I remember one time in 2007 discussing a painful bust out with a fellow regular. He asked me what happened. “You know how pros can be. Just continuation betting and butting into the hand.”
He looked at me confused. “Shouldn’t you always have a reason for continuation betting? It sounds like you’re doing it too much.”
It sounds like a simple exchange now but back then it opened my eyes. Back then the continuation bet was a given. If you opened preflop you were expected to fire on the flop. Some guys were checking back for pot control, but many of us considered that weak. It gave away when you had a hand. No, the right way to go about it was to continuation bet without a hand and with one, thus blending your range. My friend was the first one to demand reasons. I began asking myself to provide a rationale for every chip I put in the pot. After all, if I could save a bet here and there, that money saved was just as valuable as money earned.
As I began exploring continuation betting theory I was amazed by how much conflicting data there was out there. In this section I’ve done my best to summarize what I find works best for all players, and where the popular theories are ineffective when put into practice.
Continuation Bet Sizing
One topic that never gets discussed as much as it should is bet-sizing theory in regards to continuation betting. Remember our earlier sections in this book, how often each bet needed to work? This really comes into play here.
These are the typical bet sizes I use and why: in position when I continuation bet I will go for half of the pot. Many players are experimenting with 30–40% of the pot. While I think this is fine for certain board textures (which we will discuss later) I think it’s inviting problems in other situations. Since the general amount of a continuation bet in position has been reduced, a regular half-pot- sized bet carries more weight than it used to. The number of folds you get is worth the extra investment. This is the general way we should be thinking about our bets: what kind of “buys” can we make?
Many players like to bet one-third of the pot in position on the flop, regardless of the board texture. This play needs to work 25% of the time. If we bet half the pot the play needs to work 33% of the time as a complete bluff so we need to account for the 8% difference. But many times people are insulted versus a third-sized bet. They play back with 60% of their hands. Yet against the half- pot-sized bet they go, “Okay, that’s a reasonable bet. I’ll fold since I missed.” Since they missed 60% of the time they only play back 40% of the time. In one instance, they fold 40% of the time, and in the other they fold 60% of the time. You needed your bet to be 8% more effective, but you received 2.5 times that! The additional chips invested were a “good buy.”
Another good buy we should make involves when we’re out of position. Many people feel that in position they need to flat the continuation bet with pretty much anything. However, if you bet a little bigger it might jog their mind into a different state: “Oh wait, this is no limit, and there’s more streets to come!” The bet that seems to work well when we’re out of position is a two- thirds-size bet. This needs to work 40% of the time, which is 7% more than a half-pot bet. However, I often find people fold 15–20% more to this size bet.
Some at this point might be asking, “But why do we want a fold?” The answer is usually we do not have anything in No Limit Hold ‘Em. Anyone can win when they get cards. It takes a professional to win when the fish aren’t biting.
In addition to not normally having a value hand when we bet, we also do not want to play our biggest pots out of position. Our positional disadvantage is only as pronounced as how many streets we play. Position isn’t that important when we shove preflop, because we will not be playing the flop, turn, or river. The same is true if we set up a roadblock on the flop. If they only continue with a set of very strong hands then the turn and river can play themselves; you simply check and fold if you cannot beat that.
Another bet we should try to do as a “change up” is to occasionally bet over the size of the pot. There are times when we know our opponent is just dying to take a pot from us. If we know they are going to check-raise and we do not have the chips for a 3-bet bluff then we can bet 1.2x the size of the pot. This bet will need to work just 54.54% of the time, but will frequently work much more often than that. I can count on one hand the players I’ve seen check-raise that bet as a bluff the first time they saw it. The rest thought it was weird, justified folding to themselves by going, “He’s the one making the bad play,” and then put their cards in the muck. Even if they were suspicious there was often nothing they could do about it, because the check-raise or flat they were considered was going to be so expensive.
Board texture plays largely into our bet-sizing selections. Since we cannot break down every different flop I find it’s a better use of our time if we focus on some particular boards that should be played differently.
“Hit-or-miss” boards should be of great interest to us. These are flops where someone has either made a crushing hand or nothing at all. A good example of this is K-K-2 rainbow or A-2-6. These two might seem different, but when we think of the combinations our opponent could have we realize they play in a similar fashion. On the K-K-2 board our opponent either has a king or doesn’t. If they did not 3-bet preflop then it’s not likely they have a big pair. They either made a rare connection or completely whiffed. The same can be said for the A- 2-7 rainbow board. Your opponent has either made an ace or hasn’t.
In a way, these boards can best be understood through what they don’t have. Your opponent could not have flopped a straight draw, a flush draw, or anything but one specific value hand. In the case of the ace-high board an overcard isn’t even possible.
