So… you raised before the flop and got called. Now, you are faced with the most common post-flop spot in poker; a continuation betting decision. Even today, many players are still perplexed when it comes to c-betting. Some mindlessly fire a static c-bet size on the flop, with a complete disregard for their opponent or the flop texture. Others get the sizing right but end up betting with an incoherent frequency.
In this article, I seek to provide a simple road map to get you on the path to more systematic and productive continuation betting. My goal is not to give you all of the answers, but rather give you a good starting point to develop your own c-betting style. First, I will focus on flop decisions and how to build a plan based on your opponent. Then, I will further tailor your post-flop prowess by discussing how the board texture affects your decisions.
Continuation Betting Rule #1: Know thy opponent
Assuming you have a reasonable read on the villain, an opponent’s tendencies is the number one factor in deciding how to proceed. Any flop strategy carries through to the river depending on what cards come and how you expect your opponent to play on later streets. First off, remember that a lot of our c-bet decisions are made before we even enter pots. Make sure you are planning your hands and considering the table dynamic before recklessly getting involved in a pot with marginal hands. Often, in many situations, you are better off playing a tighter range that flops well, especially when you are likely to get involved with a particular player who is difficult to play against.
Indeed, extreme opponent tendencies often trump all other factors when it comes to c-betting. In fact, before making any decision, we must always consider who we are involved in the hand with. To that end, let’s cover how to counter the most common player types you will face. To make things simpler, I will group them into three major categories: those who fold post-flop with a high frequency (Nits), those who don’t fold often (Calling Stations, and those who play back aggressively (Aggros).
Adjusting to Nits
This player category includes opponents that are generally fit or folders and will give up after the flop with an exploitably high frequency. In fact, if you know that your opponent folds often to c-bets, then you should be c-betting nearly your entire range every time on every board. The general exception is not to c-bet while holding the nuts.
Often, there is way too much benefit in giving a tight opponent a chance to catch up a bit or even stab at the pot on the turn. Losing a bit of value on the flop is not a huge concern. If their hand is strong on the flop, it is likely that it will still be strong enough on the turn for the money to go in any way. Otherwise, you should be betting any non-nut holding because the immediate amount won by your c-bet is way too high to consider any other line. Their excessive fit or folding makes c-betting near 100%, almost always the most profitable play.
When it comes to bet sizing, you typically do not have to bet large against these players. I suggest that you stick to a fairly generic 1/2 pot bet with your entire range. However, I do advocate delayed c-betting large on the turn if you hold a nut hand. Turn continuing ranges will be fairly narrow and the size of your bet will not likely matter whether they decide to see a river card. You want to be able to set up a larger river bet to get more of your stack in the middle, just in case they turn or river a hand they are able to see a showdown with.
To identify a nitty player the main stat to look for is if they fold to steals greater than 70% of the time and c-bets more than around 60% of the time. Try to sit to the right of these players and plan to open any two cards. Then sit back, and watch your red line soar.
Adjusting to Calling Stations
Loose passive players are the single biggest source of profit in the game if you make the correct adjustments. However, if you play incorrectly against these guys, the money will flow out of your account rapidly. I’m sure anyone reading this has heard the expression, “do not bluff a calling station.” Indeed, we’ve all heard this one quoted more often than any other poker phrase, maybe with the exception of “one time!” or “that’s sick!” The latter two we can do without, but the former rings true throughout all poker eras.
I like to think of a calling station as someone who is an eternal optimist, a common trait among newer players who think poker is a game of making hands. They cannot let go of a pair or any hand they feel has a chance to improve to a winner by the river. If they have an underpair, they dream of hitting that magical set by the river. If they have a gutshot, they drool at the thought of hitting a straight and taking down that monster pot. Care not, do they, what the size of the bet is. When playing against them online, sometimes I think these guys have downloaded a glitched version of the poker site software that comes with no fold button.
So, what do you do when someone calls down with nearly their entire range? Since bluffs and semi-bluffs rely on fold equity to become profitable, betting with air is pointless. Therefore, the simple answer is to widen your value range considerably and remove almost all bluffs from yours. Against sticky players, your marginal hands go way up in value since they are calling down with such a wide range.
I know it can become frustrating when these guys call you down with third pair and then drag the pot with their crappy two-pair they binked on you when the river comes down. But even so, this will only happen a small percentage of the time. It’s human nature to only remember the times they sucked out and not the other 9 out of 10 times that you value bet them into oblivion while slowly taking their stack away from them. You should gladly exchange one big loss for nine nice wins.
