A lot of players are perplexed when it comes to continuation betting the flop. Some mindlessly fire a static bet size on the flop no matter their opponent and no matter the flop texture. Some bet way too often, some bet way too infrequently.
In this set of articles, I seek to provide a simple road map to get you on the path to more thoughtful and productive c-betting. First, I will focus on flop decisions and building a plan based on your opponent. Second, I will further tailor your c-betting prowess by discussing board textures. And last, we will move beyond the flop and use everything you have learned thus far to master continuation betting the turn and river.
Everything I will write will be from the perspective of someone playing a 50 big blind stack or less, however, the principles apply to any stack size.
Rule number 1 when it comes to c-betting: Know thy opponent.
Assuming you have a reasonable read on the villain, an opponent's tendencies are the number one factor in deciding how to proceed.
There are three major opponent types you should be concerned with; Nits, Calling Stations, and Aggros (I call them Tornadoes in my book) Extreme opponent tendencies can trump other factors in play, namely board texture, when you are making a decision on whether to c-bet the flop or not as well as your bet sizing.
These guys are generally fit or folders. If you know that your opponent folds often to c-bets, then you should be c-betting nearly your entire range every time on every board.
The only time I will not c-bet against these guys is if I hold the nuts and feel there is way too much value in giving him some rope. If their hand is strong on the flop, it is likely the money will go in on the turn anyways, so not much value will be lost by taking this approach.
Overall, against nits, you should be betting any non-nut holding, because the immediate amount won by your c-bet is way too high to consider any other line. Their excessive fit or folding makes c-betting near 100% almost always the most profitable play.
You also do not have to bet large against these players. I suggest that you stick to a fairly generic 1/2 pot bet with your entire range against them. Although I do advocate betting large on the turn if the flop checks through with you holding a nut hand. This is done to set up a larger river bet to get more of your stack in the middle over two streets just in case they picked up a hand they like.
The main stat to look for in these guys is if they fold to c-bet more than ~60% of the time. If these players are to your left, you should be opening two cards in order to see as many flops as possible against them. Then sit back, and watch the red line soar.
"Do not bluff a calling station" yada yada yada. We've all heard this one probably more than any other poker phrase, besides maybe "one time!" with "that's sick!" coming in a close third. The latter two we can do without, but the first rings true through all poker eras.
A calling station is someone who is the eternal optimist. They cannot let go of a pair or any hand they feel has a chance to improve to a winner by the river. If they have an under pair, they dream of hitting that magical set by the river. If they have a gut shot, they drool at the though of hitting a straight and taking down that monster pot. Care not do they what the size of the bet is. Sometimes I think these guys have downloaded a glitched version of the poker site software that has no fold button.
So what do you do when someone calls down with nearly their entire range? You widen your value range considerably and remove almost all bluffs and semi-bluffs from yours. Since these hands rely on fold equity to make money, the fact that you will have little against stations makes betting with air pointless. Besides building a pot with a big draw, there is really no reason to ever bluff/semi-blufff a station. Period.
I know it can become frustrating when these guys call you down with third pair and then drag the pot with their crappy two pair they binked on your when the river comes down. But even so, this will only happen a small percentage of the time. Just because you only remember the times they sucked out, does not mean it is a bad thing when it happens. Try not to forget the other 9 out of 10 times that you value bet them into oblivion and slowly took their stack away from them. You should gladly exchange one big loss for nine nice wins.
Loose passive players are the single biggest source of profit in the game.
Let me repeat that.
Calling stations are the largest source of profit in poker, as long as you adjust properly. So to be specific here are a few things you should do as a matter of course when up against a guy with no fold button.
- C-bet only made hands, but widen the amount of made hands you bet. I am talking about bottom pair here included, even Ax/Kx high on a very dry board. In position, your plan should be to bet all strong hands as well as your showdown value hands, with the plan to check back the latter on the river.
- Bet your strong hands, IE. top pair or better larger than normal. 3/4 pot should be about right. Try to get as much money in the pot to leave the smallest amount possible to shove the river with, so that your chances of getting called increase.
- If you have a high equity non-made hand, tend to bet smaller oop in order to set a cheaper price in which to draw. Then turn up the heat if you make your hand. But forget about a triple barrel if you whiff, it's a big spew. When in position, tend to take the free card since you have no fold equity anyway.
- If you flop overs to the board, checking back is usually best ip or check-folding oop is fine, since they will give you a free card frequently anyways. By doing this in position, you are giving yourself ~40% chance of making a pair with your big cards instead of the ~33% chance you had of flopping one. Whatever gives you the best chance to get a made hand versus these guys is the route you should take.
- If you get raised by a calling station and do not have AA beat, you should be folding almost always. They are called calling stations for a reason, if they ever suddenly get aggressive, it's almost always the nuts.
