Doug Hull coaches many players, and he finds that while most students come to him with a solid pre-flop strategy, their post-flop skills need serious work, particularly around c-betting. Far too many players are c-betting flops close to 100% of the time. In this episode, Hull outlines the reasons why this is a losing strategy, how to a adjust to a winning strategy, and how to exploit other players who are c-betting too many flops.
When people first come to Hull for coaching, they often don’t know where to start, so he has developed his first two hours of coaching around c-betting skills. He’s of the opinion that most people who come to him for coaching have a reasonable strategy preflop. You can often get a decent set of hand charts or through experience.
As long as his student has a reasonable pre-flop strategy that’s not super-nitty and is appropriately aggressive, Hull likes to focus first on postflop play, because pre-flop will typically be quite routine.
In the first few hours, Hull lays down a bunch of boards and gives scenarios — for example, he’ll say the villain limped, we raised in position, and they called. Then he runs out various boards and asks if the student will c-bet. The answer he often will get is “I c-bet 100% of boards” and that is just got to be wrong.
Hull is a real student of Ed Miller and is very influenced by his book Poker’s 1%, which in turn was influenced by Matthew Janda’s Applications of No Limit Hold’em, and that is where this idea based bass poker is really coming. If Hull were to take Miller’s 1% and distill it down even further, it basically says that if you bet one street you should usually bet the next, usually being about 60% of the time under optimal conditions. And so if you’re betting a hundred percent of the time, that’s going to be a mistake by this model.
We asked hull where this 100% c-betting concept came from, and how the metagame of poker has changed to where this has become an even more unprofitable play.
“If we look at a time where people were playing true true fit or fold, ‘I need a pair or a great draw to make this call’,” Hull explained, “then the folding frequency is going to be so high that literally you can continuation bet with any two cards and show an immediate profit if someone is going to fold more than your break even percentage requires then fire away. As long as you have discipline on the turn not to barrel it off, you’ve got a very simple strategy that’s going to work… but as the meta has changed, and people are realizing that they need to call a little bit lighter, they need to float a little bit lighter… it doesn’t take many people like that at your table to really destroy this idea that 100% continuation betting is going to be the right thing to do.”
Hull continues, “One of the things that I find is the nitty people don’t tend to have barreling hands, they don’t open suited connectors, and these are the kinds of hands that are going to have barreling potential, meaning they they flop an ace, a 3-straight or 3-flush and they can bet and often pick up a barreling card like another flush card and keep barreling. They don’t tend to have that kind of hand, so they don’t make that kind of move, and they know that they should be bluffing but they don’t have the kinds of hands lend themselves to that.
“So what do they do?” he asked rhetorically.
“They end up making these bluffs on super-dry boards. So they look at something like K 7 3 and say I should own this because it is dry and I often have premium pairs, so this is going to be the board that I’m going to barrel off with…. and they use their image to make those bets in barrels but then when they find out that they barreled off 3 streets with a pair of tens on a king-high board and they’re always crushed at the end, that’s that’s not a good situation. I would far rather see them making that bet and barreling with a backdoor straight draw flush draw that picks up equity and then ultimately gets there, but since they don’t tend to have those hands to begin with, that isn’t something that they end up doing. And I think with the frustration of waiting and waiting for their premium pocket pair getting it and then and overcard flops, they just get into this mentality of, ‘Dammit this should be my hand, I’m just going to push queens on a king-high board’, and it is absolutely suicidal.”
Here’s how Hull exploits those types of players on that type of board: “I’m probably betting just over half pot, it’s not going to take much to get a fold out of much of the range I’m up against, so I might as well do that for the cheapest possible amount. Unfortunately, that means that if I actually have a value hand, I’m still betting smaller once I’ve decided what my bet size will be. Then I ask myself, ‘What hands would I bet for value on a board like this?’ Usually on any given board, your break point between betting and not betting is going to be somewhere in the top pair range. What I mean by that is on a K 7 3 rainbow board, I might decide that KQ is definitely a value bet but KT is going to be a little too weak to get 3 streets of value, and since it’s so dry I can afford to take a street off because I don’t want to build that pot up early only to find myself checking on the river or facing some kind of unexpected aggression later. And having some top pairs in my check back range is not a bad thing, so that’s what I do: I look at the board and determine what hands would I bet for value then I ask myself, ‘All right, what am I going to be betting as a bluff on this board?’ On this dry of a board, I don’t have any flush draws I don’t have any straight draws, so where do I look for my bluffs? And I end up looking towards my baby pocket pairs, my pairs with the board for protection bets (which are a form of bluff).
