Continuation Betting and Your Position at the Table by Jon ‘Pearljammed’ Turner
When deciding whether or not to make a continuation bet on the flop, a critical factor is your position at the table.
Let’s say you raise before the flop from under the gun and get called by the big blind. You should make a continuation bet the vast majority of the time, whether the flop helped you or not, because your preflop raise from the worst position at the table suggests you have a very big hand. By the same token, your opponent’s call before the flop doesn’t signify nearly as much strength because he was getting a big discount to call from the big blind. If he checks to you on the flop, you should make a continuation bet at least 90 percent of the time, mixing in a few checks when you have a hand like A-J or A-Q and flop top pair with your ace.
Now let’s say you make a preflop raise on the button and get called by the big blind. You still have position on your opponent, but he’s probably not going to give you any credit for having a strong hand because stealing from this position is so common. There’s a chance he might check-raise you with absolutely nothing, so you should be much more inclined to check after your opponent checks, especially if you actually have a decent hand like pocket eights on a J-7-3 flop or A-K on a Q-J-5 flop.
In the latter situation, you would be better off checking and taking a free card with A-K because you’re likely drawing to ten outs and, even if you don’t improve, your hand is still strong enough to have showdown value on the river. If you do decide to make a continuation bet and get called, you can be sure your opponent has a better hand than yours. You should then take a free card on the turn, which will give you another shot at hitting one of your outs on the river.
Because most players view continuation bets as steal attempts in this situation, you should be prepared to go all the way with your hand whenever you’re short-stacked and connect with the flop. For example, if you only have 20 big blinds in your stack, you raise from the button with Q-10 suited and the flop comes Q-J-5, you need to be willing to get all your chips into the middle of the table. You should make a continuation bet most of the time, but occasionally you’re going to want to check behind in this spot in order to disguise the strength of your hand.
Now if you had 30 big blinds in your stack in the same situation, you might want to check behind because you’re a little too deep to entice an opponent who has a jack to want to put you all in. If you check, most of the cards that fall on the turn won’t hurt you. Only an ace, king, or jack would give you much concern. Having disguised the strength of your hand, you can then bet for value on the turn and the river. Your turn bet will get called by many hands worse than yours, including most small pocket pairs. If your opponent checks to you again on the river, you should continue to bet for value, but if he leads out with a bet you should just call. If you raise, you’re only going to get called by a better hand than yours.
Now let’s turn it around and say you’re out of position. You raise before the flop from middle position and get called by the button. Now you’re in much more of a bind if you make a continuation bet because, if your opponent calls, you’re going to have to act first on the turn and if you check the turn your opponent will often pounce on that perceived weakness and make a large bet.
However, there’s a great way to take advantage of this situation. If you actually have a strong hand on the flop, top pair or better, and make a continuation bet and get called, this is a great spot for you to check the turn. By doing this it will appear to your opponent that you’re conceding the pot, and oftentimes it will trick him into believing he has the better hand. If the flop is J-7-3 and you have Q-J and check on the turn, your opponent could try to put you all in with a hand like pocket nines, whereas if you bet the turn he would probably fold that hand.
If you want to succeed in tournaments, you should always consider your position at the table when deciding whether or not you should make a continuation bet on the flop.