- If you have a completely hopeless hand, your best play is usually just to give up and move on to the next hand. This is why you should be skewing your opening range to hands with high card strength when you have a calling station behind you. Small connectors go way down in value when up against a calling station. On the other hand, pocket pairs go up in value.
- If you are out of position and have value bet a marginal made hand for two streets, if the river is a brick this is a good spot to check-call. In my experience, the only place a calling station will get aggressive is if they miss their draws and it gets checked to them on the river. They have all watched the WPT way too much and have heard "the only way he can win, Vince, is by betting." This is a great spot to snap off their bluff with any piece of the board.
No-Limit Hold'em, $0.50 BB (6 handed)
Hero (SB) ($14.50)
BB ($42.44) 57/4/19; Folds to c-bets 25%
Preflop: Hero is SB with Qs, Ah
4 folds, Hero raises to $1, BB calls $0.50
Flop: ($2) 8s, 10c, 5c (2 players)
Hero bets $1, BB calls $1
Turn: ($4) 8h (2 players)
Hero bets $1.50, BB calls $1.50
River: ($7) 4d (2 players)
Hero checks, BB bets $5.50, Hero calls $5.50
Total pot: $18 | Rake: $0.90
Hero had Qs, Ah (one pair, eights).
BB had Js, 9s (one pair, eights).
Hero won: $17.10
Spotting a calling station is easy. Look for someone with stats of 40+/2 or someone who folds to C-bets less than 40% of the time.
Play incorrectly against these guys and money will flow out of your account rapidly. But if you make the correct adjustments, there is a gold mine of profit to be had.
Aggros or Tornadoes
Players that like to check-raise a wide range or relentlessly float you in position present another set of problems. They are similar to stations in that they do not often fold to c-bets, except these guys also use their raise button and understand the concept of pressure and fold equity.
Adjusting in position is a lot easier than adjusting out of position against these guys. I advocate taking much more passive lines in position, just as you do against a calling station. Except that I suggest that you do not bet your marginal hands. Instead, give these players a chance to fire the turn and river with their entire range, which will inevitably include a lot of bluffs.
I prefer to c-bet a polarized range against aggro players. I will only c-bet hands I am willing to stack off with and hands that have absolutely no current value nor little chance to improve. I will sometimes also check behind with big draws and then shove over any turn lead made by these players. There will be so much air and marginal holdings in their range, that you will have a huge amount of fold equity.
Out of position is a bit trickier. I like to lead out with a polarized range and use a check-shove line with all made hands 2nd pair or better as well as draws including at least 8 outs. Two overs and a gut shot or a pair and a gut shot counts as well. By playing your hands this way, you will be using your opponents aggro nature against him.
As far as bet sizing goes against aggros, I recommend making bets that appear weak when you have a strong hand and bets that look strong when you are weak. Unless you gain significant history with an opponent, you do not need to worry about balancing. These types of players look to pounce on weakness, but then tend to shy away when someone appears strong. Therefore, I like to c-bet my strongest hands for half pot or even just under half pot as sometimes this will induce a bluff raise. I follow a one and done strategy with my complete airballs but size my bets at about 3/4 pot to feign strength and maximize fold equity.
Depending on the site you play, most of the time you will not have a super strong read against opponents. So when readless, my generic approach is usually as follows:
- If the field I am playing against is overall very weak, I play my strongest hands like I am facing a station and relentlessly bet fairly large.
- I tend to shy away from running multiple barrel bluffs without a strong read.
- If the players at the site or stake seem to be fairly tough, I will play my hands as if up against an aggro and polarize my ranges.
- I play my strong draws like I am up against a maniac, and go for check shoves out of position and tend to take my free card in position. I then tailor my turn decision based on their bet sizing, if they decide to lead the turn. We will cover turn play in depth in the next installment.
Against players that are balanced, I suggest that you play against them much as you would against an aggro. Just remember that these guys can use finesse as well as they can employ aggression.
My biggest advice, is if at all possible, do not play with these guys on your left. And if you are forced to due to other positive factors (big fish on right), then remember to understand the overall table dynamic and realize that these guys will be trying to isolate the fish just like you are. This scenario creates very interesting situations. But these discussions are best save for another day. For now, focus on the three extreme player types as well as unknowns and you will be fine.
Overall, I feel that making c-betting decisions is simplified when you make assumptions about your opponents based on history or HUD stats. Any flop strategy carries through to the river depending on what cards come and how you expect your opponent to play on later streets.
In the next article, we will discuss fine tuning your reads based on the cards on the flop, and how they will influence your betting lines and bet sizing. This will all be leading to the last installment, where I will show you how to extend your flop plan through to the turn and river, and react to the actions of your opponents as well as the runout of the board.