“Basically, when you fire out, what you’re trying to do is collect the villains overcard equity when they correctly fold. And so I might also say, ‘On this dry of a board, I believe this villain will float me quite often with things that he is willing to fold on the turn.’ And if I know I’m up against that kind of villain, then I’m going to be looking for those hands that I can double barrel with on the K 7 3 board. I’m probably only going to once and done with a pair of twos, but if I have 89s, where I’ve got a 3-straight and the 3-flush on the board, then I’m often going to pick up that second barrel and that will allow me to defeat the player that is going to float me too often and give up on the turn.
A Balanced C-Bet Strategy
Hull explains that there always needs to be a reason behind a c-bet.
“So, what I do if I have a hand that I would say is in my continuation range… I’m just going to fire it out. The balance comes from betting those hands that are are in that range for a reason. There’s always a reason that these hands are going to be in my continuation range and that reason is not, ‘Well, I’m just going to bet because I think they’ll fold.’ That is not really a reason.
“I let the board determine what my betting and bluffing ranges are going to be. Now, there is a ranking in my bluffs and in my value hands that is somewhat fluid, so on K 7 3, probably a pair of deuces is one of the worst bluff that I am going to make. And so I might say to myself, ‘Well, this is an ideal situation, I have a limp-caller, I can fire even the worst of my bluffs and I would do that. But if I found myself in a situation where I’m in position to 4 players for whatever reason, suddenly that worst bluff is no longer going to be in my continuation range.
“I might say instead on this kind of board where I’ve got four players I’m up against, ‘I am very unlikely to take this down on the flop, so I’m probably going to need a second barrel. What kinds of hands are going to do well with a second barrel?’ And that 3-straight 3-flush where I can turn equity — basically about a third of the time I’m going to hit a backdoor flush draw or a backdoor straight draw — then I can comfortably fire into 4 people knowing that I’m going to take down a few of them on the flop and then about a third of the time I will pick up equity and be able to fire again on the turn. And that all fits with my basic mantra not just of continuation betting but of poker in general. And that is that when I bet I want to have the best hand or I want to have a draw that can beat the most likely things that are going to call me.”
Exploiting Players Who C-Bet 100%
What do we do when facing a player who exhibits this leak?
Hull explains: “As far as statistics that you can gather reasonably well live, over the short sample sizes that we have, someone that continuation bets with a high high frequency is going to be noticeable, especially if they’re particularly active. If you call this person, they are often going to find themselves lost on the turn, because you know if Miller’s right and 60% of the time is the right continuation frequency, that means 40% of the time they’re going to find themselves with no pair no draw. What are they going to do about it? Well, the way we play, we tend to be in position a lot, and so when they check the turn, if we were calling with any kind of reasonable equity, we can fire out and get that fold with a high frequency. And so we are taking care of the mistake they are making by putting themselves out there with no pair no draw, often out of position way too often.
Hull paraphrases Miller’s Poker’s 1%: “You can break the rules if they break the rules first. So if they are betting literally 100% on the flop, they have broken one of the fundamental rules of frequency poker, which means that we can also. And so against one of these players, I’m going to float them incredibly light and I’m going to torture them by just calling and dragging out this hand through more and more streets. And when they find themselves on the turn with with nothing good in their hand and then they check, I can often fire with what tiny shred of equity I have and get that fold, because they’ve got so much junk in their range, they have to get rid of it somehow, and check folding turn is basically where they’re going to get rid of that garbage.”
What to Study
Hull has a great PRO video series called Constructing Ranges (get a free PRO Membership trial here to view). In these videos, he looks at examples of boards and figures out the 60% c-betting range from Miller’s Poker’s 1%, looking for patterns that can be remembered and applied in a live game.