Poker Strategy VI - Betting the Turn and the River

Betting the Turn and The River

When you sit down to play any poker game, you have to realize that unless you get cards - no level of skill will allow you to win consistently. With that in mind, the main difference between a novice and a good player is that a good player will maximize his or her winning hands by making calls on the turn or on the river that have a higher probability of winning than the calls of a novice.

The novice may think that a pair of Kings are a good call - and they are before the flop - and depending on the flop, they may hold up but you still have to consider whether the pot will be worth what you are risking. For example, if the pot were $120 on the turn, and it would cost you $20 to call, you are getting 6 to 1 odds to call. I If you called a $20 bet on the for a chance to win $240.00 how would you KNOW that you made a good bet? If you knew that making your best hand ... For example - your cards (Ah - 9h) the board (10h - Ac - 7h) + (6d) - If the river gives you a flush - that would be the lock hand assuming the board doesn't pair - and pairing the board would give you two pair - aces up with the only possible thing that could beat you being a set (2/46) or a gut shot straight (4/46) ... you would have 9 possible outs on the flush + 2/46 for catching the third ace + 4/46 for catching the 8 to fill a straight. Your possible losing combinations - someone has 8/9 or if the 8 falls on the river has 9/J. The odds of catching runners are small but keep in mind - they presumably had something when they called in the first place.

So if you can see that you have a solid number of outs (minimum of 4 or 4/46 = about 1/11) and the pot will return at least 12 times the bet you are calling on the turn ... then it  is a good bet. However, if your expected chance of getting your best out was 1/46 meaning you needed to pull the Ace of Spades or any other specific card and you were betting 20 to win 160 ... then that is a bad bet, where your call would have an average result of below zero making it would be clear case to fold.

We have gone over calculating odds and the number of outs - but here is some review and simple guidelines:

Rules of thumb for calling on the turn: I usually will call one bet with open-ended straight draws and flush draws, and with a medium pot size you can call two cold particularly with a high flush draw - remember you have 9 possible outs on a flush draw. If I have a set, and I am playing loose players - then  you consider raising, particularly if there is a possible straight or flush draw. They have 9 outs and you have 9 outs if you have a set - but you already have a made hand particularly if you have the top set on the board. The only time I call on the turn with two over-cards is when I am heads up or if there are additional outs for either a straight or flush. For an inside straight draw - I determine it by the size of the pot - my odds are 4/46 to draw the straight or about 8.6% or about 1/12  but I need at least a 2 - 1 value so to call a $12 bet for a gut shot straight, I'm looking for at least a $200 pot where the straight draw would be the nuts ... I can't tell you the number of times I've had a dominant Flush and watched someone chase (and catch a straight) with three or four cards to a flush showing. Similarly, if you are playing with tight players and the flop is A,K,10 and you are chasing a straight - if those guys are calling, you can be sure someone has flopped a set or has nut flush draw... ALWAYS BE AWARE OF THE BOARD AND WHAT THE BEST POSSIBLE HAND IS ... !!!

Rules of thumb for calling on the river: You now have all of the information you will ever have about this hand. You can look at any hand and decide what the best possible hand is ... If you have it ... RAISE ... if you don't, then you have to look at the odds of what is in the pot vs. the odds of your hand holding up. If there are 4 clubs on the board and you have the Kc then only the Ace of clubs will beat you. Statistically, that is 2/45 that your opponent has that specific card since you know the 5 cards on the board and your two pocket cards. If you were drawing for a straight, or a flush and you didn't connect you have two choices - 

Here is another thought process - Recently I sat in on games and been called to the river by someone with identical cards - I had the Jh - Kc and the board was Qc - 10c - 5d. It was a short handed game so there were only 5 players who saw the flop - Seat #2 bet and I (#4) called as did Seat #6. The turn was the 8c. Seat # 2 bet again and I calculated my outs (9 clubs/47) + 3 Aces (d,s,h) + 3 Nines (d,s,h) - obviously the Ace or Nine of clubs would be a flush. - The river was the Kd - seat 2 bet ... what do I do??