Here are my top 7 adjustments you should make against Calling Stations.
- C-bet only made hands, but widen the amount of made hands you bet
I am even talking about bottom pair here or Ax/Kx high on a very dry board. In position, your plan should be to bet all strong hands as well as your showdown value hands, with the plan to check back the latter on the river.
- Bet your strong hands larger than normal
When you hold top pair or better, increase your bet sizing substantially to at least 3/4 pot. Try to get as much money in the pot to leave the smallest amount possible to shove the river with, so that your chances of getting called on the river increase.
- Playing Draws
When in position, tend to take the free card since you have no fold equity anyway. Out of position bet small in order to set a cheaper price in which to draw, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/3 to 1/2 pot. If you happen to make your hand, turn up the heat and bet large. If you miss, forget about a triple barrel since it’s a big spew.
- Pot Control More Often
If you flop overs to the board, checking back is usually best in position. Out of position, check-folding is fine, since they will often give you a free card anyway. By checking back in position, you are giving yourself ~40% chance of making a pair by the turn with your big cards instead of the ~33% chance you had of flopping one. The moral of the story is that whatever gives you the best chance to get a made hand versus these guys is the route you should take.
- Believe Their Raises
If you get raised by a calling station and do not have AA beat or have a massive amount of equity, you should be folding almost always. They are called calling stations for a reason, if they ever suddenly get aggressive, it’s almost always the nuts.
- Alter Your Opening Range
When it comes to building an opening range in low fold equity environments, the best adjustment is to tighten up a bit and enter pots while holding hands that have good “flopability,” or frequent showdown value. Skew your opening range to hands with high card strength, like Ax and Kx, and pocket pairs, due to their inherent showdown value (they are nearly always a made hand on the river). Also, tend to exclude weaker disconnected hands or ones that rely on making infrequent strong hands to profit, such as suited connectors. A solid stealing range would be something like 22+, Ax, K92, Q9, J9, T9.
- Induce Aggression
If you are out of position and have value bet a marginal made hand for two streets, this is a good spot to check-call if the river is a brick. In my experience, the only place a calling station will get aggressive is if they miss their draws and it gets checked to them on the river. They have all watched the WPT way too much and have heard “the only way he can win, Vince, is by betting.” This is a great spot to snap off their bluff with any piece of the board. Below is a good example of a hand played versus a Calling Station.
No-Limit Hold’em, $0.50 BB (6 handed)
Hero (SB) ($14.50)
BB ($42.44) 57/4/19; Folds to c-bets 25%
Preflop: Hero is SB with Q♠, A♥
4 folds, Hero raises to $1, BB calls $0.50
Flop: ($2) 8♠, 10♣, 5♣ (2 players)
Hero bets $1, BB calls $1
Turn: ($4) 8♥ (2 players)
Hero bets $1.50, BB calls $1.50
River: ($7) 4♦ (2 players)
Hero checks, BB bets $5.50, Hero calls $5.50
Total pot: $18 | Rake: $0.90
Hero had Q♠, A♥ (one pair, eights).
BB had J♠, 9♠ (one pair, eights).
Hero won: $17.10
Adjusting to Aggros
Players that like to check-raise a wide range or relentlessly float you in position present another set of problems. They are similar to stations in that they do not often fold to c-bets, except these guys also use their raise button and understand the fundamental concept of pressure and fold equity.
As with anything in poker, adjusting versus aggressive players in position is a lot easier than adjusting out of position. In position, I advocate taking much more passive lines just as you do against a calling station. The exception is that I suggest not betting your marginal hands. Instead, give these players a chance to fire the turn and river with their entire range, which will inevitably include a lot of bluffs. Much of the time, you can profitably call down with just about any made hand.
On the flop, I prefer to c-bet a polarized range against aggro players. In other words, I will only c-bet hands I am willing to stack off with or hands that have absolutely no current value nor little chance to improve. I will even check behind with big draws and then raise any turn lead made by these players. There will be so much air and marginal holdings in their range, that you will have a huge amount of fold equity. If called, you have typically set up a profitable river bluffing situation.
Out of position, a c-betting strategy is much trickier. My general philosophy is to employ a counter-punching strategy. On the flop, I like to lead out with a polarized range and use a check-raise line with all made hands, 2nd pair or better, as well as draws including at least 8 outs. Two overs and a gut shot or a pair and a gutshot count as well. By playing your hands this way, you will use your opponent’s aggro nature against him and simplify everything in the process.
