How to play the turn and river in poker
In this section, we explain how to play the turn and the river, including:
Your options on the turn
After the flop , there are two more community cards to play – the turn and the river, each with a round of betting in between. Before you put more money in the pot, ask yourself: is it worth your while to see these cards or not? Usually, the answer’s quite simple – you should only carry on betting at this point if:
- You hold what you think is the best hand
- You are one card short of what you think will be the best hand, if the right card comes up (we call this type of hand a strong draw)
Once you’re more experienced, you could also try bluffing, but only against one – at most, two – opponents. Otherwise, leave well alone.
When you improve
Let’s say you get that straight or flush, or perhaps a set or two pair. What now? Here’s what to do if you find yourself with a strong hand after the turn.
In late position…
- If one of your opponents bets, you should raise (unless there’s a good reason not to, like three of the same suit on the table)
- If none of your opponents have acted, you should bet
In early position…
- If you're fairly certain one of your opponents will bet, check first, then raise later
- If you think your opponent’s going to check, you should bet
When you don't improve
Turn no good? You need to weigh the pot odds against the chances of getting the card you need on the river. If it doesn’t look great, it’s time to fold.
Reading your opponents
Even when the turn doesn’t give you anything useful, you could still be in with a chance if it hasn’t helped anyone else. But how can you tell?
- If you raise and someone re-raises, it usually means they’ve got a set or a straight (in other words, time to fold)
- If you were the first to bet and someone raises you, they could have two pair, which you could beat if you have a top pair
- If all you have is a pair – even a top pair – and someone raises you, it probably means they have something better, and you should fold
Playing an online six-handed game ? Here, people are more likely to raise on the turn without having a great hand, so watch them closely just in case.
Playing after the river
Once you've made it to the river, that’s it – the waiting’s over. You know what you’ve got and it’s time to make the most of it.
Got the card you needed? Brilliant. Time to go ahead and bet. Chances are your opponent will call, even if they suspect they're beaten.
In theory, you could check in the hope your opponent will raise. But if they don’t, it’s a wasted effort.
Plan B (what usually happens)
Okay, so you didn’t get the card. This makes things a little more complicated.
You now have a so-so hand – a second pair, or perhaps top pair with a marginal kicker (a less-than-stellar tie-break card) and your opponent puts in a bet.
If the pot was small, you’d fold. But with all that cash in it, it’s not so easy. After all, if you call and lose, it’ll only cost you one more big bet. If you walk away and your opponent was bluffing, you’ll be kicking yourself.
The rule of thumb: if you think there’s even an outside chance your opponent is bluffing, you should call. In other words, don't throw away your hand unless you’re 100 percent sure your opponent is not the type to bluff.
If you have two or more opponents, this won’t work. Namely because if one bets and the other calls, chances are one of them actually has a hand. So in this situation, it’s probably wise to fold.