Continuation bets in poker are like free throws in basketball, serves in tennis, and short putts in golf: one of the first things you learn when you first start playing the game.
A continuation bet (or c-bet for short) is defined as the initial post-flop bet made by the last player to raise pre-flop. This usually applies to flop bets, but when both players check the flop, a ‘delayed’ c-bet can take place on the turn when the flop is checked through.
But how often should you c-bet on the flop and how does the board texture impact this?
That’s one thing that online poker legend and BBZ coach Jonathan “apestyles” Van Fleet covers in his ‘Back to Basics Webinar Bundle’ for BBZ.
The first rule of c-betting is: there is no c-betting
What does he mean by that?
Well, his argument is that just because a player raised pre-flop, doesn’t mean they have a claim to the pot just because they have “the initiative”.
“This is an imaginary construct,” says apestyles. “It exists because many people allow it to exist. But when you think about it, why does it matter who raised last when it comes to who gets to bet more in a pot? The person who gets to bet more should be the person who has an equity advantage or has position. There is only range versus range.”
Typically the person who raised last does have the range advantage and polarization advantage, but not always. An example apestyles gives is when the cutoff opens and the button flats. The button actually has a range advantage on a lot of boards, yet inexperienced poker players still feel they have to c-bet almost always.
“Also when the small blind flats versus opens from pretty much any position, the small blind often has a range advantage because people tend to play the small blind quite tightly,” says apestyles.
All that being said, c-betting correctly is a huge part of poker. So let’s get to it.
When you’re in position post-flop having opened pre-flop, apestyles suggests you adopt two different strategies. Both are oversimplified versions of true GTO strategies, which involve varying bet sizes and varying checking ranges.
The first is to bet 100% of your range, usually with a small sizing.
“This is the best exploitative c-bet strategy for any position because the population of players is overfolding,” says apestyles. “They’re supposed to be defending with back door draws, check-raising aggressively etc., but most people just fold the bottom of their range to a c-bet.”
It should be said this recommended strategy is for when stacks are shallow. “We can usually bet big on later streets,” says apestyles.
It’s also the best strategy when we have both equity and polarization advantage. Examples of this are in 3-bet pots or when we’re up against the big blind who has defended with a very wide range. If the board contains high cards but remains uncoordinated, it’s particularly advantageous to c-bet small.
The second is to bet a polarized range, usually with a large sizing.
“This is better for when we’re deeper stacked,” apestyles explains. “We can inflate the pot with our highest-equity hands.”
This strategy is more commonly used when equities between the two players run closer, for example on low-card boards (ten-high or lower) which smash the big blind’s range. If we c-bet these flops we’re typically representing overpairs, so by betting larger we can have a few more bluffs, our overpairs get protection, and we have a lot of equity with our value range as it’s going to be hard to your opponent to lay down a top pair.
“When you have a lot of bluffs in your range you generally want to choose a larger sizing to give your opponent worse odds,” says apestyles.
We also want to bet polarized when we have a condensed checking range. These are hands we’d like to get to showdown with or believe we can bluff catch with or get value with on two streets, but not three.
“Our draws generally split between betting and checking, flush draws especially,” says apestyles. “A good rule of thumb is to check back with flush draws that have a pair. I like checking back my absolute best flush draws, betting my high and low flush draws, and checking back middle flush draws.”
OUT OF POSITION
Remember when apestyles said there is no c-betting? That really rings true when you’re out of position.
“The GTO solution for playing out of position versus a flatter in a single-raised pot is often to check 100%,” says apestyles.
The reason is that calling ranges are generally tighter than opening ranges, therefore the caller often has equal or better equity than you have. This is especially true when the cutoff opens and the button flats.
So what happens when you keep firing c-bets out of position without consideration? Your opponent can call or raise your c-bets at a high frequency due to their equity advantage. This results in your pure bluffs flat out losing and your middle-equity hands becoming less profitable.
Another GTO advantage to checking 100% out of position is that you don’t have to split or balance two ranges. “I don’t like to tell people they have to check 100% out of position,” says apestyles. “They think it means they have to play a passive style, but that’s not what it means at all.”
We’re not checking with the intention to give up. We’re checking to see what our opponent will do and to get a read on their bet size. And there are exceptions. When we have an equity and polarization advantage, we can c-bet small 70-100%. Examples of these spots are 3-bet pots and on low flops when the in-position player is unlikely to have overpairs.
While GTO says otherwise, apestyles believes c-betting a lot out of position is actually +EV. “The reason why is that very few players defend at a correct GTO frequency versus out of position c-bets,” he says. “They fold too much.”
Most people overfold their backdoors, gutshots, overcards etc. that they should often call or raise with, so c-betting can be very effective when you’re up against the general population.
When players under defend, your bluffs immediately become profitable. But as apestyles points out, this should also be something to remember when you’re the in-position player facing a frequent c-bettor.
“We should be punishing players who put way too much money in the pot with ranges that are worse than ours.”
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