As far as bet sizing goes, I recommend making bets that appear weak when you have a strong hand and bets that look strong when you are weak. Unless you gain significant history with an opponent, you do not need to worry about balancing. These types of players look to pounce on weakness but then tend to shy away when someone appears strong. Therefore, I like to c-bet my strongest hands for half pot or even just under half pot as sometimes this will induce a bluff raise. I follow a one and done strategy with my complete airballs, but size my bets at about 3/4 pot to feign strength and maximize fold equity.
What If I Am Up Against an Unknown?
Depending on the site you play on, most of the time you will not have a super strong read against opponents. Over the past few years, I have played much of my volume on Bovada or Ignition, which are anonymous sites. When readless, my generic approach is usually as follows:
- If the field I am playing against is overall very weak, I play my strongest hands like I am facing a station and bet fairly large.
- I tend to shy away from running multiple barrel bluffs without a strong read.
- If the players at the site or stake seem to be fairly tough, I will play my hands as if up against an aggro and polarize my ranges.
- I play my strong draws like I am up against a maniac, and go for check-raises out of position and tend to take my free card in position. I then tailor my turn decision based on their bet sizing, if they decide to lead the turn.
Handling Strong Regulars
Against players that are balanced, I suggest that you play against them much as you would against an aggro. Just remember that these guys can use finesse as well as they can employ aggression.
My biggest advice is to avoid playing with these guys on your left, if at all possible. However, if you are forced to due to other positive factors (like a big fish on your right), then remember to understand the overall table dynamic and realize that these guys will be trying to isolate the fish just like you are. This scenario can create very interesting situations. The most obvious is to look for good situations to 3-bet or squeeze against them when it’s obvious that they have expanded their range to isolate a weak player.
Take this hand, for example:
$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 6 Players
UTG: $57.58 (57.6 bb) 75/10 Fish
MP: $105.05 (105.1 bb)
CO: $223.20 (223.2 bb) Aggressive reg
BTN: $45.41 (45.4 bb) 40/2 Fish
SB: $129.75 (129.8 bb)
Hero (BB): $30 (30 bb)
Preflop: Hero is BB with A♥ 6♥
UTG calls $1, MP folds, CO raises to $2.25, BTN calls $2.25, SB folds, Hero raises to $30 and is all-in, 2 folds, BTN calls $27.75
Flop: ($63.75) 5♠ 2♣ 8♥ (2 players, 1 is all-in)
Turn: ($63.75) 9♥ (2 players, 1 is all-in)
River: ($63.75) 6♠ (2 players, 1 is all-in)
Results: $63.75 pot ($3.18 rake)
UTG mucked Q♣ 9♦ and lost (-$1 net)
CO mucked K♦ 9♣ and lost (-$2.25 net)
BTN showed A♣ 5♥ and lost (-$30 net)
Hero showed A♥ 6♥ and won $60.57 ($30.57 net)
The aggressive reg isolated the limper and then was called by another fish on the button. This spot was way too juicy for me to pass up with my suited Ax hand. The run-out is rather comical and I ended up having the best pre-flop hand anyway.
Continuation Betting Rule #2: Read The Board
Once you have a default plan for playing against the various player types out there, you will then need to tailor your strategy based on the board texture. For the purposes of this article, we will focus only on dry and wet boards and leave the in-between ones out. However, for your info, on “gray area” boards I tend to err on the side of dry in heads-up pots and wet when multi-way.
Navigating Dry Boards
There are generally two adjustments you should make on really dry boards:
- Increase Your Bluffing Frequency
On dry boards, you should tend to increase your c-bet bluffing frequency, since ranges are less likely to connect. Of course, remember that thinking opponents will understand that you might be bluffing wider on these boards, so plan accordingly.
- Play More Two-Street Poker With Made Hands
Consider “slow playing” stronger hands, especially against non-fishy opponents. Your hand needs to be strong to stack off on these boards against most opponents since value ranges will be much narrower due to fewer holdings connecting with it. Therefore, you should play for two streets of value with reasonably strong made hands and go for delayed c-bets with your nut hands. Since your opponents will have a lot more air in their range, they may go out of their way to bluff dry boards since they feel no one likely hit the board and, if anyone did, they would have bet the flop.
