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Attacking Bad Continuation Bets

by Ed Miller |  Published: Mar 04, 2015

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Ed MillerBy now, everyone knows about continuation bets. You raise preflop, and you get a call or three. The flop comes, and because you are presumed to have the strongest set of hands as the preflop raiser, you go ahead and bet the flop whether you hit it or not.

These days, even the nittiest regular players use continuation bets. But not every flop calls for a continuation bet from every hand. There’s some subtlety to whether you as the preflop raiser should fire away or whether you should be more cautious.

First, let’s consider if you just bet every single flop every time as the preflop raiser. You open for $30 in a $5-$10 game, and one player calls you. The flop comes, and whether you are in or out of position, you always bet $50 on the flop.

What does that $50 flop bet say about the strength of your hand? It says absolutely nothing, since you do it with every hand no matter what.

So in one sense, what you’re doing if you bet every flop is you are betting $80 against your opponent’s $30. You’re laying him odds—and pretty juicy ones at that. When he calls your $30 preflop, he knows that he’s going to get at least another $50 from you if he flops something. If he catches a bad flop, he’s only out $30.

Laying odds in this way isn’t so bad if your preflop hand range is so much stronger than the hands he would call with. But in many situations, on many flop textures, this assumption doesn’t hold. When the wrong player calls or the wrong flop comes, the advantage you held as the preflop raiser can disappear completely (or even flip to your opponent). If you, oblivious to this turn of events, persist in betting 100 percent of the time, you are just hanging that flop money out to dry.

In actual play, I regularly see players make the error of continuation betting with too many hands. Attacking these bets is a regular part of my game.

Here’s an example. A player opens for $20 in a $2-$5 game, and I call in the cutoff. The blinds fold. There’s $47 in the pot, and two players see the flop.

It comes 8Club Suit 6Club Suit 2Spade Suit. The preflop raiser bets $30. There’s a good chance this is a bad bet.

It’s potentially bad for three reasons. First is the strength of my hand range. It’s not reasonable to assume that the preflop raiser actually has the stronger set of hands in this situation. He can have A-A, and I’m unlikely to, since I would typically reraise that hand. Similar logic goes for K-K. But beyond that, I can have many strong hands from Q-Q and A-K to hands like K-Q suited and A-10 suited.

Some tight raisers will have on average the better set of hands, but many looser raisers won’t. They’ll have some hands in there like A-9 offsuit and K-7 suited that are significantly weaker than anything I’m calling with in the cutoff.

The bottom line is that it’s certainly no slam dunk that the preflop raiser holds the stronger hand range in this situation.

The second problem is my position. Specifically, I have position on the raiser. When he originally put the $20 in the pot, it was not settled yet whether he’d be playing his hand in or out of position. Once I call and the blinds fold, he knows that he will be out of position. This is a bad outcome for him, and theoretically it should affect his betting strategy on the flop, encouraging him to play more cautiously.

The final factor is the flop texture. This sort of flop – 8Club Suit 6Club Suit 2Spade Suit — is what I call a very dynamic flop. A flop is dynamic when the winning hand is more likely than average to be made on either the turn or river. When flops come with a low high-card (an eight is an uncommonly low high-card), the turn or river are likely to produce an overcard that could affect the outcome of the hand. Furthermore, this flop also contains flush and straight draw possibilities. The turn and river cards, almost no matter what they are, are unlikely to be “bricks.”

Dynamic flops like this one add value to the player with position and remove value from the player out of position. When new cards are likely to affect who wins the hand, the information advantage you have from acting last is magnified.

The bottom line? In this hand, the preflop raiser caught a bad break when a tight player like me called in position. He caught a further bad break when the flop was dynamic, which adds value to my position.

This player’s situation could be even worse if he limps in sometimes preflop and raises other times. If he splits his hand range like this, instead of simply raising with all hands, he will tend to have low cards like eights and sixes less often when he raises and more often when he limps. Since he raised here, this would give me a clue that he missed the flop.

Basically, from the moment the preflop raiser put his $20 into the pot, everything has been going wrong for him. This should encourage him to check many of his hands rather than continuation bet with them, since he likely no longer has an advantage.

But I assume most $2-$5 players are unaware of these factors. If they raise preflop and get only one caller, in or out of position, they tend to continuation bet most flops against most players.

When I see an opponent bet on a flop like this, there are two main possibilities. First, my opponent could be aware that he should be checking many hands, but this time he happens to hold a strong hand worth betting. Second, my opponent could be simply unaware that he should be checking, and he is merely betting because he raised preflop.

In general, at $2-$5 I will assume that the second scenario is far more likely. Fewer players are aware than unaware, and strong hands are also rare. So, to assume the first scenario would be to assume two uncommon things are happening simultaneously. The second scenario is considerably more likely.

Once I’ve identified a potentially bad continuation bet, what do I do? I raise. It’s the first thing to try, and if you read these situations correctly, it’s startlingly effective.

You can also “float.” That is, you call the bet—even if you don’t have much hand yourself. Then, you let a turn card come and see what your opponent does. If he shows some weakness, you bluff.

Both strategies are effective, and you can use each situationally.

Continuation bets make sense when the preflop raiser retains an advantage after the flop. They can be expensive liabilities, however, when the preflop raiser is unaware that he’s lost the advantage. Once you learn to identify bad continuation bets, attack them. ♠

Ed’s newest book, No-Limit Hold’em Made Simple will be available soon at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.