The Continuation Bet in No Limit Hold’em
By Tony Guerrera
When you’re playing in a fullhanded game, in which many flops are seen with three or more players, you are pretty much stuck in hit-to-win mode because chances are good that at least one of your many opponents has hit the flop. Many fullhanded games, especially at small stakes, can be beaten playing in the hit-to-win paradigm. Not only can they be beaten playing hit-to-win, but playing hit-to-win is the only way to beat them.
Let’s now shift to a shorthanded game or to a fullhanded game in which most flops are contested shorthanded. Unless your opponents give up huge implied odds in postflop play, playing hit-to-win poker will no longer be enough. When you’re heads-up against two opponents, neither you nor your opponent(s) will hit the flop a majority of the time, meaning that you need to have ways of winning besides playing hit-to-win poker. One of the biggest weapons that will enable you to take advantage of this is the continuation bet. A continuation bet is a bet that a preflop raiser makes on the flop when he misses the flop and no one else has bet. Against opponents who fold to your bet unless they’ve hit the flop, a continuation bet is a highly profitable play. Let’s take a look at the continuation bet in action.
You’re playing in a deeply stacked game with $5-$10 blinds. There are six players at the table, and you are the button. UTG (under the gun) opens by calling, and action folds to you. You have AT, and you raise to $50. The blinds fold, and the early position player calls. There is now $115 in the pot, and the flop comes 552. Your opponent checks to you. Suppose you put your opponent on [99,77]||[AQ,AT]||[KQ], and further suppose that he will only call your continuation bet with a pocket pair. Your opponent holds a total of 67 combinations of hole cards; he’ll call with 18 of those combinations, and he’ll fold 49 of those combinations. If your continuation bet is $60, your EV, not accounting for what happens on future betting rounds, is the following:
A Poker Stove calculation (www.pokerstove.com) shows that if you and your opponent were to check down to the river, your equity in the pot would be 39.631%, which amounts to an EV of about $45.58. It might be doubtful that you and your opponent check all the way down to the river, but the point is simply that a continuation bet can substantially increase your EV.
When you are playing shorthanded poker, where most flops are only contested by two or three players, the continuation bet is a powerful weapon-so powerful, that some shorthanded games can be beaten by raising in position preflop with any two cards and then continuation betting the flop when it’s checked to you (and then shutting down on the turn and the river if you don’t have a hand). However, if you abuse this line of play too much, even your worst opponents will catch on. Of course, if they catch on and can’t figure out a good way to counter you, you aren’t in trouble. For example, maybe you’ll lose a small amount of money each hand where your continuation bet is unsuccessful, but you’ll win medium-large sized pots whenever you hit a hand because your hyper-aggressive image will increase your implied odds against unsuspecting opponents.
Some people are under the impression that it’s always necessary to be deceptive to win at poker-these people believe that you can’t win at poker if your opponents know what you are doing. It’s often helpful to be deceptive, and against most players, it actually is necessary‚Ä¶but it’s not always necessary. If an opponent knows exactly what you are doing but is unable to adapt to it, then you will still beat him, despite his knowing exactly what you’re doing. It’s a seemingly obvious concept, but it’s a very important one that many players overlook.
For the opponents against whom it’s necessary to be deceptive, realize that you can’t mindlessly abuse the continuation bet. Here are two circumstances that will decrease the frequency with which you can continuation bet.
Your opponent will check-raise you when he hits the flop, and he’ll also check-raise you as a bluff
If you are continuation betting the flop and then checking the turn when you don’t have a hand, observant opponents will begin calling your bets on the flop with nothing and leading out on the river when you check on the turn
You still need to do some continuation betting against these types of opponents, but you can’t do it all the time. Remember that occasionally continuation betting against opponents like these can set you up to get paid when you actually hit the flop.
Being that neither you nor your opponent(s) will hit the flop in a shorthanded game, you need some other lines of play if your opponent begins to successfully counter the basic “continuation bet on flop and shut down on the turn and the river if miss” strategy. A few options are the following:
Continuation bet on the flop and bet again on the turn if your bet on the flop is called
Execute a delayed continuation bet-when out of position, check on the flop and bet on the turn if your opponent checks behind on the flop, and when in position, check behind on the flop and bet on the turn if your opponent checks on the turn
If you actually hit the flop, make a continuation-like bet on the flop. Then check behind on the turn to induce a bluff from your opponent on the river
With this information, you should be in a better position to compete more profitably in games in which only two or three players see most flops. As always, may your EV be positive!
Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker By The Numbers
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