Keeping Track of the Action

The most important job you have on the turn is to remember the betting action you see on this round and try the best you can to equate it with the actions you saw on the hole cards and the flop. You also need to etch all the betting plays you see here into your mind. The number-one most common place for players to set a trap is on the turn — because they just miss a hand on the flop and then make it on fourth street.

If you saw someone attacking a pot earlier, and then backing off on the turn, it’s likely one of two things has happened: They’ve either hit a hand, or they’ve missed and they’re trying to save some cash.

Determining a hit

Many people will anticipate a straight or a flush draw by betting — beginning players will oftentimes raise. When they hit a hand, they’ll often back off, hoping to check-raise you.

Trapping opponents who flush

Consider a flop of 2♠ 5♠ 10♦ with a turn of Q♠. Big hands in early positions, like A♠ K♠, will have raised pre-flop and may have come out initiating betting on the flop (or maybe check-raising). These players are sitting on a spade four-flush with two dominant over-cards. That’s enough to make the eyes of many players spin back in their heads and bet bet bet. When the other spade hits on the turn, they suddenly see the riches of the world on their doorstep and back off with the idea of check-raising you.

People in later positions like to play suited connectors, say 9♠ 10♠, and they too might get excited. Especially if they’re catching top pair and a flush draw (also an example of a hidden improvement).

From a betting perspective, the event you’re looking for is a ton of action, and then suddenly none. Again, it depends a lot on the players involved (see Book 3, Chapter 6 for more on reading other players), but all other things being equal, we’d say this person is setting a trap by checking in front of you.

To test the theory, your best bet is to check through on the turn and see what happens on the river. If your opponent comes out betting on the river first again, she probably has a hand and was trying to trap you. If she checks again, it means that she had something good (trip 5s, trip 10s, two pair?), but backed off when the spades hit the board because she thought she was bested.

Of course, if you have the best hand (like the nut flush on the turn), then absolutely you should fire a bet off — especially if you’re in the end of the betting order.

Putting you in a straightjacket

The other hand that gets made in the same fashion is a straight. Again, consider your opponents and their position around the table.

If someone very commonly plays connectors, or suited connectors, watch out for the player who limps in pre-flop, then gets excited by a set of cards like 5♥ 6♣ 10♠, but suddenly backs off on a 9♥ turn.

If you think about it, that kind of behavior doesn’t make sense, because a 9 isn’t a threatening card here. If someone had a hand they liked with a 4-5-10 board, how is a 9 going to make it any worse?

Easy. Either that person was bluffing, and has now backed off because he’s

afraid you’re going to call again or, more likely with many opponents, because his 7-8 just went straight. Now, instead of bullying you with raises and hoping you might fold on semi-bluffs, he can back off because he has a made hand.

Comprehending the miss

Don’t get so wrapped up in your inner psychic powers of analysis that the turban falls over your eyes and blinds you to the obvious signs that someone is afraid he’s just been bested, or he’s missing on a draw he was hoping for before.

Smelling someone’s fear

For example, consider a flop of Q♠ 2♥ 4♥, and someone’s betting strong. The A♠ hits on the turn and your adversary seems to back off. It’s not because she just made a wheel, it’s probably because she had paired the queens and is now afraid that the ace has counterfeited her in someone else’s hand.

Although it’s a fairly rare occurrence, another place you’ll see people back off is when their trips have just been bested by a better set.

Here’s an example that’s easy to see: Nearly everyone who holds a suited K- Q pre-flop will bet it (some will bet it heavily). If a raising battle ensues, it’s nearly always someone who is holding an ace with a big kicker (say a suited A-Q). Lesser pairs on the table will eventually back off — they just assume that there is a bigger pair over them.

A flop of A-K-K will bring heavy action from the player holding three kings, and the player with the aces will back off a tad (but almost certainly still stay in the hand, assuming that the other player is maybe holding a king), and only vaguely considering that his opponent really does hold the nightmarish trip Kings.

A turn of an ace will bring the player with the K-Q to a screeching stop. It’s true, he now holds kings full of aces; but any opponent holding even a singelton ace now has aces full of kings. So when the man with the cowboys quits betting, he isn’t trapping, he’s trying to figure out how he got so unlucky.

Gazing at the unfortunate

Big bets pre-flop and on the flop but then backed off on the turn could also mean your opponent has been anticipating a straight or flush and has missed — or he was trying to bluff that he had hit early, and he’s afraid that the bluff isn’t working because it was you who had actually hit the hand when you called.

These types of boards will have slightly different looks. What you’re looking for are single-suited flops, say 2♥ 4♥ J♥ followed by an 8♣.

The siblings to the flush-not-making-it board are the ones where the flops that had hinted and teased at a straight are now walking away from making those wanting hands successful. Q♥ J♦ 3♣ followed by a lame 4♣, would be one example.

In the cases of straights and flushes that are not coming to fruition, if you have a hand (even a medium-strength one), you need to fire bullets. When someone folds, you automatically win — everyone else should always pay to see cards they’re drawing for.

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