For these reasons the range of hands that our opponent could have is quite narrow. A small bet is more justifiable here. It doesn’t matter if we bet a third of the pot or half. If the guy didn’t connect and he’s not willing to raise then there’s not much else he can do; he’s just going to be forced to fold.
We can also make a small continuation bet on coordinated boards such as 10-8-7 with a flush draw. Of course, this sounds confusing initially, because it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the hit-or-miss boards. Yet, if we think about it, the play makes more sense. If we bet small on that board and our opponent has a set, two pair, or a nut flush draw he is likely going to raise. He will do this for protection in the case of the value hands, or to apply pressure when he has significant equity with a flush draw – equity that will quickly be forfeited if the turn is a blank. He will also be tempted to go after the small bet, feeling that raising it will not look like a value hand, but more a play designed to exploit weakness.
This signifies that our opponent is raising with all his best combinations. If he flats us he has one pair at best. He has few flush draws, because he would have raised many of the ones with overcards. It’s hard for him to have an over- pair if he just flatted preflop. We can still represent many flush draws, over- pairs, and sets. Turn cards that complete the flush or straight draw are likely to hurt his range more than help. Overcards are no great treat either. We can really apply pressure on the turn and river, because he’s told us what he has through this small flop bet.
One caveat. You want to be careful you don’t get in the habit of always using this small bet. Many astute players will ask themselves, “Who really bets this small with a monster hand on this coordinated board?” They’ll raise you more frequently, thus ruining your plans to barrel down. Often, a half-pot-size bet will work just as well for “capping” your opponent’s range, or proving that he doesn’t have any hand that can withstand multiple bets. It’s just nice to save the money when we know our opponent can’t think that far.
Continuation Bet Stats
If the fold-to-continuation-bet statistic of a player is 60% or higher it tells you that he is honest. This denotes a basic player; you miss the board approximately 60% of the time, and this gentlemen seems to be content to fold on all of these occasions. You can look at his check-raising range to see if there are any bluffs in it to confirm that assumption, but generally you’re going to find these players are not tricky.
It is important to find out how players play in different stages of the tournament as well. You can easily double click on their statistics in most tracking software and see how they’re playing in that one particular session. Many players fold 60% of the time overall, but that’s because they fold to everything at the early stages and float every bet at the end of the tournament. The 60% statistic here would be a rather useless average; it describes a style the player is never using. You will see this trickier 60% fold to steal typically in good regulars, but by and large when you see someone’s honest fold-to- continuation-bet statistic it means exactly that – the player is honest.
Versus these styles of opponents I simply bet most of the time. Unless they are adjusting to you there is no reason to adjust to them. To be clear, most poker players just play their game. Especially online, when people are constantly multitabling, there can be little room for personal reads. Many people are just creatures of habit and refuse to make certain plays with particular hands. If they’re not balancing versus you there is no need for you to balance. Bet and cash in your equity.
Many players do not care for this strategy. For example the board will come
A-2♥-4♥ and they will have 5-5 with no heart. They will say, “I should check here, because I am not getting value from anything weaker, and I’m not getting a stronger hand to fold.”
While this is a fine rationale it ignores the fact that we have two more streets to play. If one checks here, a 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, and king hurts the equity of your hand. It is hard to know how people play rivers (there’s just not much data available as they are played rarely), so flatting the turn to get to that street can be a dangerous exercise. It also over-represents our hand; when we check back there it resembles a weak ace. Perhaps king-high would have actually called on the flop, but now they feel you must have needed some showdown value to check back on such an easy board to continuation bet bluff, so they fold.
In a heads-up pot with the honest player it is a good idea to take the money and run. He is weak versus this particular play, the continuation bet. He could be very good on the turn and river. You do not want to take a chance on the
unfamiliar when the data proving your immediate profitability is staring at you. Many players love to check-raise against continuation bets or raise continuation bets in position. You can usually identify them by their check-raise statistic or raise continuation bet number. A check-raise figure of 10% generally indicates an honest check-raiser; you have a set, two pair, or nut flush draw around 1 time in 10. If the statistic is 20% or higher that is more suspicious. You
do not have a hand good enough to check-raise bloat the pot one time in five. Sometimes someone has a fold-to-continuation-bet figure of 60% or more, and a check-raise or raise continuation bet figure of 20% or higher. This means the person can have more value hands in their check-raising or raising range. Presumably, they are not folding when they flop a pair and check-raising or raising when they have nothing, so that large 60% folding range must mostly comprise their bricked flops. Therefore there are more value hands available for their check-raising and raising ranges than bluffs. Players who check-raise or raise top pair (a play many regulars do not care for) often have these sorts of numbers. If however you see a diminished fold to continuation bet, say 50% or
lower, and then a check-raise of 20% or higher, there is more room for bluffs.
