Play On The Flop: The Continuation Bet

No Limit Texas Holdem

June 13, 2008

In NL holdem when the pot is raised preflop the last preflop aggressor often bets out on the flop regardless of whether or not he connected well with the flop. This bet is called a continuation bet and it is the central feature of betting action on the flop in NL holdem. This article discusses flop play from the perspective of the preflop agressor. I’ll follow up with another article in the future that looks at flop play from the perspective of the preflop caller.

Why The Continuation Bet Is Often a Good Bet

We’ve previously discussed what makes for good and bad bets here and here. The continuation bet has a lot of properties that tend to make it a good bet. Let’s assume for now that you raised with two unpaired high cards or a big pair. On the flop, unpaired high cards tend to hit big, or miss big. You either end up with top pair and a good kicker, or unpaired junk. Think back to the discussion of good and bad bets, and recall this diagram:

hands he will fold | Hands he will call or raise with
worst---------------Opponent Range------------------best

The good bets were the ones where you held a hand that was a long way from the dividing line of what your opponent would call with or fold with. Often times, in NL on the flop, that dividing line hand is roughly a middle pair. Note also that your opponents often have this middle pair – it’s often times the hand where they would be most correct to call your preflop raise. Consider the situation here – the preflop raiser often times has either a strong or very weak hand. The preflop caller often times has a medium strength hand near the dividing line. This is a perfect situation for the preflop raiser to lead out on the flop, regardless of whether he hit or not. If you hit, it’s a legitimate value bet. If you missed, it’s a legitimate bluff.

Hence the correctness of frequently continuation betting when you were the preflop raiser.

Sizing The Continuation Bet

One thing to remember about continuation bets is that the quality of your opponent’s hand has just been radically altered by the flop. Because of the huge influence of the flop on hand strength, many opponents will adopt a fit or fold approach to the flop which means that they will abandon their hands on unfavorable flops. The result of this is that a smaller than normal bet is required to successfully bluff the flop. So it’s advantageous to make your flop bluffs smaller than you often would for other bluffs. In most situations somewhere between half and 2/3 of the pot is about right. Of course, if you size your bluff continuation bets a certain way, your value bet continuation bets must likewise be sized the same. Otherwise it becomes obvious to an observant opponent when you’re bluffing.

The Effects of Position

The continuation bet is a much more effective play when you hold absolute position. The fact that all your opponents have checked to you is not an extremely strong indication that they are weak (since they could be slow playing) but it does carry some weight. This generally makes bluff continuation bets more effective from late position, and also makes it less likely that you will run into a monster if you bet for value. As such I’m more likely to continuation bet when it’s been checked to me in position.

When You Should Pass Instead of Betting

Continuation betting all the time is not an effective strategy. Doing so every hand leads to your opponents frequently raising or check-raising the flop, and that generally puts you in a bad position if you hold a made hand because it’s difficult to maintain pot control when there’s a flop raise. What all this means is that you need to pick some situations to NOT continuation bet. This is as much a feel thing as anything, but here are some suggestions:

  • If you are facing a very tight opponent who rarely calls a standard raise without a monster preflop, consider passing on the c-bet whether you missed or not – especially if you are last to act and can thereby eliminate a betting round.
  • If you accidentally flopped a middle strength hand (say, you hold AK on a K88 flop) then consider checking. A bet may well be a dark tunnel bet (ie. useless).
  • If you made a hand, and your opponent is very agressive and will almost certainly bluff the turn if you check the flop, then checking is usually right.
  • If you raised on a non-traditional raising hand (like middle pair or a suited connector) and made a medium strength hand on the flop, a check is often correct.
  • If you hold a huge made hand that would be very difficult to draw out on, and slowplay may be in order.
  • If your caller is in better position (rather than the blinds) consider betting your hand more honestly ie. fewer bluff continuation bets.
  • The number of opponents you face is the #1 factor in how successful a bluff will be.  If you get tons of callers preflop, usually abandon the idea of continuation bet bluffing on the flop.  Continuation betting for value is still a good idea as long as your adjust your concept of the strength of your hand to account for multiple opponents.  Avoiding c-bet bluffs into large fields is especially important when out of position.  If everyone’s checked then bluffing into a crowd is a little more safe.

This article is part of Project Cash Game No Limit Holdem - You can find more great strategy articles there.
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