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When Not to Continuation Bet
In this day and age, you'd be hard-pressed to find a poker player who doesn't know what a continuation bet is.
The upsides of the c-bet are obvious: you take advantage of the initiative you gained by raising before the flop and carry it over to the flop with another bet.
Often, you'll win the pot without a fight - making the continuation bet a great tool in a poker player's arsenal.
Where you start running into problems, though, is when you start automatically c-betting every single time you raise before the flop.
Yes, continuation betting is profitable. But not when you do it every single time. There needs to be a middle ground or else you become predictable and, ultimately, exploitable.
So when should you not continuation bet?
Against Multiple Callers
If you raise before the flop and are then called by multiple opponents, your continuation bet will rarely, if ever, work. The more players in the pot, the greater the chance you'll be called in one or more spot(s).
A continuation bet, by definition, is a mini-bluff using the fold equity you've gained by being the pre-flop raiser.
With more players in the pot, your fold equity diminishes and you will be called more often. When there is a high likelihood of you being called, you're better off betting made hands than making bluffs.
Against Calling Stations
For the reasons discussed above, when you find yourself up against calling stations you should frequently be c-betting less. As the old adage goes, you can't bluff a calling station.
Now, that isn't to say you should give it up completely. You need to take your particular opponent into consideration before deciding your optimal play.
If your calling-station opponent is the type to peel the flop very lightly, but then frequently fold to a turn bet, then absolutely, keep continuation betting the flop.
Just be ready to fire another barrel on the turn! These are some of the most profitable players to play against.
Calling stations love to call, so let them. But bet a higher mix of your good hands and keep your bluffs and continuation bets to a minimum.
On a Highly Draw-y Board
Some flops are better than others for continuation bets. If your opponents hit the flop, they're more likely to call. So think about your opponents' range - if the bulk of it nails the flop, you're best off forgoing the continuation bet.
If the board is super draw-y, something like 7♥ 8♥ 5♦, you should almost always be less likely to fire a c-bet with nothing. That's because draw-y boards almost always give your opponent something to like.
If you regularly c-bet this type of board, you're regularly flushing money down the drain.
Remember Your Perceived Range, Too
Try and get into your opponent's shoes. Think about what he thinks you have. If it appears the flop is unlikely to have helped you, you should be less inclined to continuation bet.
An example: you raise from MP and get called by a player on the button. The flop comes 3♥ 3♦ 2♠. Your bet isn't going to be given respect because the vast majority of the time you will have missed this flop completely.
Continuation bets work most often when flops come that look like they would help a pre-flop raiser.
When You Are Out of Position
As always in poker, if you are out of position, things become more difficult.
If you make a habit out of continuation betting and then giving up when called, your opponents will take notice. They will start calling your raises in position, calling your flop bet and just taking the pot away from you on the turn.
If your pre-flop raise is called in position by a tricky opponent, you should generally c-bet less often. It is already tricky to play a pot out of position, and against a tough player it only becomes even more difficult.
When you are in position things become easier because you can more accurately gauge your opponent's hand strength. This means you can continuation bet more often, because you can more confidently fire second barrels when your opponent checks to you on the turn.
When you're out of position you are left guessing, and often end up being forced to check-fold when your continuation bet fails on the flop.
The Recurring Theme
Obviously there is a recurring theme here. The determining factor in whether or not you should fire a continuation bet or not is fold equity.
Simply put, the greater your fold equity is, the greater the likelihood that your opponent will fold, the more you should c-bet.
Once you lose that fold equity, continuation betting ceases being profitable. So stop trying to win every single pot that you've raised before the flop. It's never going to happen.
Take a minute; analyze the board texture, your opponent and his range, and your perceived range.
If all signs point to c-bet, then c-bet.
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