To illustrate these concepts, let’s look at a fairly straightforward hand on a dry board.
$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 6 Players
BB: $43.75 (43.8 bb)
UTG: $91.31 (91.3 bb)
MP: $29.30 (29.3 bb)
Hero (CO): $25 (25 bb)
BTN: $85.90 (85.9 bb)
SB: $47.72 (47.7 bb)
Preflop: Hero is CO with A♣ T♣
2 folds, Hero raises to $2, 2 folds, BB calls $1
Flop: ($4.50) 6♦ T♥ 2♣ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $2.25, BB calls $2.25
Turn: ($9) 3♦ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $4.50, BB calls $4.50
River: ($18) K♦ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks
Results: $18 pot ($0.90 rake)
BB showed A♦J♠ and lost (-$8.75 net)
Hero showed A♣ T♣ and won $17.10 ($8.35 net)
Since we can expect to get raised on the flop a lot by worse Tx hands, we can confidently bet-fold the turn. The river is an easy check back since it’s hard to get called by worse.
However, against aggro opponents, you will not want to slow play dry boards. These players love to bluff raise dry flops since they understand you have a much narrower range for connecting. Let’s take a look at a hand against an aggressive regular.
$0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 5 Players
Hero (MP): $16.30 (32.6 bb)
CO: $96 (192 bb)
BTN: $28.10 (56.2 bb)
SB: $33.30 (66.6 bb)
BB: $60.35 (120.7 bb)
Preflop: Hero is MP with J♣ A♣
Hero raises to $1, 3 folds, BB calls $0.50
Flop: ($2.25) 3♠ J♦ 5♣ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $1.62, BB raises to $4, Hero raises to $15.30 and is all-in, BB folds
Results: $10.25 pot ($0.50 rake)
Hero showed J♣ A♣ and won $9.75 ($4.75 net)
BB mucked K♠ 4♠ and lost (-$5 net)
The big blind was run 32/27 with 45 aggression factor. This is not the type of player to get tricky with top pair. Checking back and raising the turn is an option, but because of the likelihood of getting raised or floated is high in this spot, betting is the superior choice. In hindsight, just calling the flop raised would have been much better on this board. I am not sure why I wanted to blow him off his bluffs so quickly. I guess we live and learn.
Now let’s check out a delayed c-bet:
$1/$2 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 4 Players
BB: $275.72 (137.9 bb)
CO: $312.35 (156.2 bb)
Hero (BTN): $57 (28.5 bb)
SB: $309.35 (154.7 bb) 26/22/42, Aggro Reg
Preflop: Hero is BTN with T♣ 9♦
CO folds, Hero raises to $4, SB calls $3, BB folds
Flop: ($10) 8♦ T♠ 3♥ (2 players)
SB checks, Hero checks
Turn: ($10) 5♦ (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $8, SB calls $8
River: ($26) 4♠ (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $9, SB raises to $30, Hero calls $21
Results: $86 pot ($3 rake)
Hero showed T♣ 9♦ and won $83 ($41 net)
SB showed 7♦ 7♠ and lost (-$42 net)
Against a good reg, I decide to play the flop a bit tricky and check back. My plan was to either call both his turn and river leads or go for two streets of value if he checked the turn. I followed through with my plan, but surprisingly, he check-raised the river. Against a more passive player, this would be an easy fold.
However, against an aggressive regular, I decided to call since his line didn’t seem to make any sense. What exactly would he check-raise the river with that would not have led the turn? Sure, 67 would have bet the turn with no showdown value and an open-ended. The only other hand that made sense was 44, so I called based on his range being way too narrow for me to fold.
The main takeaway from this hand is that by playing passively on the flop, I obtained additional value from my opponent.
Adjusting to Wet Boards
On dynamic boards, exactly the opposite is true in regards to bluffing frequency. While c-betting in position on 100% of boards is usually profitable, you may want to choose a few holdings to give up on when the board is excessively wet. Boards like QJT, J98, T86 will show a low c-bet success rate; if your holding has absolutely no potential to improve, you should consider checking back and just giving up with a high frequency.
With made hands, one of my favorite lines that I employ in position on wet boards, is to check back some tier 2 and even some tier 3 hands and then raise a turn lead from my opponents. This has the effect of punishing the weaker parts of your opponents range that would have often folded to your flop c-bet. It also reduces your overall c-betting frequency, increasing the effectiveness of your c-bet bluffs. First, let’s look at a fairly strong Tier 2 hand.
