sense just to check to the river.

You don’t know whether you have a winning or losing hand

If your opponent has played, you should probably fold. If it’s been checked to you, check and see the river for free. Bluffing is of course an option, but without knowing what it is you’re representing with your bluff, it is too risky a play, full of potential cost and embarrassment.

Think it through ahead of time

A good strategy in all of these situations is to think through what you will do ahead of time. For example, if you bet on a draw hoping your opponent will call, know ahead of time what you will do if they raise. It helps you to make good decisions in the moment of play and avoids the discomfort of being unpleasantly surprised by your opponent’s play.