Choose the right time for Continuation Betting by Jon Turner

Continuation betting has become so common in No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments that many players no longer give it any respect. They will often call your bet on the flop, whether or not they actually have anything, just to see what you’ll do on the turn. Because continuation bets have lost so much value, you should be wary of making this bet if you don’t have much of a hand, and, even if you do have a hand, you should occasionally check behind just to mix up your play.

When deciding whether or not you should follow up a preflop raise with a bet on the flop, you should consider a variety of factors, including the texture of the flop, the number of players involved in the hand and the tendencies of those players, but here I want to talk about how your use of the continuation bet needs to change as a tournament progresses.

In the early stages of a tournament, you should be much more willing to make a continuation bet on the flop because you generally won’t be risking as high a percentage of your chip stack as you will in later rounds. Losing an extra 80 chips when the blinds are 10/20 and you have 3,000 isn’t going to hurt you all that much. You should be especially willing to make this bet after flopping a set or top two pair because in these situations you really want to build a pot.

However, if you flop a medium-strength hand like top pair with an average kicker you need to employ much more caution. Let’s say you raise before the flop with J-10 suited, and the flop comes J-7-3. If your opponent checks to you, you should also check. You don’t want to build a big pot in this situation because your opponent could easily have K-J or Q-J, just the sort of hands weaker players like to play early on in tournaments.

Checking behind your opponent will also disguise the strength of your hand, allowing you to extract value from it on later streets. If your opponent has a medium pocket pair like 6s or 10s and you check behind on a J-7-3 flop, you’re more likely to get a call out of him if you bet the turn and, if a scare card hits the board, you can simply check behind once again.

Another advantage of checking behind your opponent after flopping top pair is that in the future it will allow you to check behind on flops that don’t connect with your hand without giving away the fact that you’re weak. Doing this will also keep the pot small enough that you won’t feel committed to it if your opponent plays back at you on the turn.

If you do make a continuation bet on the flop in this situation and your opponent check-raises you and you call and he bets the turn, you’ve helped build a large pot when all you have is a medium-strength hand. Calling your opponent down could cost you half your stack, if not more, and the only hand you can really beat is a total bluff.

The way you should play this hand will change after the antes have come into play in the latter stages of the tournament. If you’ve flopped top pair with J-10, you’re up against a single opponent, and you have less than 25 big blinds in your chip stack, you’re going to want to follow up your preflop aggression with a bet on the flop for two reasons.

First, you don’t want to give a free card to somebody who might be holding a hand like A-Q or K-Q. Second, some players will think you’re making a continuation bet with nothing, and if they’ve got a medium pocket pair they might check-raise you all-in, giving you an excellent chance to double up. Just remember that if you’re going to make a continuation bet in this spot, you have to be willing to go all the way with your hand because your bet is going to commit you to the pot.

In general, the further along you get in a tournament the more caution you need to use when making a continuation bet, but even in the early stages you want to be careful because many players will try to bluff you off your hand with a large check-raise. Checking the flop will allow you to avoid this trap and, if you have a medium-strength hand like top pair, often proves to be a more profitable play in the long run.

Jon ‘Pearljammed’ Turner