It is good to have NoteCaddy in these instances to see if the opponent has ever check-raise/folded or raise/folded. You can set it up so that you can replay every time he has ever check-raised or raised. If that sounds powerful it’s because it is. When I first found out about this feature I got giddy. I kept telling everybody about how you can manufacture Phil Ivey-like recall. This was an incredible advance in online poker. To my surprise many people weren’t keen on
it. Oh well, more money for the rest of us!
It’s wonderfully easy to replay all the times someone has check-raised or
raised and see if he’s ever done so and folded. If he’s done it three or four times on the same type of board and you’re seeing him do it again, you can 3-bet him or call him down with most second pairs or better. You can even set up a 3-bet bluff. Sometimes you can see a guy’s check-raise or raise is 30%+ (astronomical) and you can snap bet small on a real hit-or-miss flop, say A-2-6 rainbow or the like. The aggressor will then check-raise or raise immediately, provoked by the insulting nature of your small bet. “How dare you bet so small and think I will fold!?” It’s only after they’ve put the chips in that they realize they wouldn’t have check-raised or raised top pair here usually. You then calmly put the 3-bet in that you expected to use all along. Seeing as you had a plan to 3- bet him and didn’t seem surprised at all by his action he is taken aback. Most likely you have something. He folds.
It’s even better if the 3-bet amount is something that forces your opponent to 4-bet jam all of his chips. While these players are rare there are a few (usually younger) guys who believe their penis is lengthened if they pull off a click-it- back style bluff. If they see a slightly odd 3-bet on a hit-or-miss board they are more likely to “click it back” or put in a small re-raise.
If you have a smaller value hand that can’t stand a check-raise than perhaps checking back would be a better play. This was where pot controlling originated. PokerStars, Ultimate Bet, and Full Tilt in 2006 and 2007 were rife with players who check-raised constantly to see what would happen. Thinking regs would check the flop with a value hand. The same guy who blindly check-raised the flop was likely to blindly fire turn and river. The player who checked back in position would call down and collect.
There are fewer of these players than there used to be. Many good regulars correctly identify that you have showdown value when you check behind. They then give you no further action. These players are perfect fodder for a delayed continuation bet, but perhaps not the check back.
If you see a player indiscriminately puts out the check-raise and you have a comfortable stack for a 3-bet jam you might want to consider bet/getting it in with your second pair for value, especially if this player is wary of pot control schemes. You can identify these players by viewing the “lead turn versus missed continuation bet” statistic. A figure of 20–40% usually denotes a guy who leads his value hands. If it’s 60% or higher then he falls for the pot control trap. You can further identify whether he check/folds the turn or not by looking at his fold percentage.
There are many players who do not check-raise against a continuation bet or fold but prefer to “float,” which is when you call a bet with nothing with the intention of picking the pot up on a later street. This used to be a play only advanced players would use but is now richly abused by players who just do not want to fold.
Blessedly, it’s fairly easy to come up with a counter strategy for these folks. Usually you will see their fold-to-continuation-bet statistic is 30–40%, but their turn fold-to-continuation-bet figure is 60%+, so the turn is their honest street. They call you on the flop because they believe that play is obligatory. It’s on the turn where they believe you’ll only bet if you have something. Once you’ve passed their test they’ll be fine with letting the hand go.
The problem arises when you do not check the numbers and instead continuation bet the flop and check/fold the turn – the exact strategy you would execute if you were trying to maximize your losses. Either double barrel when you miss or do not bother to fire the flop at all.
Sometimes, you will find the person doesn’t fold flop or turn but has a fold to river bet of 60% or higher. This signifies that the player feels no one really has the moxy to fire the triple barrel. They believe the double barrel bluff has become commonplace, but the river is where the real test is.
Most players don’t want to do it but you have to prepare to triple barrel bluff (preferably versus one of those capped ranges we discussed) or not continuation bet the flop. If you do not have the chips to bet the river comfortably you should not be partaking in this betting escapade.
Occasionally, you see a guy who never likes to fold. Their fold-to- continuation-bet numbers are in the low 30s for every street. It’s actually incredible to see how many “great” players have these statistics. You’ll notice eventually that these guys have been on the scene a whopping one or two years. They’re running above expectation, and their numbers show that they always expect the next card to save them. Why shouldn’t they? It’s probably happened most of the time before.
Take these players to value town. Second pair, third kicker? You’re triple barreling. This guy might very well call you down with a high card.