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Playing the Turn and River

As we’ve mentioned in our previous lesson once the flop comes you already know 71% of your final hand. Today we'll focus on the turn and river, which provides us 86% and 100% of our cards respectively. So, let’s get into details.

What is the Turn?

Many poker experts say that the turn is the most difficult street of Texas hold’em. It can become tricky, especially in no-limit poker. If you are in holding good cards, and the game is in your favor the turn card can completely change the situation by strengthening community cards. If you’re still in post flop you should really have something – even if that is just a plan. Any plan. These are several elements you should pay your attention to on the turn:

Reconsider your table image

Turn is a good point to reconsider your current table image. If you’ve been playing holding poor cards against a single aggressive player who showed his cards’ value only when having unexpectedly called you down, you should put him on more than just air.

EXAMPLE

You’ve been calling with a pair of tens, and the flop came . You decide to make semi-bluff bet, and a rival calls. Now that same rival bets on the turn. The most reasonable course of action is to believe his cards are better and fold. Certainly, some may say that this is too cautious way to play, that there’re still chances, and in the extreme case one could check and fold.

Playing in this manner seems to keep you out of trouble, but be aware that more observant rivals will see through this and beat you. You’ll become too predictable. Predictability is the sign of a weak player.

Possible hands

We’ve covered both - defensive and offensive aspects of possible hands, in other words – is your hand better or your rival’s? First, make sure your hand is really the top one, then consider whether there's a chance for your opponent to collect the best hand when the next card comes. You should bet the way that the card your rival is expecting to come on the turn would bring him no profits.

Make some calculation to more or less understand how many outs you river might have - a few, like four, or about 15. Not to bet on the turn is incorrect for two reasons – first - you shouldn’t let him get a card for free, and secondly - if you check now and the hand remains drawing, there will be no chance to win the money he would bet on the river. So, bet and hope his hand will stay incomplete.

What if you are the one waiting for outs? Let's imagine you are on the flush draw on the turn and you'll win if another suited card comes on the river. Your odds to hit the flush are about 4 to 1 but take into account that you might collect any other combination, for example, a pair that will lead you to victory. So, implied odds is to be considered as well.

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 comes on board. We wouldn't recommend you to wait for a card on the river in such a situation, especially if community cards don't provide any other combination.

Scare Cards

Scare cards are the ones you don’t want to see. If there were two hearts on the board, and you hold two black cards you certainly don’t want another heart to come on the turn. But what if it does? Then it’s the time to use the knowledge you’ve received against your rival. If a rival bets, and there are two or more other players in, then you should better fold. If you want to stay in the game, you should be holding very good cards.

On the other hand, if your rival likes bluffs, then you can call. Also, take into account a player’s behavior and your winning odds when making your decision. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk and using scare cards than to switch to defensive mode. Remember this – if a card looks scary to you, it may be absolutely horrible for your opponent.

A call can be scared as well

As it has already been mentioned, it's vital to know what your rivals' tendencies are. This knowledge will help you evaluate their bets, raises, and calls. Let's assume you hold good cards which you raised pre-flop with. А player having position responded. You haven’t seen the flop but believe a villain holds low unsuited cards, so you bet. He calls. Such tactics should make your opponent worried if he is a really good player.

Why? Because good players don't usually call. They know the value of an aggressive game, and if there were no other reasons they are still in, they would raise. Such a passive behavior from a good player might mean that he's just setting traps and trying to lure you into them. In such cases, you should play carefully.

What is the River?

You’ve arrived at the finish line, and your combination is known – there are no more cards to come. This is the time to use your knowledge of your rivals, your hand reading skills, to estimate the bets made and the value of your hand in relation to the board, to consider your winning odds. If you believe that your hand is the best, you need to decide how to act as to win as much as possible.

If you come to the conclusion that your hand is not that good, you can still consider the options to win, yet folding might be the best solution in such a situation. Let’s examine in more detail certain points to be taken into account once you’ve arrived at the river.

The maximum bet

The term “value bet” is often misused, referring to a small bet into a large pot. It has value because the small bet size will make a rival call. Yet, if you do this you will lose money in the long run. To define a value bet in a more correct way – you are gaining maximum from the hand your opponent thinks you have. Let's do some math to make it clear:

Let’s assume you bet $100 into a $500 pot and expect your bet to get called 90% of cases. So 100 hands will bring you $9,000 (100 x 100 x 0.90). Now, let’s bet $250 into that same $500 pot. It’s hard to understand whether you are bluffing or not. In reality, your bet will get called 60% of cases depending on the game course. So $250 x 100 hands x 0.60 = $15,000. This is $6,000 more than you’d earn having chosen the 1-st option, and simply due to increasing the size of your bet.

Bluffing

Let’s now focus on the villain’s strengths, weaknesses and most importantly his impression of you. There are situations when the only way to win on the river is to get into bluffing. Usually, it’s a result of a missed combination. Now you should be able to see your rival through and determine whether his hand is good and to what extent he feels satisfied with it.

The best player to bluff is the one who believes his hand is the winner. The players that have been watching you will consider your cards to be rather bad if you just call at the river. They think you are smart enough to save the money and not to bet on the river. Sometimes it can be profitable to let them think they are smarter than you are.

Folding

If you've managed to get to advanced lessons, then you should be professional enough to be ready to fold from time to time. Some novice players are not able to, because they always hope to realize their cards. They are too emotional and believe that they’ve invested too much of their own money in the pot. In fact, if you never fold you’ll be losing. Poker is a situational game, and you must treat each situation honestly in order to maximize your profit and minimize your losses.

The real way to learn to fold even having good cards is to do it quietly. You could all have seen some cool buddy boasting about folding his good cards. That is just a demonstration of an out of control ego. Learn to fold the way that it wouldn’t affect your table image.

Risk versus win

Risk versus win should always be in your mind when playing no-limit hold’em. One slip may lead to losing all your money. Players who tend to make small bets in no-limit hold’em will sooner or later regret their greed. Always weigh possible risk versus possible win.

Keep playing

We do hope that the knowledge of how to play on the turn and river will help you in your future games. A legendary American pool player being once asked about the technical aspects of a pool game has said: “Just keep hitting the balls, and you will learn how to play.” This might be applicable to poker game as well.

In the next lesson, we will focus on the poker mindset.

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