Continuation betting is the act of making a bet on the flop in a pot that you raised preflop. You are “continuing” your aggression in the hand by betting on the flop, hence the term ‘continuation bet’. By now, most players are pretty aware of the benefits of continuation betting and do so regularly even on flops that they missed. But it’s tricky for players, myself included, to always know when to continuation bet and when not to continuation bet. There are a few factors you’ll want to consider when making this decision.
1. Number of opponents
I’m much more willing to make a continuation bet versus just one opponent than two. And versus three or more opponents, I’ll almost never make a continuation bet with a hand that didn’t improve on the flop. You’re just spewing away money in that case because there’s a pretty good chance one of your opponents likes their hand on the flop and is going to give you resistance. Against two players, you can still continuation bet sometimes, but you want to cut out a sizable chunk of hands you’d make that play with facing just one opponent when you are facing two. For example, if I raised with Ace-Jack and one player in the blinds called, I would probably make a continuation bet on a flop of like King-Eight-Seven. Against two players, I might just check, especially if there is a flush draw on board as this makes the continuation bet even less likely to work.
2. Flop Texture
There will be plenty of times when your hand misses the flop but the flop is still perfectly suitable for a continuation bet. For example, if you raise with pocket Threes and face just one caller from the blinds, you should totally go for a continuation bet on a “dry” flop of Ten-Seven-Two. Even though that flop missed your hand, there’s such a high probability that it missed your opponent’s hand. Additionally, there are only two overcards on the board instead of three which is nice. You can go ahead and bet your pair with confidence. However, on a flop of like Queen-Jack-Nine with two of one suit, I feel like you’re kinda wasting money making a bet because such a high percentage of your opponent’s likely holdings are going to be interested in continuing with that flop.
When evaluating flop texture, you want to ask yourself, “how likely is it that this flop hit my opponent’s hand?” The drier, the better, assuming you are hoping to just win the pot with a bet on the flop. Some “action” flops like Ace-Ace-Nine are good to continuation bet even if you don’t have an Ace since the flop will dissuade your opponent from trying to do anything cute against you. The more poker you play, the better feel you’ll eventually have for knowing what flops are okay to continuation bet and what flops you should just swallow your pride and check-behind on. In general, I would say players have an overall tendency to continuation bet slightly too much. While it is true that you only need a pot-sized continuation bet to succeed one-third of the time or more in order to justify making the bet, I think continuation betting has become almost a little too standard and to be expected. For this reason, I like to mix in check-raising as a bluff sometimes when I call a raise preflop from the blinds. Basically, a good rule of thumb is that you never have to continuation bet and so don’t do it on flops that seem kinda bad just because you think you’re supposed to.
3. Your table image
It’s important to have some degree of awareness of your image at the table. If your opponents view you as some erratic, loose cannon, they will be less likely to fold to your continuation bets. Generally, continuation betting is more likely to work if your opponents perceive you as tight and solid.
4. Stack sizes
It’s important to observe stack sizes when determining whether or not to continuation bet. Continuation bets tend to work best when the players in the hand have medium sized stacks. By this, I mean stacks in the range of about 20-75 big blinds. Less than this and continuation betting can be a bad idea; you don’t want to make the bet if your standard sizing for it is half of your opponent’s stack. I prefer checking with the plan to fold if the turn does not improve your hand and your opponent bets. All too often, when you continuation bet against a short-stack, they will raise all-in leaving you pot committed to making the call with a hand that is clearly beat.
Players with deeper stacks have more maneuvering room to do things like check-raise on the flop as a bluff or call a bet with something marginal like bottom pair or a gutshot in order to see what happens on subsequent streets.
5. Your opponent’s tendencies
It’s good to know a little something about your opponent before continuation betting against them. Some players literally never fold so there’s no reason to continuation bet on flops that badly missed your hand since they’re probably going to call with whatever two pieces of paper they were dealt. It’s better to deal with these “calling station” type players by just waiting to make a hand against them and then punishing them with large value bet after large value bet.
Savvier, thinking players are, ironically, much easier to continuation bet against. The best player to make a continuation bet against are the ones that are only concerned with their own hand and nothing else whatsoever. Since most hold’em hands miss the flop more frequently than they hit the flop, it’s really easy to slowly siphon chips off of players like these due to their lack of creativity.
6. Bet sizing
One final note is to think about the size of your continuation bet. You want it to be large enough that your opponent will respect it as a “real” bet and not just call or raise you with anything. If the size of your continuation bet is equal to or less than the amount you raised to preflop, you can expect your success rate to be pretty low. Your opponent already called one bet larger than that, so why not call again? You want your continuation bet to be somewhere in the range of 20% larger than the size of your preflop raise up to the size of the pot. If you bet the pot or even more than the pot (which for some reason people basically never do in no-limit strangely enough), you can expect your opponent to fold everything but the hands that they legitimately like. Sometimes these larger-sized continuation bets are nice because they are really polarizing. You are sending a strong signal to your opponent that you like your hand, so if they continue with the hand, you can narrow their range down pretty good to only strong stuff and not a ton of speculative garbage. I would definitely recommend mixing in a full pot-sized continuation bet from time to time, certainly sometimes on flops that didn’t even improve your hand, just to keep your opponents off balance.