A continuation bet (AKA a c-bet) is a bet made by a preflop raiser on the flop. The logic behind making a continuation bet is that you want to continue the aggression shown preflop – hence the name continuation bet.
The c-bet can be either your most profitable tool or your biggest money bleeder, depending on how well you use it. Lots of players assume that it’s profitable to continuation bet 100% of the time, which is wrong. You need to consider a few factors before you decide whether or not to fire. These include board texture, opponent tendencies, and the relative strength of your hand.
Continuation Betting and Flop Texture
Flops come in different “textures,” the main two being wet and dry. A flop is wet when it contains coordinated cards that hit lots of draws. An example of a wet flop would be 6h-7d-Ah. Note that there’s an open-ended straight draw on board as well as a flush draw. On top of that, there’s an Ace on board that could have connected with quite a few starting hands.
A flop is dry when it contains uncoordinated cards that don’t create draws. 2d-Kh-7c would be a dry flop, as would 8s-Ad-3h. These flops are good for top pair type hands and sets–that’s basically it. Both are dry as a bone.
You generally want to fire a continuation bet when a flop runs dry. There are two reasons for this. First, your opponent will often miss a dry flop completely, and give up the pot to any bet. Second, weaker opponents often perceive a bet into a dry flop as an indication of strength; thus many will throw away even low pairs strictly out of fear.
Wet flops are more complicated. Obviously you should make a continuation bet if your hand hits a wet flop. For example, if you hold 8h9h and the flop comes Ah-7d-10h, that’s great for you–fire away. On the other hand, you should shy away from betting into wet flops that miss you completely. For example, if you hold the same 8h9h and the flop comes Ad-Kd-Js, a check is the right play.
Consider Your Opponent Before You Continuation Bet
Before you fire a continuation bet, ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Decide whether your continuation bet is for value or is a bluff. Then, weigh your desired outcome against the likelihood that your opponent will do what you want.
For example, say you hold KQo and the flop comes 2-8-T rainbow. You missed the flop, but it’s likely that your opponent missed as well. If you c-bet, it’s obviously not for value–you want your opponent to fold to a bluff. Is your opponent likely to do so?
A tight, conservative player is probably not going to call a c-bet on this flop unless he’s hit something. If your opponent is a standard TAG or a weak-tight player, a c-bet is the correct play here; you’ll take down the pot a lot of the time.
If on the other hand you’re up against a good LAG (loose-aggressive player) or a calling station, you might consider checking. A good LAG is likely to raise your continuation bet, since he knows you’ve probably missed this flop. A calling station, on the other hand, will call anything just to gamble. Since your hand has no value past a bluff in this case, the last thing you want is to build the pot for the turn. Thus the right play is a check.
Consider Your Table Image
It is also a good idea to consider your table image before you place a c-bet. Think about how the other opponents perceive you. Based on the recent action at the table, do you look like a tight player or a loose player? Your table image will have an impact on how your opponents react to your continuation bets.
If you’ve won the last three pots in a row without showing your hand, your opponents may suspect that you’re full of hot air. In that case, you might not want to fire off a continuation bet unless you actually have a legitimate hand. Your opponents have seen you take a few pots down recently and they will understandably be a little skeptical.
The same thing goes if you have a draw. With a loose table image, you are usually better off skipping the c-bet and taking a free card. People love to checkraise aggressive players, so by checking behind, you make your opponents miss their opportunity and give you a free card. Perfect.
On the other hand, you can be a little more liberal with your continuation bets if you have a tight table image. If you haven’t played many pots recently, your opponents will perceive you as more of a straightforward player. In that case, you can fire a continuation bet regardless of your holdings.
Weigh Your Relative Hand Strength Before Firing
Consider the relative strength of your hand before firing a continuation bet. If you expect that your hand beats an opponent’s, you should obviously c-bet to build the pot. If you expect that your hand is weaker than an opponent’s, a c-bet is generally a bad play. You can’t bluff an opponent out of a made hand, and you won’t get your made hands paid off by checking it down.
There are some subtleties to consider when assessing relative hand strength. For example, say you hold a marginal hand that you suspect has your opponent’s beat. You also think that your opponent might want to stick around for a draw given the wet board.
In a scenario like this you need to size your continuation bet carefully; your ultimate goal is to make money with this hand however you can. At the same time, you should bet enough to price out his draw and make it unprofitable for him to draw. In that case, you’re happy with either outcome: he folds and you win an easy pot or he chases against the odds.
All said, the continuation bet is a formidable weapon and should be a key part of your poker toolkit. Learn to use it properly from situation to situation and you’ll be mopping up the competition in no time.
Watch Out for the Float
The float is a popular tactic that people use to punish frequent continuation bettors. Opponents who have position on you pull the float maneuver by calling your continuation bet regardless of their holdings if they think you are bluffing. Then if you check to them on the turn, they fire off a bet and steal the pot from you.
The float is a powerful play because it puts you in a difficult situation. If you don’t have a legitimate hand, you’re kind of out of luck. You have no idea what your opponent called with on the flop, and then you’re stuck out of position without a plan on the turn.
The good news is that there are a couple of things you can do to counter frequent floaters. First of all, you need to not continuation bet every single hand. Lower your c-bet percentage. By doing so, you make it more probable that you have a legit hand when someone else tries to float you. By default, this lowers the profitability of floating you.
Secondly, you can pull the occasional check-raise on the flop with a real hand. This move will really make your opponents wary around you. This works especially well if you show down a big hand and win a big pot. You can even checkraise the flop with a bluff every once in a great while. Observant opponents will think twice before floating you.
Third, you can fire the second barrel from time to time. If your opponent calls on the flop, make another bet on the turn. This displays great strength and makes it riskier for your opponent to bluff you. Do this sometimes when you have a real hand and do it other times when you have air. Your opponents will have a hard time justifying the float play if they know you don’t fall into the same pattern every time.
Finally, you can checkraise the turn from time to time. This works the best when you have a real hand. All you have to do is raise before the flop, bet on the flop and then check on the turn. Your opponent will think this is the perfect time to pull off a float. Except when your opponent makes that final bet, you come right back with a big checkraise. If you play in a tough game against a bunch of regulars, it will also be necessary to do this with complete air every once in a while.