Continuation betting

You’ve got a cracking hand, you’ve made the bet and the flop… well, the flop ruined it all. What now? Here we’ll teach about the continuation bet and how it can save the day:

Why make a continuation bet?

In a nutshell, a continuation bet is when you bet before the flop because you've got a good hand, then a useless trio of cards appear and you bet again – rather than checking or folding – to maintain the illusion that your hand is still a strong one. The reasons for this are simple:

  1. You don't want to give the other players the impression that you were riding on the flop paying off for you
  2. You want to make the second bet in the hope that people will potentially fold in the face of your confidence

It's a powerful move when used appropriately, which allows you to win a lot of pots that you aren't entitled to, simply because you have shown strength. However, many players misunderstand the theory behind the continuation bet, believing it should always be half the size of the pot. This isn't the case.

How much?

In cash games and tournaments with deep stacks, a half-pot-sized continuation bet often isn't big enough to get the job done. If the bet doesn't threaten to take a serious chunk out of their stacks, opponents will often call you with marginal hands such as flush draws or middle pair, hoping to get lucky and bust you. They might even call hoping to bluff you later in the hand – an absolute disaster for you.

Thus, you'll find that when making a continuation bet, it's best to ensure that your post-flop bet is big enough to really put the fear into all but the most confident players – regardless of what cards they're holding.

There's a significant advantage to playing this way, given that it's a very context-sensitive tactic so you won't be doing it repeatedly and labelling yourself as predictable, and that you're going to be able to make most players back down relatively quickly, ensuring you can rake in a few easy pots as the game or tournament continues.

Let's take a look at an example. You sit down at the table, and you're dealt an A♠ and a K♥. These are good cards to start with, and at this point you've no idea what the flop will be, so you go in confident and make the bet. Not a colossal one, but enough to show that you're confident in your cards.

Then the flop comes in and it's all low cards (2-7-4) that are of no use to you. Show no fear, as now the continuation bet is placed – one significantly larger than your opening bet. What that says to you is “I'm taking a risk,” but what that says to those playing with you is “this player's just had their faith in their cards confirmed, and it might be wise to let this one go.”

The benefits of a continuation bet

Showing strength, in a variety of ways over the course of a game of poker, is very valuable to you because you're building a confident image of someone who bets well when the odds are in. Of course, continuation betting on every single hand is going to let you down eventually as people will realise you're just taking risks in an effort to intimidate. But doing it when you've got a hand like the one above – strong, high cards but no pair – is wise as it's almost impossible that it'll happen every time you're dealt a pair of cards.

The only thing worth bearing in mind with a tactic like this is the huge amount of risk you're taking. As mentioned above, your continuation bet (a chunk of your chips large enough to make it look like you've got serious faith in your hand) plus your pre-flop bet means you are down a worrying amount of chips should someone call you on your bet with a better hand than yours.

It's a bold move, and one that you shouldn't be willing to make unless you can play as well short-stacked as you can when you've got a stack big enough to try a daredevil bluff like this one. But when it works, it's like all moments in poker when you pull something off like you're a member of Ocean's Eleven. The continuation bet is a master bluffer's tool – make use of it.