Are Continuation Bets Still Valuable in Texas Holdem – Why (Or Why Not)

by Jeff Harris
on April 16, 2018

Experienced poker players commonly say that if your hand is good enough to call with, then it’s good enough to raise with.

This logic is used to practice discipline with preflop hand selection and show strength before the flop. But what happens when you show this strength, only to miss the flop?

A beginner’s natural tendency is to check, call, or fold. But players eventually learn another technique that can be used in this situation: continuation betting (a.k.a. c-betting).

Continuation bets have become so popular in poker today that they’re widely overused. This begs the question of whether c-bets are even valuable in today’s game.

I’m going to discuss whether this postflop move is valuable anymore. I’ll also cover the basics of c-betting and when you should and shouldn’t use this technique.

What is a Continuation Bet?

A continuation bet features two main elements:

  • 1. You make a preflop raise.
  • 2. You follow this up with a raise after the flop.

A c-bet can be made when you do and don’t improve your hand postflop. But continuation betting is mostly discussed from a strategy perspective when you miss the flop.

The reason why is because you’re betting to represent strength, rather than actually having real hand strength. And the goal in this situation is to semi-bluff your opponent into folding.

Another time to use c-bets is when you do have a good hand and want to build the pot. Of course, this also pertains to value betting, where you try to get the maximum value out of a good hand without forcing the opponent to fold.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll mainly be discussing continuation betting as it applies to semi-bluffing.

Basics of Continuation Betting

Why Should You Make Continuation Bets?

The best poker players are aggressive. And continuation betting helps you show aggression after the flop.

Rather than checking or calling, you take control of the situation and force your opponent to ponder if your hand has or hasn’t connected.

Your opponent will fail to have a pair on the flop 2 out of every 3 times. This is why continuation betting often works and is a powerful tool.

Continuation Bet Sizing

The best size for a continuation bet is a half or full-sized pot wager. This is generally large enough to where you’ll force a fold, while minimizing risk if you’re called or re-raised.

The reason for the variation is that there are other factors to consider for continuation bet sizing. And the main aspect is how the board looks.

You want to make closer to a full-sized pot bet when the board looks more coordinated, and you want to place a lower c-bet when the board is dry.

The reason why you bet half the pot on a dry board is because your opponent has likely missed the flop. Therefore, any decent-sized bet will make them fold.

But if they do connect on the flop with a strange hand, like a set of 5s, then you don’t want to take unnecessary risk.

In contrast, a pot-sized wager on a wet board is effective at discouraging an above-average hand that might otherwise stay in the pot.

One other time when you should make a larger c-bet is if you have a good hand and want to build the pot. As mentioned before, the goal here is to value bet in a way that convinces your opponent to contribute the maximum amount while staying in the hand.

You’ll then continue to value bet on future streets as long as you think that you’re still in the lead.

Examples of Continuation Betting

  • Example #1: C-Betting to Semi-Bluff

    You hold Ad-Kc.
    Flop is 3h-5d-9s.
    You c-bet half the pot and have two chances at high pairs.

  • Example #2: C-Betting to Semi-Bluff

    You hold Ks-Qc.
    Flop is 4h-Td-Jc.
    You c-bet the full pot due to this semi-wet board.

  • Example #3: C-Betting for Value

    You hold Ac-Jc.
    Flop is As-Jh-6d.
    You c-bet three-fourths the pot in hopes of getting your opponent to call.

Why Does Continuation Betting Get a Bad Name?

Prior to the mid-2010s, there were a number of inexperienced poker players who would fall for c-bets no matter what. Back then, making c-bets on a regular basis was very profitable for skilled players.

But modern live and online poker players are much better. The reason why is because you can easily find strategy anywhere on the internet and get up to speed with skilled grinders.

That said, more poker players these days know of and are using continuation betting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because c-bets are still valuable plays.

But the problem is that too many players are abusing this move. It’s gotten so bad that some people automatically c-bet the flop regardless of other factors.

Because of this, some players have started to question if continuation betting is still valuable in the modern poker game. The truth is that c-betting is still a great move, but you have to know when to use it.

When should You Make a Continuation Bet?

On Dry Flops

Good c-bets are measured by a combination of your hand strength and the board texture.

Earlier I described how you can c-bet both wet and dry flops. But the latter definitely presents the best conditions for c-betting, because you have a stronger chance to force your opponent into folding.

It’s always nice when you c-bet into a board that has high pair potential along with little else. Examples of dry boards that are ripe for c-betting include:

  • A-8-2 rainbow
  • K-T-5 rainbow
  • Ad-3s-7s

The good thing about these boards is that they make it possible to have a strong pair. They also minimize the chance that your opponent has connected on the flop.

Sure, there’ll be times when you c-bet these boards with Qs-Js, only to be re-raised by an opponent who actually does have a big pair. But this is where knowing your opponent’s tendencies becomes valuable.

And you can take comfort in the fact that your opponent usually won’t have a good hand to call or re-raise you with.

When You Have Position

Having position gives you the chance to see your opponent’s actions on later streets if they do call your c-bet.

