Continuation Betting

[BB] Benny the Book resumed instructing his son Joey the Juvenile, “The continuation bet is a weapon that overlaps with semi-bluffing. A continuation bet, or c-bet,1 is a bet (not a raise) made on the flop by the preflop raiser. You ‘continue’ the betting you started earlier and are effectively claiming that you still have the best hand. The main purpose of a continuation bet is to win the pot. If you think you have the best hand, then your bet may still look like a c-bet to your opponent but is actually a value bet. In many cases though, you don’t know if you have the best hand or not, so it’s a c-bet.”

[BB] “For example, say you open to three times the big blind under the gun with A♣K♠ and only the button calls. The flop is Q♥9♣4♥, and it’s your action. If your continuation bet here is called, against top pair your c-bet was a semi-bluff with six outs to make a bigger pair, but against a flush draw or straight draw your c-bet was a value bet.”

[BB] “Dan Harrington recommends betting about half the pot,2, with a range from 40% to 70% of the pot. This gives most draws the wrong price to call, which betting less wouldn’t accomplish. If you find opponents folding even to your smaller c-bets, you can try reducing them to a quarter of the pot on dry flops. Betting much more would work but means that you need to pick up the pot more frequently to make them profitable. If you find opponents calling even your larger c-bets, you need to make them bigger or simply stop making them against the calling stations.”

[BB] “The fewer players that see the flop, the more often you should c-bet, even 100% of the time heads-up if they’re working. As you know, the flop hits a single hand about two-thirds of the time. With more opponents, someone’s much more likely to call because they hit something:”3

Opponents Odds Nobody Hit the Flop
1 65%
2 41%
3 26%
4 16%
5 9%
6 5%
7 3%
8 1%
9 1%

[BB] “The drier the flop, especially Ace-less rainbows, the more often you should c-bet. At higher skill levels, this just means you’ll get played back at more often, but for beginners and intermediates, this is a good rule of thumb. Paired boards, which are less likely to hit anyone, are good for c-bets. If people start calling or raising you, drop your weaker hands from your c-betting range.”

[BB] “And I probably don’t even need to add that you should c-bet more often in position than out.”

[BB] “As with semi-bluffs, an added advantage of c-bets is that you broaden the range of hands that you bet on the flop, gaining more calls from your value bets. Does that all make sense?”

[JJ] “Sure. When I raise preflop, get one call, and an unraised flop is checked to me or I’m first to act, I should bet most of the time regardless of whether I hit the flop or not”, Joey the Juvenile confirmed. “I see, I bet. Couldn’t be simpler.”

[BB] “There are also turn continuation bets, which are risky but useful when you detect that your opponent is calling your c-bets light. And there are even river continuation bets, but you’re nowhere near ready to learn how to use those, and I’m not good enough yet to teach you them anyway. In any case, what you really need next is a lesson on folding!”

Footnotes:

  1. Also spelled ‘cbet’.
  2. Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume I: Strategic Play, page 279.
  3. Chart adapted from Tony Guerrera’s Killer Poker by the Numbers, page 2. Guerrera works out the math that under some reasonable assumptions of calling rates, it’s very profitable to c-bet against a single opponent, barely profitable against two, and definitely unprofitable against three or more.
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