We all know about the importance of aggression in poker, perfectly timed aggression is in fact the hallmark of an accomplished player. But too many players these days see poker on television or read about it from books and then either confuse what the author is really trying to say or they learn a particular tactic and then go overboard with it and end up trying too hard to be fancy.
One of the most misplayed situations in the game when it comes to no limit hold’em cash games is knowing when to continuation bet. Here many novices are confused by the situation and numerous questions fly through their head like “should I bet again because if I don’t then my opponent will think that I am weak” or something like “I have raised with junk and missed and the board is all high cards, my opponent must have a piece of that board….do I bet or check?”
There are countless more scenarios and countless more questions that pollute the poker players thoughts and in this article I will give some guidelines to help you out in what is a potential minefield for many players. The worst scenario for our rookie is when he raises pre-flop with a hand like 7h-6h for instance. The flop comes something like 9c-3s-2d. His opponent checks to him and he fires out a bet of about two thirds of the pot and his opponent calls quickly.
Now what is he to do? Betting again on the turn could get expensive and his opponent could be check calling with a very strong hand or something mediocre that he will not be run off with. Questions, questions and yet more questions and with the accelerated pace of online poker, not enough time for answers.
Well let us take a closer look at that last example by looking at all of the available data that we have at our disposal to come to a decision about continuation betting or not or whether to fire another barrel on the turn. The first thing that you need to be taking a look at is your table image. You may say that this is not as important if you are playing online but don’t bet on it.
Your opponents will still be watching you even online and this will certainly be the case the higher up the limits you go. So if you have not been raising much or you have been raising a lot then your opponents are going to be formulating data on you and many of them will have Poker Tracker or Poker Office. So they will begin to try to put you onto some kind of a range before long.
So let us say for example that you have not been involved in much action and decide to deviate your play somewhat by raising with the 7h-6h from the cut off in a $10-$20 no limit 6 max game. Despite the fact that you have not been raising much, your opponents to your left are still going to be putting you on a fairly wide range as the opportunity to steal has arisen by the first two players folding to you.
So they could easily be putting you on a hand like ace rag or Q-10, K-9 etc. So you need to keep this in your head when the flop comes and you need to assess the thoughts of the opposition so that you can form a plan for how to take this pot from the flop onwards. Right so you raise to $70 and the button folds along with the small blind but the big blind calls making the pot $150 and the two of you both have $2000 + stacks.
I do not like the big blinds play here but that is a different story. Your pre-flop raise has been called by the big blind and now the flop comes 9c-3s-2d. Right, so you have missed the flop and the big blind checks to you. Well he is not really going to take you for connecting with that pot but that does not mean that you should check it back.
One of the main factors on whether you should continuation bet or not is the number of opponents that you are up against. In this case it is only one so you only have to get through this one single opponent to take the pot down. Despite the fact that you have missed and that your opponent will probably think that you have missed as well, you really must continuation bet this flop.
The reasons are that the pot is still small and your opponent may feel it is not really worth the trouble putting you to the test by coming over the top or by calling. They could also be so weak with their own hand that they will just simply give up when you continuation bet. This happens a lot of the time in heads up situations but the fact of the matter is that you simply cannot win the pot on the flop by checking it back can you?
So I would fire out a bet here of between two thirds to three quarters of the pot depending on what I thought that I could get away with and I may even go as far as half pot. So I would bet in the region of $110 into the pot. I would just like to point out here that if my opponent folded and a similar position came up again then I might try him with a continuation bet of $100 next time or even $95 or $90 as this allows me to put less money at risk to win that $150 that is in the pot at this stage.
So I bet $110 on the flop and the big blind calls that bet as well making the pot now $370. So what are we to make of this? They could be slow playing a monster but that is unlikely given the mathematics of the situation although you cannot rule out any possibility from happening and I see players lose their stacks all the time because of running into big hands that they perceived in their own mind were too remote to even consider.
But a more common factor for the call would tend to be that your opponent simply does not believe you and could just be taking you for overcards at this stage. He could be looking to see just how serious about this pot you really are. If they had a piece of this board then chances are that they would have played back at you on the flop as they would have feared an overcard coming on the turn had they held a hand like A-9 for instance or any pair for that matter.
But when you have been called on the flop then many turn cards actually make it easier for you to fire a second barrel than others. For instance, if the next card is a king or an ace or even a queen for that matter then your opponent who put you on overcards on the flop is really going to look at that card and be fearful if it has not helped them.
With a board of 9c-3s-2d-Ad or 9c-3s-2d-Kd then the turn card has greatly changed things as it is far easier for me to represent that high card having been the pre-flop raiser. Also if you have not been overbearingly aggressive before the flop and have a normal table image then you can pull off firing a second barrel in situations like these a good percentage of the time and you will take the pot down except on the occasions where that turn card has actually helped your opponent or because they had already hit the flop strongly.
But I see an awful lot of players online who freeze up from firing a second barrel when all the signs are there for them to do it and be successful. I also view the flip side of the coin as well and see players firing a second and even a third barrel in totally fruitless situations and end up bluffing their entire stack off. Anybody can be aggressive in poker and there is far more to continuation betting than merely betting again on the flop after you have raised pre-flop. The pro’s know when to do it and when not to do it while the pretenders keep on guessing and throwing money away.
You must take into consideration how many opponents you are up against, the type of board that is out there and what story you have been telling your opposition by the way that you have been playing. If you can do that then with a little practice, knowing when and when not to continuation bet will get a whole lot easier and the dollars will start to flow your way. Anyone who wishes to discuss any part of this article can do so either onthe forum or through my website at www.pokersharkpool.com.
Carl “The Dean” Sampson can also be found playing free poker