If you play a lot of online poker at PokerStars or at another online poker room with good action, you know what a continuation bet (also called c-bet) is. But do you know how to use the c bet optimally?
First as a quick reminder, a continuation bet is simply the bet made by the raiser from the previous street. So for example if you raise pre flop and then you are the first to bet at the flop, this is a c-bet.
Imagine that you make a standard preflop raise with AKs and get only called by the small blind. You miss the flop that comes as QT6 with two diamonds, and you both check. The turn brings a second clubs, the 6 of clubs. The small blind attacks with a big bet. What is the correct response?
The answer is that it is a very difficult decision. Your could very well have the strongest hand with your big slick suited, or if your opponent had a 6 you would be drawing dead. The reason why you ended up in this bad spot is that you lost the control of the pot along the way.
The recipe to avoid this tough situation on the turn is to take control of the pot with a continuation bet on the flop, a of your initial betting action. A c-bet should be made independently of how good the flop is for you.
The rationale for a continuation bet is that only one third of hands hit the flop. Hence in most likelihood your opponent does not have a strong hand by the flop, but you want to continue representing yourself a strong hand in order to apply pressure. And remember that aggression is one of the keys for success at no-limit texas holdem!
The c-bet is such a powerful weapon because it enables you to increase the pot with the best hand or to bluff your opponents out of it with the weaker hand. As your opponent will miss the flop twice in three times, it means that a hand like AKs is often the strongest hand by the flop. Additionally, if your opponent has a small pocket underpair or bottom pair, he may fold the best hand on this scary board.
The first question is how much to continuation bet.
The standard bet size is around two-thirds of the pot. Of course it is important that your bet size does not depend on the strength of your hand in order to remain opaque. The continuation bet size does not depend so much on the strength of your hand but rather on the weakness of your opponent's.
Next, let's see a typical problem facing the c-bet in heads-up situations. The usual bad case is when you get check-raised after making the continuation bet. If you have a missed hand as described earlier you must fold, as calling could lead to a costly loss with ace high. Your opponent may have a strong hand, a draw, a bluff, but overall it is preferable to fold.
Of course you should not c-bet all the time. Poker tracking software such as holdem manager calculate the so-called "percent c-bet", which tells how often a player makes a continuation bet. This percent should be about 65-75% in full ring NLTH for instance. If you bet more often, you bluff too much. If you bet less, you are not bluffing enough. Observant opponents will profile you either as a bluffer or as a NIT, and will use that knowledge against you.
So what are the typical situations when you should not continuation bet?
With several opponents in the pot, the chance that a player has hit a good flop increases dramatically. With three or more players in the pot, your chances of taking the pot are too thin and it is better to check.
If your opponent is either a calling station or is very aggressive (especially a maniac), the c-bet weapon loses most of its effectiveness. You will not get a fold often, and on the contrary chances are high that you get check-raised with any two cards by the most aggressive players.
If you did not hit any good draw, avoid the c-bet without the chance to hit a big hand. If you get a strong drawing situation such as a straight draw and a flush draw, which is current with big suited aces, then it is preferable to bet in order to get more chances to win a big pot if your draw hits. On the contrary if you are dry, you can just check.
When the flop is paired, if you are last to act and make a c-bet, your opponent will often think that you are bluffing, as the normal way to play a flopped trip is to slow play it, i.e. to check it. He will be tempted to make a check-raise which if you call, will put you in a very tough spot if he bets on the turn. A clever way to play this hand would be to check the flop behind and to be aggressive only from the turn. This approach plays stronger as it gives more credibility to your claimed trip.
If the board is very drawy, such at JT9s, there is too much risk that your opponent either has hit part of the board or that he will pretend to with a bluff. Here again it is recommended to check.
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