Continuation betting bluffs is one of the first things players learn about postflop strategy. Read any poker book and the simplified advice essentially boils down to “raise preflop and if you get a single caller you should typically just fire a continuation bet on the flop.”
Students read such a statement and extrapolate that to mean “continuation bet 100% of the time” – and over time the issues of such an approach become clear. If nothing else, because the large density of your continuation betting range would be bluffs (ranging from gutshot straight draws to naked high cards).
Simply put, if you continuation bet too rarely you end up missing many outright profitable bluffs. But if you continuation bet too often, especially in the wrong spots (like out of position or in multi-way pots), you will lose so many unnecessary pots.
And truthfully, those pots where you c-bet too often and lose some EV, tend to go unnoticed. Players notice when they are losing massive pots or have a few failed doubled barrels – but a failed 4bb c-bet doesn’t even get registered in their mental accounting.
But add up all of those failed 4, 5, and 6 big blind c-bets and you’ll find a mountain of leaks all because “I’m supposed to c-bet the flop a lot!”
So today, let’s discuss how to approach c-betting through the lens of this question:
“I understand that I should continuation bet when I am the preflop aggressor. But players keep calling me and I keep having to check/fold the turn. What should I do?”
This is a very common poker question. A player reads that when they are the preflop aggressor that they should be continuation betting (c-betting) pretty much all of the time. But eventually that strategy breaks down and your opponent simply will not fold to each c-bet.
Was The Flop Continuation Bet Any Good?
Before you consider barreling, c-betting less, or even changing your c-bet size – think about how good the flop continuation bet was in the first place. If you are auto-c-betting the flop without any consideration of the texture, your opponent’s range, and likely continuance ranges – you are setting money on fire. Sure you will pick up the pot sometimes, but you will find yourself losing more pots over time as the game continues to mature.
The definition of a c-bet is oftentimes confused, but in reality, a c-bet does not inherently imply that your hand is weak, strong, or anything. A flop c-bet is simply a flop bet from the preflop aggressor; it does not matter if you have the nuts, total air, or something in the middle.
When bluff c-betting, either on the flop or on any other street, you want to ensure your opponent is going to fold often enough, either now or later. Many players who auto-continuation bet are hoping their opponent folds often enough right this moment to show an outright profit on the bet.
|YOU BLUFF FOR||→||AUTO-PROFIT|
|1/3-Pot||You auto-profit if they fold more than||25% of the time|
|1/2-Pot||You auto-profit if they fold more than||33% of the time|
|2/3-Pot||You auto-profit if they fold more than||40% of the time|
|Full-Pot||You auto-profit if they fold more than||50% of the time|
Given common c-bet sizes of 1/2 or 2/3 pot, they need their opponent to fold between 33% and 40% of the time. Is your opponent going to fold that often?
Take a spot where you think your opponent calls your preflop raise with ~20% of hands preflop. This includes small-medium pocket pairs, non-nut Broadway hands, suited connectors, suited gappers, and suited Ax hands. If the flop is Q♠ T♣ 6♥, are they folding often enough if you fire a 2/3 bet out there?
If you assume your opponent is going to continue with all pairs, draws, and some backdoor/weak draws as well; they are certainly not folding often enough to make this an outright profitable bluff. Therefore, if you were to auto-continuation bet it with no intentions of barreling, you would just be giving away money.
Knowing whether a flop c-bet is good or bad is heavily dependent on two things:
- Hand reading skills
- How your opponent would continue
You need hand reading skills to assign a range to their preflop action. Then you take that range and compare it to the flop. Think carefully about the hand strengths they would always, mostly, and never continue with if you c-bet. Some players will continue vs a c-bet with any pair plus all possible draws – and as such fold rarely. Others will continue with middle pair or better, and only OESDs/FDs. That player is folding more often and thus bluffing the flop for one street makes a ton of sense.
One final thing to note here is whether or not your preflop ranges are too wide. Most hands are going to miss the flop, even AK only catches top pair or better and decent draws about 1/3 of the time. But if you are constantly missing the flop, especially against players who rarely fold to a single c-bet, you may want to reexamine the ranges you are being aggressive with preflop. If you aren’t sure about spending time studying this stuff, remember that this kind of exploration pays dividends since it applies whether you play live cash games, on PokerStars, or via any of the top10casinos.
So…Should I Even C-Bet?
When a player continues auto-C-betting and it begins to fail, they tend to adjust in one of three ways:
- Do not adjust. Keep auto-C-betting, keep getting called, and keep giving up on turns/rivers
- Adjust by C-betting the flop less (normally by removing some bluffs)
- Adjust by continuing to c-bet the flop, but being more diligent with double/triple barrels
Obviously, the first option is awful. Before you began reading this guide you likely already knew that and thus I will not waste your time talking about how bad it is.