I knew that neither player had diamonds - or if they did, it was a back door fill - they would have had to have played J-9 from the big blind ... possible ... So I raised ... seat 6 immediately asked what he needed to do to catch a full house on the river "5's and 10's wired and nothing" (thanks for the help) and seat #2 thought about calling but confessed he didn't think his K's would hold up and complained he didn't catch the straight. I mucked my cards and reminded him that straights don't beat flushes ... after all he didn't pay for accurate information. 

If I just  had simply called, I would have been throwing my money away - I would have lost to the 2 pair. Your effective pot odds are the effective pot size divided by the amount you have to call so base your call on the odds of your winning - and sometimes your most effective edge is that you realize it would be very difficult for your opponent to have a strong hand - so if he has only a few possible outs to beat you -  Raise. A great example of this - I recently played a tournament where one of the players at my table ONLY played premium hands - if it wasn't A/A, K/K, Q/Q, J/J or A/K, A/Q then he simply did not play. I was on the big blind with a suited 8h/10h - The flop was 7h - 9d - Kc. There were four players in the hand, and knowing he was tight - action checked to him - and all called without a raise. The turn was the 6s - I checked hoping to trap him because I knew that best he could possibly have was a set of Kings and by forcing both players who called the initial bet them to defend their outs while I already had a made hand. Now if you have been reading along, you know that they had possible outs to beat me ... 1/46 to get quads and 3/46 for each of the 6 - 7 and 9 or about a 25% chance of pulling. For someone to pull a higher straight - it would have to be a "gut shot" filling in a 9 - 10 - J - Q - K or 4/46 or about 9% and if either had two pair then the odds of filling were 2/46 + 2/46 or about 9%. 

 In effect I bet $200 with pot odds of nearly 18 - 1 an expected outcome of winning of about 57%. 

As it turned out - the tight player re-raised his set of Kings prompting the third player to fold ... and the Queen of spades was the river card. The immediate call for a new set up told it all ... he would have caught his "gut shot" straight - but because of the raise and only having the one possible out - he didn't like the chance of chasing an inside straight draw. 

With a little practice, you can be a lot more precise and you will develop a intuitive feel for the number of bets going into the pot and what people tend to play. With a little experience, you can estimate the amount of additional action there will be ... more if there are loose players ... less if there are tight players ...  and your chance of winning based on your number of outs.

Some final thoughts -



If you raise in late position on the flop with the intention of checking it through on the turn. you can often buy a cheaper free card. In most games - the bet on the flop to see the turn is a small bet. So raising a $6 bet on the flop can actually put you in a position to check on the turn if you don't make your hand. This is ideal on 4 Flush/4 Straight draws but use this sparingly - a loose player will often re-raise to get inside your head..



I have seen many players throw away dozens of pots that they don't protect ... There is one pot ... do you want it? Why let your opponent draw to a flush or a straight when you have a set or two pair. If you don't bet, they can't fold - Raising on 10's and 4's is not really a bluff.  Betting or raising usually is typically worth at least 4 to 15 outs  in terms of increasing your chance of winning the pot. David Sklansky coined the term "semi-bluffing" to describe this concept.

If you've been betting your hand the whole the way, your opponents may not realize that you didn't make your draw. For example, you had a 4d - Kd and the flop was 7d - 9d - 4s. The turn was 5c and the river was 8c. Your opponent who had Qs - 7s may have assumed you were betting on a pocket pair, or you were working on a straight draw -  and would probably fold assuming you either had an over pair or had the top pair. If you check here - you lose. For this reason, and since you presumably cannot win in a showdown without making your hand, think twice about taking a free card on the turn, if you think a bet there or on the river might buy you the pot.


If you play openers like an Ah - Qh where you have a flush draw or other combination of a hand that may be best and a draw and the flop is Kh - Qs - 4h. You have a made hand (Q's) which is possibly already beaten but that has several dominant outs. You should play this type of hand aggressively, trying to force out better hands and hands that could draw out on your made hand, with your draw as a backup in case you get called down by a better hand.

Even with a potentially dominant hand like a made straight ( the board is 8d - 9d - Qs) and you have the 10d-Jd) with a flush and straight flush draw, you might wish to play it hard, ideally getting several re-raises from another made straight (an opponent  with a 10x - Jx) that you are "freerolling" to beat if you draw your flush.