$0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 6 Players
BB: $68.21 (136.4 bb)
UTG: $62.41 (124.8 bb)
MP: $50 (100 bb)
CO: $65.51 (131 bb)
Hero (BTN): $10.86 (21.7 bb)
SB: $50 (100 bb)
Preflop: Hero is BTN with K♦ A♣
3 folds, Hero raises to $1, SB folds, BB calls $0.50
Flop: ($2.25) A♦ 9♥ 7♥ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks
Turn: ($2.25) 8♣ (2 players)
BB bets $2.50, Hero raises to $9.86 and is all-in, BB calls $7.36
River: ($21.97) J♣ (2 players, 1 is all-in)
Results: $21.97 pot ($1.22 rake)
BB showed 8♦ Q♦ and lost (-$10.86 net)
Hero showed K♦ A♣ and won $20.75 ($9.89 net)
We can expect our c-bet success to be fairly high on this board. There are a ton of hands we do not want our opponent to fold. Furthermore, we do not have to worry about making our opponent “pay to draw,” since he would likely raise the flop often with a flush draw. If the flush came in on the turn, so be it, he would have gotten there anyway. By checking back the flop, we accomplished several things:
- We disguised the strength of our hand
- We allowed our opponent a chance to improve in some way
- We gave him a chance to put money in the pots with his air
- We simplified our decision (Imagine Flop: we bet he calls, Turn: we bet he raises)
Now let’s look at a more marginal hand under similar circumstances:
$0.05/$0.10 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 5 Players
Hero (BTN): $4.92 (49.2 bb)
SB: $18.32 (183.2 bb)
BB: $11.99 (119.9 bb)
MP: $10.15 (101.5 bb)
CO: $9.85 (98.5 bb)
Preflop: Hero is BTN with 3♠ 3♥
2 folds, Hero raises to $0.20, SB folds, BB calls $0.10
Flop: ($0.45) 5♠ 9♥ 8♥ (2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks
Turn: ($0.45) 4♠ (2 players)
BB bets $0.21, Hero raises to $0.42, BB folds
Results: $0.87 pot ($0.04 rake)
Hero mucked 3♠ 3♥ and won $0.83 ($0.42 net)
BB mucked and lost (-$0.41 net)
This is one of those hands that are consistently misplayed by most players. Many people would just go for a bet-fold or even check back with the intention of giving up. Either line leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
While there are a ton of hands in our opponent’s range that somehow connect to this board, we also are ahead of a lot that does not. Some hands like QJ, JT, T7, or even overs with backdoor flush draws may semi-bluff this board, while others like 44 may raise to see where they are. So what should our goal be with this hand? Or, put another way, how do we neuter our opponent and make him play straightforward?
Our goal with hands that are often ahead that can’t take the heat of a raise should be to get to showdown as cheaply as possible, and in the process, force our opponent to turn his hand face up. How do we do this? By checking back the flop and then raising a turn lead!
Imagine you are the opponent holding a draw. Since a turn raise usually means strength, we likely wouldn’t have enough fold equity or pure equity to just jam it in, so now we are forced to play guessing games and make a bad call or fold, a crappy result with so much equity. What if, instead, you had a piece of the board? When facing the possibility of further aggression by an opponent on the river, many players will just pitch 2nd pair or worse into the muck and move on. Either way, this is a great result for us!
To sum this hand up, our line accomplishes 4 things:
- We neutralize our opponents flopped draws when we check back as we can’t get semi-bluffed off our equity;
- We sometimes force better hands to fold the turn by flexing our in position muscles;
- We get our showdown value hand to showdown more often; and,
- We once again get value from our opponent’s air that bluff leads the turn.
In conclusion, our post-flop c-betting frequencies and bet sizing is largely dependent on our opponent and the particular board texture. Making c-betting decisions is simplified when you make assumptions about your opponents based on history or HUD stats. Therefore, learning how to adjust to the opposition is key to improving the quality of your decisions. I recommend that you spend a good portion of your study time improving your ability to profile your opponents for better standard adjustments and hand planning.
Any c-betting strategy should be a consequence of these factors as we manipulate our lines to maximize our profit. I challenge you to study your opponents and form your own creative standard c-betting strategies, and then fine tune your lines based on game flow, history, and logic. I have given you but a glimpse into a few of my thought processes. Let me know what you come up with.