What is a C-Bet?
The basic idea is that when you raise before the flop you are telling the table "I like my hand, and I am willing to play for more money." Then, when the flop comes, your c-bet says "I still like my hand." As the aggressor your opponent will usually fold, forfeiting the pot. Continuation bets are very effective because most poker hands miss the flop most of the time.
When your opponent just flat-calls they have no initiative in the hand. You are the aggressor; you're saying that your hand is better than theirs. Both of you are likely going to miss on the flop. But, when they check and you bet, you've basically said you're good twice. So they'll often fold if they don't catch a piece of the board.
To C-Bet or Not to C-Bet?
There is so much dead money in the average pot from players making weak calls before the flop. These same players will fold the flop in the face of continued aggression. With all this dead money there is a ton of value to be had by c-betting a high percentage of the time.
But: A high percentage of the time - doesn't mean every time!
If your opponent knows you're firing a c-bet every time you raise pre-flop, they can trap you with impunity. Because they're certain that you're going to bet. You can never do one thing 100% of the time in poker - it is too exploitable.
When you fire a continuation bet you want your opponent to fold. You want to take advantage of being the pre-flop raiser and you want to collect the dead money those times your opponent misses. You have to realize that for firing continuation bets, some boards are better than others.
What is a Good C-Bet Situation?
The best flops to continuation bet are ones that are likely to have helped your hand. When you raise before the flop your opponent is likely to put you on big cards.
When the big cards come on the flop your bet will often win you the pot. Boards with aces or kings on them always make great continuation-bet situations because most opponents are going to think that they hit the pre-flop raiser.
Also, flops that are unlikely to have helped your opponent make for great c-betting. If you think about what kinds of hands your opponent is likely to call with before the flop, chances are a flop like T♥ 3♠ 5♣ isn't going to hit his hand that hard. That means in that case, he'll be more than willing to give up when you c-bet.
When you find yourself heads-up on the flop after raising you should be continuation betting a high percentage of the time. Your single opponent will miss the flop completely so often, you should be continuation betting all but the most dangerous boards.
How Big Should a C-Bet Be?
Since a continuation bet is really just a small bluff, you want to be economical with your bet sizing. You want to bet enough to get your opponent to fold. But you don't want to risk unnecessary chips those times that you do get called. Also, you have to risk becoming too predictable. Both your continuation bets and your value bets should be of similar size. If you bet less when you c-bet and more when you value bet, good opponents are going to catch on. So you should:
- Bet the right amount to get the job done without risking too many chips and without giving away too much information
A bet of two-thirds the pot flop bet is a good standard to have. It's economical, as it will be more than enough to collect the dead money. And it will also be enough to start building the pot those times you do have a real hand. Thus not giving out information unnecessarily.
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. However, you'll start running into problems when you automatically c-bet every single time you raise before the flop.
When C-Bets Stop Being Profitable
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?
When Not to Continuation Bet
There are, of course, bad flops to continuation bet. When the flop is likely to have helped your opponent or gives him a reason for calling, you should often skip the c-bet. After all you're hoping he will fold, so continuation betting boards he'll likely call is just giving money away.
You can never know for sure which boards help your opponent and which don't. It's an educated guessing game: you have to think about what your opponent is likely to have called with and the likelihood that he will stick around. If either of those are high, then don't bet.
If the flop comes down rich with draws you're better off checking than betting. For example, a board like 8♥ 7♥ 9♦. There are so many hands that your opponent could be calling with before the flop that hit this flop, and you're going to get called or raised so often, you're better off just checking.
Also, if you find yourself against multiple opponents you should be less and less likely to c-bet. Again, c-bets are meant to pick up the dead money without any trouble. The more people see the flop, the greater the chance someone will want to see a turn.
When Not to C-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.
When Not to C-Bet: 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. 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 likely to peel the flop lightly, but 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.
When Not to C-Bet: On a 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 they think 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 Not to C-Bet: When You're 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 notice. They'll start calling your raises in position, calling your flop bet and 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's already tricky to play a pot out of position, and against a tough player it's even more difficult. When you're 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're left guessing. And often end up being forced to check-fold when your continuation bet fails on the flop.
If All Signs Point to a C-Bet ...
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. Basically, the greater your fold equity, the greater the likelihood your opponent will fold, and 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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