If they call and improve their hand on the turn or river, you can at least see their raises coming in case you miss on future streets. Here’s an example:

  • Flop is Ks-8d-5d.
  • Opponent checks.
  • You make a half-pot raise.
  • Opponent calls.
  • Turn is Qd.
  • Opponent bets the pot.

You can evaluate whether you actually think the opponent hit a flush based on their tendencies. If they likely did, you can get out of the hand with no additional cost.

You Have Good Hand Strength

You don’t want an opponent to call or re-raise when you c-bet the flop without a made hand. But it helps to actually have some outs when this does happen.

Here’s an example:

  • You have Ks-Js.
  • Flop is Th-9s-3c.
  • You c-bet and your opponent calls.
  • You at least have straight and big pair potential here going into the turn.

It’s wise to have good hand strength when c-betting a more-aggressive player to counteract the higher chances of being called or raised.

Your Opponent is Tight-Aggressive

Any poker player can fall for a continuation bet bluff if it’s disguised well enough. But you should especially target tight-aggressive (TAG) players, who are more likely to fold to these bets.

TAG is a good strategy to employ as a beginner, because you minimize risk this way and only play strong cards. But TAG players are also easier to c-bet out of pots since they’re not going to play bad hands.

An even better type of player to use continuation bets on is a tight-passive opponent. These players keep a tight hand range and don’t always play their strong hands well.

A good way to find TAG and loose-passive players who’ll fold in online poker is by using a program like Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker (where allowed).

These programs offer statistics on how often your opponent folds to a c-bet. And this is invaluable when you’re trying to decide whether not you can push an opponent out of the hand.

When Should You Avoid Continuation Bets?

Against Multiple Opponents

You normally don’t stand much of a chance of pulling off a c-bet when there are multiple players in the pot. More players remaining in the hand means that there are additional chances somebody will connect on the flop.

This means that the fold equity you gained preflop is diminished greatly. Furthermore, players are more likely to call you because you don’t have as much fold equity.

This isn’t to say that there’s absolutely no way a continuation bet will work in multi-way pots. But you should wait until you have the perfect opponents, board texture, and table dynamic.

When Dealing with Calling Stations

Calling stations, or players who will call just about any raise, are the worst to try and continuation bet against. The main reason why is because they don’t respect your c-bet.

One exception is when you’re dealing with calling stations who like to see flops, but are likely to fold on the turn. In these cases, you can plan on both a continuation and turn raise to force a fold.

But in most cases, you’re better off waiting until you have a solid hand and out-playing calling stations postflop.

When You Don’t Have Position

Earlier I discussed why having position is so helpful when continuation betting. Likewise, you’re at a major disadvantage when c-betting out of position.

Multiple problems can arise when you c-bet before your opponent acts.

They can call you and put you in an uncomfortable position on the turn. Or they could be a highly aggressive player who re-raises you with any pair.

Poker players lose most of their money when playing out of position. That said, you want to minimize these losses by c-betting less frequently in these situations.

On Good Drawing Boards

A good drawing board combined with an opponent that’s suspicious of your c-bet is a bad recipe. If the other player thinks that you’re c-bet bluffing, they’ll have more reason to call with a good drawing board.

Here are some examples of bad boards to continuation bet with:

  • Ah-Td-9d
  • 9h-8c-6h
  • 5c-2s-As

Sometimes you can force an opponent out by raising enough to give them bad pot odds. For example, making a half pot-sized raise makes it less profitable to call with an open-ended straight draw (19% chance of hitting).

But again, suspicious opponents will use their draw as a reason to call.

You Have an Overly Aggressive Table Image

Part of getting a c-bet to work involves convincing your opponent that there’s a real threat. But this threat is diminished when you constantly raise on the flop.

This is why it pays to look at things from your opponents’ perspectives and how they view you.

Will they note that you c-bet 80% of the time. Did they watch you c-bet and check-call to the river, where you lost with a low pair?

This is where range balancing, or the process of making the same plays with a wide range of hands, comes into play.

One example of range balancing is making a half-sized to full-sized pot bet based on board texture. Your opponent will be left guessing what you truly hold, because you’re betting the board rather than your hand strength.

What you don’t want to do is use your hand strength to judge your bet size. In other words, don’t make a bigger c-bet with A-K and make a smaller wager with J-T.

Hand strength should only be used as a determinant of WHEN you c-bet – not how many chips.

You’re Facing an Aggressive Opponent

Much like calling stations, aggressive opponents are bad to c-bet against. They’re not afraid to make an unpredictable re-raise and push you into a tough decision.

An aggressive opponent is instead better to check-raise when you have a strong hand and are out of position. You can also simply call them and start building the pot on future streets.

Conclusion

Is continuation betting a valuable play in today’s poker world?

Of course! But it’s only valuable when used in the proper situations.

In other words, you don’t want to fall into the trap of automatically c-betting. This is an amateur move that will quickly be spotted by experienced players.

Instead, you want to put some thought into deciding when you c-bet. Some factors to consider include board texture, position, hand strength, the number of opponents in the hand (preferably one) and your opponent’s tendencies.

By using this combination of factors, you can make good c-bets that accomplish your goal, whether it be to force a fold or build the pot.

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