Poker Tips & Strategy: To C or Not to C & Continuation Bets

Gerald Hanks

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 3:40 PM GMT

One of the key factors that leads to success in no-limit hold'em is “selective aggression”. Smart players know when to push the action against weak players and when to hold off against stronger opponents. A powerful tool in the arsenal of a selectively aggressive player is the continuation bet. Players, writers and fans often argue about the effectiveness of the continuation bet, as the tactic can be an expensive one in the wrong hands.

What is a Continuation Bet?

The continuation bet (“c-bet” for short) gets its name because a player makes a continuation bet on the flop after he has raised pre-flop, regardless of whether the flop actually improved his hand. The continuation bet is a common practice among low-level to mid-level players, although some expert players use the tactic infrequently. 

Purpose of Continuation Bets

The purpose of a pre-flop raise is often to represent a strong hand.  Just as with the pre-flop raise, the continuation bet can also cause opponents to re-evaluate the relative strength of their hands. The continuation bet allows the player to tell his opponents a consistent story. “My hand was strong pre-flop,” the continuation bet says, “and it's still strong now, so back off!”

When to Use Continuation Bets

The texture of the flop often determines the effectiveness of a continuation bet. Since most flops miss most hands, and if the flop is fairly dry (no obvious straight or flush draws), the c-bet can dissuade an opponent from continuing in the hand. Also, the appearance of an ace on the flop with two non-connected, non-suited low cards can also present an opportunity for a c-bet, especially against an opponent with a high pair such as kings or queens. 

How Many Opponents?

The effectiveness of a continuation bet is often determined by the number of players who called the original pre-flop raise. If the raise was large enough to leave only one or two opponents, then a c-bet is in order. With three or more callers, the pre-flop raise did not serve its purpose in thinning the field. The betting odds are quite good than at least one caller caught a piece of the flop, so a c-bet is only effective if the player made a monster hand on the flop and wants to grow the pot. 

Drawbacks of Continuation Bets

Since one of the purposes of c-bets is to narrow or eliminate the field of opponents, they are not useful against players labeled as “calling stations”.  These players often don't know or care what the opponent is holding; they only want to chase their draws. Loose-aggressive players (“maniacs”) are also poor targets for c-bets, as they will interpret the raise as a challenge. These players would rather play “chicken” than poker, so chasing them off with a c-bet is a losing and expensive proposition.

Continuation bets give the player a strong “table image”, in that opponents believe that every pre-flop raise has some legitimacy. Players can use c-bets to push off opponents, grow the pot and portray strength without the need to show down a hand.

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