The difference between a poker pro and an amateur is in the way a person plays over the course of time. That said, how a player handles the turn in each hand is what separates the men from the boys. Most professional players know betting the turn is a very profitable play, and that's where you want to press on the gas pedal the majority of the time.
When & When Not to Bet
If you bet out on the flop, you should almost always bet the turn unless you know you're beat.
Most amateur players will bet the flop, but refuse to put any more money into the pot for fear of losing - they refuse to fire twice. You must get over this and learn the right time to fire twice to move up with the pros.
The right time to fire on the turn is when you feel that the flop didn't help your opponent. You can also fire more often against tight or solid players rather than loose ones. Tight players won't want to risk calling on the turn, but a loose player will almost always call.
There are two wrong times to bet the turn after getting called on the flop:
A loose opponent. As I've already touched on briefly, the first is when you're up against a loose player or "maniac." You'll never bluff him on the turn and the pot will be well worth giving up.
When re-raised on the flop. The second wrong time to bet the turn is when you are re-raised on the flop and you feel your opponent has hit it hard. If you're drawing dead, it's not worth continuing to bet.
Perhaps illustrating my point with an example will help clarify what I mean. Let's say you have A-K on the button and make it $30 to go. You receive one caller in the big blind, the flop comes out all low cards, and you bet out $45. He thinks and then calls you. A jack comes on the turn which is no help to you, but you fire out again anyway and he folds. After the hand, he tells you he had top pair sixes on the flop.
That's the beauty of betting the turn when a high card hits - a good player simply can't call with a marginal hand if the board scares him. Let's say there are two diamonds on the board and you bet the flop and get called. Another diamond hits on the turn which makes your opponent fear the flush. If you're up against a skilled opponent, he won't call a huge bet when the diamond hits the turn. There are so many scary flops and turns that you can literally play the player without hitting anything on the flop.
Let's now take the same situation post-flop, but he instead calls your bet on the turn. The good news is that you still have two high cards outs. If you hit an ace or a king you will probably win the pot.
Basically if I had to sum up the turn in one word, it would be courage. You must have courage to bet the turn and know that it is profitable when a good situation arises. There will always be some sessions where you're bluff on the turn will get called out, but in the long run the odds are in your favor that you'll take down the pot.
That's basically poker in a nutshell. Poker will always be unpredictable in the short run, but very predictable in the long run; have the courage to bet the turn to rake in more profit each session.
Stay tuned for my follow-up article, "Mastering the Turn II: Make and Save Money," which will discuss how you can make and save money with the turn in more detail.
See you at the tables.