Continuation bets are one of the most talked about topics in all of poker. Of course, a frequently talked about topic doesn't necessarily mean that the content is understood. Players know how to make c-bets and most understand their general functionality, but it's difficult to spot players who know how to effectively implement them on a regular basis. Continuation bets are like most other elements in poker in that timing is everything. A perfect c-bet with A7s could be great in one spot and terrible in another. Your position, hand, the board and more are all going to come into play when you are deciding how to play the flop.
Pre-flop play is going to be one of the biggest pieces of information that anyone has going forward in a hand. Because of this, you need to be able to craft your c-bets to match the story that you were telling before the flop came. If your opponent thinks you have a middle pair, a flop with three big cards isn't to your benefit. If your opponent thinks you have big cards and the flop comes AKQ, you can fire away. Gathering all of the information available to you pre-flop is the first step towards successful post-flop play.
Position seems like an awfully common theme in poker, doesn't it? That's because it is, and your position will very frequently be the difference between whether you should or should not make a move. If you are out of position, it's usually going to make more sense to c-bet than when you are in position. The reason for this is that you'll be handcuffed if you check to a player and they fire a bet. Being out of position will cripple you because you won't know how to react, especially when you don't have a made hand.
Let's say that you have AQ. You make an open raise and get called by one or two players. You are out of position for the entirety of the hand. The flop comes 389. Now, is this a good spot to c-bet? The first thing you need to do is to determine what you think your opponents are likely to be holding. If you have them on JK/QK type hands, you are ahead and will likely force folds. If you put them on any pairs, you are likely to get calls. Because of the board, checking here would usually be your best play. Most players with small/middle pairs will check back or they will call your bet, so betting doesn't work unless you catch a card.
Using this same example, pretend that you were in position. The other player(s) checked to you, and it's now your turn to act with AQ on a 389 board. In this spot, betting would make more sense. You can get a feel for where your opponent is at, they are likely to check down the rest of the way with a hand like 6s, and you can get easier folds from unmade hands. While you are probably still ahead, the combination of saved money from middle pairs and guaranteed money from unmade hands will make a bet profitable. Position should always be in the back of your head when thinking about continuation betting.
The hand that you are actually playing is also going to matter more than you might think. Even when you totally brick with a hand like AJ you will still have a decent shot of winning at showdown. Think of all of the hands that could call a raise pre-flop from middle position suited hands, JK/QK/AT, and so on and so forth. If you miss the board, there's a decent chance that they did as well. Knowing this, checking down will be a cost effective way to ensure that you aren't risking any more money while also allowing yourself the opportunity to win the hand.
One thing that you need to know about hand strength and continuation betting is that it tends to matter the most with bigger hands. If you are playing a suited connector and totally missed the flop, you can't realistically hope to win at showdown without improving. For this reason, c-betting with a hand that has less showdown value will make more sense. It's better to take a stab at a pot with a weak hand than it is to go to showdown with nothing, provided that you think your bet will have a decent shot of getting a fold from your opponent(s).
The board may be the single biggest factor that players tend to ignore the most. They think about continuation bets and are aware of their value, but they completely disregard when they make sense to put into play. You can't blindly fire c-bets and expect them to work just because you followed up a pre-flop raise with a bet on the flop. It just doesn't work this way.
There are a few different things that you should be taking into account when looking at the board. First, did you miss, and if so, what chances of improvement do you have. Second, is this board likely to have hit my opponent's range. Third, is the board draw heavy. Once you have these three crucial elements outlined, you'll be in a much better position to make the best move possible.
If you missed the board completely, you should be more inclined to make a continuation bet. Unless you are drawing to a ton of cards (which wouldn't imply that you missed the board at all), you should try to take down the pot as fast as you can. Now, if you are about to place a bet, take a second to think about whether the flop is likely to have helped your opponent. If you feel like it missed them as well, you could not be in any better position to fire a continuation bet. The third element in possible draws will just increase or decrease the likelihood of a fold. If the flop comes with three of one suit or 567 etc., you know that there's an increased chance that your opponent is going to call any bet. If you can effectively mix these three facets of the board, you'll be able to better pick your c-betting spots.
Who Not to C-Bet
The majority of players, at least online, will be OK to continuation bet against. The players that you don't want to c-bet at any time are those who would fall into the calling station category. A calling station is illustrated by their name. Since your objective is to force a fold, you'll almost always be wasting your time in betting with nothing. By that same token, however, you'll be able to squeeze these players for the absolute max value possible. Don't try to get a player to fold who doesn't have an interest in anything other than the next card.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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