C-betting: Patrick ‘Pleno1’ Leonard’s new gap concept

PokerStrategy.com’s Patrick Leonard explains why most poker players continuation bet too often and offers up a more profitable alternative

One of the biggest mistakes I see in online poker is to do with flop c-betting. Regular players have a very big leak of c-betting too much, c-betting too little, folding to too many c-bets or calling too many c-bets. In this article we will cover c-betting on flops with further streets in mind and try to work out what we should do and when we should do it.

The ‘gap concept’ introduced in the Harrington and Sklansky era stated that a player needs a better hand to play against someone who has already raised than he would need to open himself. The gap concept reflects that players prefer to avoid confrontations with others who have already indicated strength, and that calling only has one way to win (by having the best hand), whereas opening may also win immediately if your opponents fold. I have my modern day slant on a gap concept and use it very often both in and out of position when deciding whether to continuation bet or not.

The new gap concept

Let’s think about hands such as J-Ts, 9-9, K-Q, 9-8s, and Q-J. These are all hands you would expect an opponent to call you with preflop. Of course you will also get called sometimes by hands such as small pocket pairs but with tight players you cannot always guarantee it. Because of the grouping of a likely calling range from our opponent it means that we should react differently on different board textures. I use a modern day ‘Pleno1 gap concept’ to avoid betting without equity on boards that contain two cards between a Queen and Eight.

For example, let’s look at two different board textures…

We raise pre flop with…
1) A-K 
2) T-9s and 
3) 5-5

The flop comes down 8-4-2 rainbow… 

We are confident betting A-K both for protection and because it’s likely our opponent doesn’t have a great hand – even if he does call we can potentially get him to fold later. 

With T-9 we will often have a backdoor flush draw but at worst we will have two overcards and a backdoor straight draw, never mind the possibility of being able to represent turn cards such as Aces, Kings and Queens. 

With 5-5 this flop is about as good as it gets without hitting a set and we can comfortably go and make a bet on the flop.

We raise pre flop with…

1) A-K
2) T-9s and
3) 5-5

The flop comes down 8-4-Q rainbow…

We are now not confident betting A-K. If we get called and an Ace or King comes on the turn we potentially have some reverse implied odds. So now we are not comfortable progressing in the hand even if we improve to a pair. If a Two, Three, Five, or Six comes on the turn it is not really going to scare our opponent off hands such as K-Q and Q-J while if the turn is a Ten or Jack then it hits our opponents’ perceived range more than our own. 

With 5-5 and T-9 we have hit a terrible board and now cannot profitably continuation bet either.

The right choice

All I did in these two examples was change one card. We went from 8-4-2 where we were able to c-bet our entire range before changing the Two for a Queen and finding out that suddenly we can’t bet most of our range at all. 

We have logically worked out why but this is not something our opponents are doing. Often, especially when mass-tabling, our opponents will be just automatically c-betting with a ‘one and done’ strategy. This is fine on 8-4-2 boards, but when you are not self-aware enough about different board textures this will become a huge leak and it will be extremely difficult to make those c-bets +EV.

Remember, whenever you put a cent into the pot it has to be because you think what you are doing is going to show a profit. Don’t get into lazy habits. Don’t think, ‘This should be fine’ and don’t take the easy option. Constantly ask yourself how am I going to make money by making this decision? Poker is all about making lots and lots of very small yet accurate decisions.

Barrel away

Another mistake I often see is people failing to recognise which boards you should triple barrel as a bluff. One board I think even very good regulars fail to exploit is triple Broadway boards such as A-Q-J, A-K-J and A-Q-T etc. 

For example, often a regular will decide to raise preflop with a hand such as Q-J. The board will come down A-Q-T and they will be in auto c-bet mode. While I think the best option is instead to check back (as you have a hand that will only be called by better, and you also have a good chance to improve to the nuts) you can still c-bet and get away with it too. 

We decide to bet and our opponent calls. People are generally face-up in poker. Let’s discount some hands that can call multiple barrels in this spot such as A-A, A-K, Q-Q, K-J and T-T. All of these hands are very likely to have either three-bet us preflop or raised the flop. They are now discounted.

Now let’s look at our range. What could our opponent put us on?

A-A / Q-Q / A-Q / K-J / T-T 

Now let’s think of some different ways this board could run out. Very possible board run outs would be those such as;

A-Q-T-4-2 / A-Q-T-9-9 / A-Q-T-8-4 / A-Q-T-6-5

On all of these runouts our opponent is likely to have hands such as K-Q, A-J, A-9, and Q-J: one that may be marginally ahead of us but will likely not be able to withstand a triple barrel. If somebody raises preflop, bets the flop, turn and finally bets the river big I will never call the river with a hand less than two pair. And, as we’ve established previously, it’s incredibly difficult for our opponent to have a hand better than two pair in this spot.

The moral is to think before acting. Don’t be that player who automatically c-bets whenever it is checked to them. Think of your range, think of your opponents’ range and think how the board texture affects both of you. Now think about your plan for the rest of the hand and make sure you have a very solid strategy for making money each and every time you put a chip into the pot.

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