Cost counting

Continuation bets should be part of every player’s game – but failure to take into account other factors can result in disaster

Experienced players can smell out a continuation bet a mile away and will often call, and sometimes raise, regardless of their hand

One of the most commonly used tactics in poker is the continuation bet. This is when a player makes a pre-flop raise and then makes a bet on the flop, regardless of whether he connected. In theory, this is a very simple concept, but can be rather tricky on certain flops or against certain players. Experienced players can smell a continuation bet a mile away and will often call, and sometimes raise, regardless of their hand, looking to take the pot right there or outplay the original raiser on the turn or river.

There are many factors to consider when employing this tactic. For example, how many players will call your original raise? What types of players are they? What is your/their position on the table? How many chips do you have? Are you playing against short stacks or the big-stack at the table? What are the blinds? Obviously, you need to carefully choose the right time to utilise such a technique. The number of players that you’re facing is a particularly relevant factor. If it’s heads-up, study the texture of the board, take into account your position and try to find a reason to bet. If they bet into you or make a strong re-raise against you, find a reason to fold. It stands to reason that the more players you’re facing, the more difficult it is to pull off a continuation bet. If you get four callers pre-flop, it’s more than likely that the flop hit at least one of them. You need to give credit to the one who calls your flop bet and therefore be less inclined to continue firing at them – especially if the board is scary.

Your opponent’s playing style is another pertinent issue in that you have to be careful, especially if you’re playing against calling stations or maniacs. The main idea behind continuation bets is that you’re trying to get everyone to fold. If you know a player is simply going to call every bet you make when they have any pair, then you need to take yourself off the hand after your flop bet. Similar reasoning should be employed against maniac play. Let maniacs bet out with nothing and don’t be afraid to check-call them all the way down to the river. Often they’ll flip over complete trash and you’ll win simply by virtue of having high cards. For the most part, however, if you have the guts to bet the flop, turn and even the river sometimes, it is a great method for picking up a lot of pots without having a piece of the flop.

What not to do

Obviously there are times when this strategy should be well left alone, and here’s an example: recently, at the WPT’s Festa a Lago tournament at the Bellagio, I made a huge mistake when trying to use this betting sequence. I started day two of the tournament extremely short-stacked with only 8,000 chips and the blinds were at 400/800 with a 100 ante. From this critical position, I managed to build my puny stack up to 40,000. By this time the blinds were 500/1000 – still with a 100 ante. A hand was folded to me and I was holding J-10 offsuit, two behind the button. I made it 2,500 to go and was called by only the button. We had been playing about two hours and from what I could ascertain of his play, he was rather tight. The flop was A-4-6 rainbow – a complete whiff for me. However, it is very rare that I make a pre-flop raise and don’t bet the flop – especially a flop like this, where I can easily represent an Ace.

This is a good time to note how important table image is, both yours and your opponent’s. I had already pegged the caller as a tight player, and know that my image is pretty tight as well. So, when I fired out 2,500 chips and he called me, I should have realised he must have had a decent piece of the flop to call me.

Given this flop I did not think he had picked up a draw, as he would have had to call me pre-flop with a 5-7 or 2-3. When an offsuit 9 landed on the turn, I fired again with a 5,000 bet. Boy, was I disappointed when he called. Worse still was the realisation that I had dumped 10,000 into this stupid pot with no pair and no draw. This is a prime example of what not to do (we’ll go over exactly why later on).

The river brought a 10, giving me second pair. This put me in a real quandary. I took a moment to try and really put him on a hand. Considering he had called me down thus far, but never raised, I believed he must have had an Ace since I had already ruled out the idea of a 5-7 giving him a busted draw. I deduced that he probably had A-J or A-Q because I had made that smallish pre-flop raise and assumed he was the type of player who would raise me back with any type of strong hand; like a pair of 9s or better, A-K, and obviously Aces, Kings, or Queens.

He didn’t seem like the kind of player to call me with a weak Ace – which brought me to the conclusion that he had a pair, an A-J or A-Q. It wasn’t a small pair though – after all he called my flop and turn bet. At this point, all signs indicated A-J, A-Q and perhaps Jacks. Whatever the case, I was quite certain I was beaten, even with my pair of 10s. So when I checked, he looked surprised and bet 9,000. Dejectedly, I folded and wondered how my continuation strategy went awry.

Where did it all go wrong?

My first mistake was betting the turn. After he called a tight player’s (me) pre-flop raise, I should have given him credit for a hand, since he was a tight player himself. Then, when I bet the flop and he called, I should have dropped the hand immediately. Clearly, I had no shot at this pot since I had no pair and not even a draw.

Everything indicated he had an Ace. However, I continued this bad play by making mistake number two: betting the turn. While I did not do the right thing by dropping my hand after he called the flop, it would have been much better to at least have check-raised the turn. Rather than betting out, this play would have looked much stronger. While it was bad enough still being involved on the turn, it was even worse betting out – this play is quite dangerous, and is why check-folding on the turn is a much better option. But for a stubborn player like me, you may as well play it strong. Either way, it is a very high risk play because he may have a set or an Ace.

This whole situation was also a disaster because of the amount of chips I lost. One of the most important factors to consider when betting like this is how many chips you have. You need to have considerably more chips than most of your opponents. At that stage in the tournament I could not have afforded to risk so much without a hand or even a draw. This brings me back to the initial assessments I should have made before betting the turn. My caller was a tight player with approximately 50% more chips. After betting 2,500 on the flop I should have folded purely because I was most likely beaten and also because I would need to bet the turn. The 5,000 on the turn would add up to 10,000 wasted chips on this hand. It was not a good decision to put myself in such a position with the blinds so high and my stack down to 30,000.

On many occasions you will make money by using this strategy. If the blinds are 50/100 and you make it 300 before the flop, bet 300 on the flop, then 600 on the turn – in the long run, you’ll win a lot of chips. However, you cannot always employ such a method. Factoring in your chip count and other circumstances proves this strategy is dicey. You can have the same two cards and an identical flop, but the situation will be very different depending on your chips, your opponent’s chips, your opponent’s table image and everything else that has an impact.

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