What is a continuation bet in poker?
Continuation betting means that, after making a preflop raise, if the action is checked to you on the flop, you follow up your preflop aggression with a bet on the flop.
Two main reasons make the continuation betting a compelling choice. First, when you raise preflop, you demonstrate strength. It is like stating that you have a mighty hand and want to put a lot of money in the pot with it!
The second is related to the probability of connecting with the flop. In Texas Holdem, when your opponents start with two high cards, they will be missing the flop about two-thirds of the time!
Keep in mind that, like all bluffing bets, making a continuation bet into more than two opponents rarely works.
Continuation betting and tight-aggressive play
Continuation betting is even more profitable when you play a tight-aggressive style. If you play tightly, your opponents will give you more credit for having a strong hand. If you play aggressively, your opponents will have to worry that you will fire a second barrel on the turn! Fearing the possibility of facing a second bet on the turn will prevent your opponents from calling on the flop in the first place.
Continuation betting and board texture
Dry boards are best suited for continuation bets. It is more difficult for your opponents to connect with a dry flop than with a “wet” board. So, it will be less probable that they have a hand worth calling your bet.
For example, on a flop like K♦8♠3♣, your opponents either hit a pair, or they completely missed the flop. On the contrary, on a draw heavy flop like Q♥J♥9♠, your opponents may have connected with the flop in more ways. They may also have made a straight or picked up a straight or a flush draw!
Paired boards, like QQ5 or K77, are particularly suitable for a continuation bet, as they present fewer possibilities for your opponents to have connected. In paired boards, many times, the first one to take a stab takes down the pot! Be careful as some professional players understand this concept and can make a raise-bluff in these situations.
Continuation betting and opponents’ ranges
If you can put your opponents on hand ranges, then you will be able to identify which flops are favorable for a continuation bet and which are not.
For example, if your opponents are on tight ranges, a flop with two or more high cards, like A♦J♠9♣, is unfavorable for a continuation bet. This is because your opponents’ ranges contain a lot of high cards, making it very likely that they have connected with the flop. On the contrary, if your opponents are on wide ranges, a flop with suited, connected, and middling cards, like 9♦8♦6♣, is less compelling for a continuation bet.
Continuation betting and opponent’s style
Continuation betting against loose players as a bluff is not a good idea as they will be calling most of the time. If your opponent is a “calling station,” make sure to keep your continuation bets for your value hands!
Continuation betting against aggressive players presents you with the following paradox. It is better to make a continuation bet if you have completely missed the flop, as a pure bluff, than it is if you have a medium-strength hand. This is because, your aggressive opponents will often raise when they have a strong hand, forcing you to fold. While it is ok for you to fold a trash hand with close to zero pot equity, it is not so great to fold a medium-strength hand, giving away significant equity!
For example, imagine that you are playing against two aggressive opponents, and the flop is K♣8♠6♦. If you have Q♠J♥, making a continuation bet after the flop may be the only way of winning the pot. Taking a stab, and folding to a raise can be ok. However, if you have a hand like 9♦8♦, a middle pair, the situation is different. If you think one of your opponents may raise you, checking may be a better option. When you fold to a raise, you are giving away equity as you miss on the chance of improving your hand to two pair, a set., or even a backdoor flush. Checking achieves both controlling the size of the pot and gives you a chance to improve when you are behind.
Continuation betting as a semi-bluff
Continuation betting as a semi-bluff is an excellent technique as it gives you two ways of winning the hand. Your opponents may fold, or they may call, and you make your draw on the turn or river. However, if you are in a multiplayer pot, the chances that all opponents fold are slim, so you must reconsider.
A specific situation when you should not semi-bluff is when you are in a multiplayer pot and drawing to a nut draw. Firstly, you want to avoid being forced out of the hand by a big reraise. Secondly, you want players that are also drawing but for a no-nut draw to stay in the hand. If you make your draw, you may be able to win a big pot against them, and you do not want to miss out on that! Even when no one else is drawing, by checking, you camouflage your draw and may extract more money if you make it.
So, how much to bet?
When you make a continuation bet as a bluff, you can compare the odds the pot is giving you, and calculate how often your opponents have to fold to make it profitable.
If you bet half the pot, you will need your opponents to fold 1 out of 3 times or more to make the move profitable. This is because if one out of three times you win the size of the pot, and two out of three times lose half the pot, you break even.
If you bet full pot, you will need your opponents to fold one out of two times or more to make the move profitable.
The bet sizes above are indicative. Betting anything from a third of the pot to full pot or more can be called for. If your opponents fold when they miss the flop, even to small bets, opt for the lower end of the spectrum as you are risking less. If your opponents tend to call small bets no matter what, but fold to bigger bets, opt for higher continuation bets.
Continuation bet for value
The times that you hit the flop, you will need to bet for value and also to protect your bluff continuation bats. If you bet both when you have hit the flop and when you have missed it, it will be impossible for your opponents to put you on a hand.
An additional benefit of continuation betting as a bluff is that it makes it more likely for your value bets to get callers. Your opponents know that you are capable of betting with air, so they will be more inclined to call when you value bet!
In a nutshell
The continuation bet is a great tool to have in your arsenal. As you have shown strength preflop with a raise, firing a second barrel on the flop makes sense to your opponents’ eyes. It will be tough for them to continue when they have not connected with the flop, which will be most of the time!
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