Poker Strategy: Keeping the Control in Holdem - The Continuation Bet

Poker Strategy: Keeping the Control in Holdem - The Continuation Bet 0001

You hold {a-Spades}{k-Spades}, and your pre-flop raise is called by the small blind. The flop misses you, coming {q-Hearts}{10-Clubs}{7-Hearts}, and the small blind checks. You check behind, and the board on the turn becomes {q-Hearts}{10-Clubs}{7-Hearts}{7-Clubs}. The small blind leads out with a big bet……..

What do you do? The answer is that it is very difficult to know what to do. Your ace-king high hand could well still be the better hand, but equally your opponent could have three sevens and have you drawing dead. You have lost control of the pot.

The way to avoid this difficult decision on the turn is to take control of the pot with a continuation bet on the flop.

A continuation bet is a bet on the flop when you have raised before the flop. It is made regardless of whether you have hit the flop or not.

The reasoning behind a continuation bet is that most flops miss most hands. If you have two high cards, for example AK, there is only a 1 in 3 chance that you will hit a pair or better on the flop.

Why is it such a strong weapon?

Equally, if our opponent is playing two different cards, he will miss the flop 2 times out of every 3. This means that a lot of time a hand like AK-high is actually ahead, and we will take down the pot with a bet. Moreover, there are times when our opponent holds a weak hand like a small pair, or the bottom pair on the board, and will fold the better hand. In the example above, an opponent with {8-Diamonds}{7-Diamonds} will often fold on the flop, as he holds only the bottom pair on a threatening board - you will have successfully bluffed him

The continuation bet combines claiming the pot when your are ahead with bluffing your opponent off some weak hands.

How much should you bet?

The right amount to bet is usually around two-thirds of the pot. It is important that your continuation bets are of about the same size as the bets you would make with a strong hand, so that your opponents cannot easily read your play.

Of course, we do not need to be holding a hand as strong even as AK-high. If we have raised before the flop with J10 off-suit, and the flop comes Q72, it is very effective to make the same bet. The continuation bet depends not so much on the strength of our hand, but on the possible weakness of our opponent's.

Problems with the continuation bet

Again, you hold {a-Spades}{k-Spades}, and the flop comes {q-Hearts}{10-Clubs}{7-Hearts}. You make a continuation bet of 2/3 the pot, and your opponent check-raises. You now should fold because your AK-high hand is weak. Our opponent probably has connected with the board, and we have denied ourselves a chance to outdraw him. Moreover, he may occasionally have bluffed us with a hand weaker than AK-high, and caused us to make a mistake.

When not to use a continuation bet

The potential problems, however, do not stop the continuation bet being a very effective weapon. It just should not be used all the time, and here are some scenarios where you might avoid using it.

1) There are multiple opponents in the pot.

With more players in the pot, the chance of at least one having a good piece of the flop increases dramatically. With three or more other players in the pot, your chances of taking the pot down are too slim; prefer to check behind.

2) Your opponent is a "calling station", or is very aggressive

Against a player who rarely passes, the weapon loses its effectiveness. The main player to avoid using the bet against, however, is a player who is very aggressive, and is capable of check-raising with nothing.

3) The board leaves you one card away from a good draw

Where you hit a very good draw on the flop, it is almost always right to be aggressive with a bet. A good example would be holding {a-Spades}{k-Spades} on a {q-Spades}{10s{7-Hearts} board; you hold the nut flush draw and gutshot straight draw. Even if your opponent check raises, your outs mean that you can afford to call.

One stage below, however, is when the board leaves you one card away from a good draw. For example. you hold {a-Hearts}{q-Hearts} and the board comes {j-Hearts}{5-Spades}{2-Clubs}. An ace or queen on the turn would give you top pair and probably the best hand, a heart the nut flush draw, and even a 10, King, 3 or 4 a straight draw.

If you were to bet and get check-raised, you would not be able to justify calling. You would lose your chance to see a wide range of cards on the turn ,which could improve your hand. I would in fact choose to play this hand in a more deceptive way. Let's say you check behind, and then hit one of your drawing cards (e.g. the king of hearts) on the turn. If your opponent leads out with a bet, raise him. To check the flop and back raise the turn may scare your opponent, and cause him to think that you have slow-played a big hand on the flop.

4) The flop comes with a pair on the board.

Again, you hold {a-Spades}{k-Spades}, and the board shows this time {j-Hearts}{j-Spades}{2-Clubs}. Your opponent checks, and you bet. A good opponent will tend not to believe that you have a jack, and therefore may believe that you are bluffing. He may see a good opportunity to check-raise himself, and bluff you off the pot. Although your AK-high may well be the better hand, it would be very difficult for you to call. Indeed, if your opponent continues to bet, you could face another difficult decision on the turn with just ace high.

Once again, a cunning way to play this hand may be to check behind on the flop, and become aggressive on the turn. With this stronger-looking play, your opponent is far more likely to fear you have three jacks.

5) The board shows an "action-flop"

A few "action flops" are just too dangerous to become involved with, as it is too likely that your opponent has a piece of the board. For example, you hold {a-Spades}{k-Spades}, and the board comes {j-Hearts}{10-Hearts}{9-Hearts}. There are just so many hands with which your opponent will retain a big interest in the pot, and may well check raise, that you should probably give up and check behind.

Ed note: Stuart Rutter is a regular on the EPT circuit and the sponsored professional at 32Red Poker - join today for a $500 bonus when you deposit

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