The second option can be correct. This is a common way that I adjust when playing against fishy opponents who do not fold often now OR later. Against these players, I strengthen up my c-bet range to capitalize on their leak. They call down too wide, and thus I value bet thinner. Bluffing is more difficult and I do not need to balance my ranges against these players.
The third option is the one you should heavily focus on. Just because a single bet will not get the job done does NOT mean you abandon betting altogether. Instead, think about how often your opponent would fold against your flop c-bet. Then ask yourself the following question:
Of the hands that would call my flop c-bet, how many of them can handle a barrel?
Notice that this takes the focus away from “what is my hand?” and instead focuses on “what is my opponent’s range & how can it handle pressure?”
This is a huge mindset shift for newer players, and while being complicated, it is the basis of making +EV bluffing decisions.
Take the same example from earlier where you bet the flop and villain would continue with pairs, draws, and some backdoor draws. How often is that range going to enjoy facing a barrel when the turn is Q♠ T♣ 6♥ – 5♣?
Well, this takes some hand reading and estimating, but it is totally possible to determine the answer with a little work. That flop continuance range only has top pair or better and decent draws about 40% of the time on the turn. If you thought you could barrel and get everything else to fold, any bet under pot is outright profitable.
This kind of situation comes up WAY more often than the average player realizes, and it becomes easy to spot with off-table practice. Use a tool like Flopzilla or Flop Falcon when studying to help you understand these spots.
Remember, just because a player does NOT fold to a flop c-bet often does NOT mean that we should fear bluffing the flop. Think ahead and consider how often they will be able to handle turn and river pressure. There are plenty of opportunities to barrel bluffs on the turn and river when you know what to look for.
What Should You Do?
Building a double and triple barrel skillset is a huge asset. If I were going to build mine from scratch today I would do the following:
Work on hand reading
Being able to estimate your opponent’s range is the basis of everything in poker. When you know what they have to a reasonable degree it becomes easier to exploit your opponent with bluffs, thinner value bets, etc. This is a complex skill, but one worth building.
Understand how common ranges hit common flops
Open up Flopzilla, and assign a range you think players in your game call with preflop. Then check all the hand strengths you think that player would never fold on the flop facing a c-bet. Next, plug in a flop texture and explore how that range hits/misses the flop. Then do this for 10 more flops.
Continue this same process for other ranges players in your game might use and jot down your findings. This kind of work takes time, but is invaluable for developing a real-time intuition.
Solidify Your Basic Poker Math Skills
Of course, you need some basic math skills. The good news is that when you are bluffing a simple breakeven % calculation will get you started nicely. This breakeven tells you how often your opponent must fold for your bluff to be +EV.
Breakeven % = Risk / (Risk + Reward)
- Risk: how much you are betting for
- Reward: the size of the pot you are fighting for BEFORE your bet
So if you were to bluff for $20 into a $45 pot, you would need villain to fold more than 31% of the time for your bet to be +EV. Practice a few of these calculations and you will have them memorized shortly.
Remember, an overall play can be +EV even if a single bet within that play is not outright +EV. Bluffing the flop when a player will rarely fold to the c-bet may seem like suicide – but if they fold to barrels a ton, the overall play can certainly be profitable.
Stop Auto C-betting Without Thinking
There was a time when you could simply raise preflop, get called, and profitably c-bet every single flop. This was a function of players folding FAR too often against c-bets.
As the game continues to mature, players are used to facing more c-bets and thus fold less. They understand that the c-bet is often a bluff and have widened their calling range, up to and including calling with near-air, hoping that you give up on the turn and a bet from them will take the pot away. This still leaves room for barreling, but makes the outright profitable auto-c-bet a thing of the past. Before you fire out that c-bet, make sure to really consider how good a single-bet is and always consider the value of following it up with multiple bets.
Of course, sometimes a c-bet just will not work, nor will the barrels. Checking is certainly an option and some players/textures will dictate checking more often. That’s a conversation for another day, but you shouldn’t ever feel that you have to c-bet every single flop.
Want To Go Further?
If you liked this guide and want a complete book with chapters that answer more questions that come from players just like you, grab Unfolding Poker now. The entire book answers questions about concepts like running it twice, strategic changes in games that have a BBJ or other promotions, leveling, maximizing value against fishy players, and more. Unfolding Poker is a quick read and one that you are sure to enjoy.
If you want to test your c-betting skills, take our free 10-question OOP C-Betting Quiz. We’ll even break down the average answers, correct answers, and give you a simple framework for making better decisions when out of position. Good luck!