Continuation Betting: When to Bet and When to Check

Continuation betting is tricky, but it’s something you need to do often. (Image: howtoplaypoker.info)

I remember when I first started playing poker years ago, there were not many continuation bettors. I consider someone like this be one who raises pre-flop and then fires out a bet nearly every time on the flop. These players are difficult to play against because it’s tough to put them on a hand. They could be bluffing or they could have a big hand. When you are consistent with your betting habits, it’s hard to put you on a hand.

That’s why I suggest you become a continuation bettor in tournaments and cash games, online or in a live casino in Texas Hold’em. Aggression pays off. Those who automatically check a flop because they didn’t hit anything don’t win.

Sitting around waiting for the nuts is a losing proposition. First off, you’re not going to be dealt a monster very often in hold’em. And if you don’t mix in some bluffs, no one will call you when you have a monster. Deception is crucial in poker.

With that said, continuation betting isn’t always right. Sometimes the smart play is to check for a few different reasons. Most of the time, however, the best play is to bet the flop if you raised pre-flop. Let’s take a look when to bet and when to check.

It’s a Good Time to Check When…

Position is important in poker, especially in a multi-way pot. If you raised pre-flop and missed the flop heads-up, you can usually feel comfortable firing at the flop. More often than not your opponent will also miss the flop.

But when you’re first to act and have two or three opponents, a check back is almost always the smart play unless you have some sort of semi-bluff type hand (i.e. flush draw, open-ended straight draw) where you have solid equity.

You have to be cautious in multi-way pots. Against one player, the odds aren’t great your opponent hit. But when you are facing two or three opponents and are out of position, you could be wasting money if you throw out a bet with nothing.

Another time to check back the flop is when you have a hand that is so strong it’s unlikely your opponent(s) will be able to catch up. In this situation, checking and hoping they hit top pair or something strong enough to pay you off on the turn or river could work to your advantage.

Let me give you an example. You flop quads on a 8-8-2 board. Obviously, you’re going to win this hand. There’s virtually nothing that can come on the turn and river to crack your hand. But there’s also a good chance your opponent doesn’t have anything they can call with on the flop since you have both 8’s in the hole. Unless he has pocket deuces or a pocket pair, you won’t get any chips out of him.

However, if you check back, there’s a decent chance either your opponent will hit something on the turn or river, or at least bluff at the pot. It’s very important that you get maximum value out of your big hands. If you don’t, how are you going to make any money?

There is one caveat. You shouldn’t always check back monster hands. Sometimes betting is the right play. If you always check back your monster hands after raising pre-flop, your opponents will start to figure it out. But if you mix in a bet from time to time, it will keep your opponents guessing.

Another reason to check is the opponent and board texture. If the flop comes A-K-9 and you have nothing, and your opponent likes to check-raise, that’s not a good board to bet. You shouldn’t always be afraid of a check-raise, but on wet boards against a habitual check-raiser, just take a free card.

One final spot to check is when you have middle or low-pair in position. Let’s say the flop is K-9-4 and you have A4 against two other players on the button. If you bet here and get raised, you have to fold. If someone calls, you’re probably crushed. So it’s best to take a free card and hope to trip-up or hit two-pair.

It’s a Bad Time to Check When…

While I may have made it seem like checking is the best play most of the time, that would be incorrect. Basically every other time, you should continuation bet the flop almost every time.

When you’re heads-up on the flop, even out of position, if the board is dry (i.e. 2-5-10), fire a bet. The chances of your opponent hitting that type of flop after calling a raise pre-flop is slim. Even if you’re up against a loose player, you can still bet because the odds are against any two random cards missing the flop.

How much should your continuation bet be? The standard bet should be around half the size of the pot. So if there is $50 in the pot, you should bet around $25. The bigger the bet, the less likely it is they will call. If you bet too small, you’ll get called most of the game against just about any hand. That’s why I like an in-between bet size. You don’t want to bet too much because if you get raised, you’ll lose too much on a bluff.

Aggression pays off in Texas Hold’em. You should continuation bet at least 75-percent of the time, regardless of your hand strength. You’ll occasionally run into a check-raise or a caller. So be it. More often than not, you’ll get a fold.

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