When to Continuation Bet in Poker

C-Betting is a function of pot and fold equities

In average games, most professional poker players continuation bet the flop approximately 75% of the time. But this begs an obvious question: which 75% of the time? The answer is a function of knowing two key equity values: the Hero’s pot equity on the flop, and the estimated fold equity the Hero has in that situation:

C-Betting - Pot vs Fold Equity

The decision to continuation bet on the flop is primarily a function of two things: the probability that your hand is best (i.e., pot equity) and the probability that your opponents will fold if you bet (i.e., your fold equity).

Definitions:

First, some definitions are needed to help understand the terminology of the chart:

  • Pot Equity. Technically speaking, pot equity is a player’s “share” of the pot, given the situation and the relative strength of their hand. It is the average amount of money that a particular hand would win if that specific situation were repeated a large number of times. True pot equity is calculated by multiplying the amount of money at stake in the pot by the percentage chance of winning. Informally speaking, the Hero’s pot equity can just be thought of as roughly just the probability of the Hero’s hand winning against the villain’s range. This latter, informal definition, is how we use the term in the chart above; i.e., think of pot equity as just the probability that our hand would win at showdown. Here’s a screen shot from Poker Cruncher to illustrate:

We use pot equity as a good approximate measure of how often a hand will win at showdown. Here, Aces have 80.29% equity. Their actual probability of winning is slightly less, as there’s a very small chance that the flop, turn, and river board cards could result in a tie (e.g., 2-3-4-5-6 rainbow). This is a small difference, and as a general rule we can use the pot equity value directly in the chart, above, to approximate the winning probability. (Screenshot taken from Poker Cruncher app.)

  • Fold Equity. Technically speaking, fold equity is the pot size multiplied by the chance our opponent will fold if we bet. Informally speaking (and, again, how we use the term in this post), fold equity can be thought of as just the likelihood, or probability, that a bet from us will cause our opponent(s) to fold, leaving us to take down the pot.

The C-Bet Chart:

To use the chart, above, you need to first estimate your pot and fold equities. The easiest way to estimate pot equity is to use an online calculator or app, like PokerStove, Equilabs, ProPokerTools Odds Oracle, FlopZilla, or Poker Cruncher. Estimating fold equity, however, is a little trickier and more an art than a true science; see this article on eight continuation bet factors to begin learning which things increase or decrease fold equity in different situations.

Once you have estimates for the two equity values, next find your approximate equity zone on the chart:

  • If you have high pot equity and low-to-medium fold equity, you should c-bet hard for pure value.
  • If you have high pot equity and high fold equity, you should consider slow-playing to allow your opponent(s) to catch up so they can/will pay you off. If it checks around on the flop, don’t continue to slow-play the turn, as you need to try to build some value with your big hands.
  • If you have medium pot equity, regardless of how much fold equity, you should almost always be c-betting, either for value+protection against draws, or as a semi-bluff with your own drawing hands.
  • If you have low pot equity and low fold equity, you should not continuation bet.
  • If you have low pot equity and high fold equity, you should c-bet as a pure bluff.

[Note: here’s another view/version of the C-bet chart with actual expected value (EV) values calculated from pot equity and fold equity.]

C-Bet Sizing:

Continuation bets should almost always fall in the range of 60%-100% of the pot. You can sometimes bet less than this in special circumstances, and also sometimes more than this, but as a general rule, keep your c-bets roughly the same size and in this range. Also, don’t be too obvious with varying your bet sizes, as astute opponents will quickly pick up on this kind of bet sizing tell.

If you’re new to the table and/or your opponents aren’t paying close attention to your bet sizing, you can vary your bet sizes with your zone on the chart. For example, the higher up and to the left you are in the chart, the larger your bet sizes can/should be. When you’re in this upper-left zone of the chart, you have a very strong hand and villains that are unlikely to fold to a bet. Typically, pot-sized bets–or even more–are possible if you find yourself in this zone.

Conversely, the farther lower and to the right you are in the chart, the smaller your bet sizes should be. In very special situations, you can c-bet small with so-called “post oak”-type bluffs that are a small fraction of the pot, but as a general rule, keep your bluff bets at least 60% of the pot in size.

Finally, it’s important to note that fold equity itself is often a function of bet sizing; bet too small, and opponents sometimes feel priced in to call (e.g., make a “crying call”). This of course thereby greatly reduces your overall fold equity. To help avoid this, you should rarely bet less than 60% of the pot when pure bluffing. Similarly, betting a large amount (e.g., shoving all-in an amount that is significantly larger than the pot size) can result in significant fold equity. The downside of this, of course, is you’re risking more money when you have essentially no pot equity or showdown value.

Examples:

To illustrate how the chart works, let’s imagine some different flop scenarios:

  • Value. We have K-Q offsuit on a J-T-9 rainbow board against three loose-passive opponents. Our pot equity is very high (we currently have the nuts) and our fold equity is low (this board texture hits a large part of the villains’ ranges, and the villains are the type that tend to call a lot). We should bet relatively large for pure Value.
  • The Nuts. We have A-A on an A-A-6 rainbow board facing one timid, rock-like and passive opponent. We raised preflop in early position and the villain just cold-called our raise out of the big blind. He has checked to us on the flop. Our pot equity is 100%; i.e., we have the stone-cold mortal nuts that can’t be outdrawn. We also, unfortunately, have a tremendous amount of fold equity; our opponent is weak-tight and is likely to be afraid of us having an Ace, given our EP preflop open-raise. In this situation, we find ourselves in the upper right-hand portion of the chart. This means it’s time to slow down and let our opponent try to catch up on the turn. Betting now will only result in the bad guy folding, which is not what we want when our hand is this strong.
  • Top Pair Top Kicker. We have A-K on a K-J-9 monotone board against two opponents. Our pot equity with TPTK is reasonably high (i.e., the likelihood that our hand is best is very good). But, because we’re up against multiple opponents and the board is very wet, our fold equity is low to medium at best. Per the chart, we should c-bet for value and protection (i.e., give our opponents the wrong odds to continue in the hand) but then proceed cautiously, depending on what our opponent does and/or what the turn card is.
  • Air. We have 6-5 offsuit on an A-K-2 rainbow board against one weak-tight opponent, who just cold-called our preflop open-raise. We have essentially no pot equity (i.e., essentially “air”), but, because the board also doesn’t hit our opponents range, and he is weak-tight, we also have reasonably high fold equity against him. We should be c-betting as a pure bluff in this situation.
  • Air. We have 6-5 offsuit on an A-K-2 monotone board (not our suit) against three very loose-passive calling stations. We again have air, but, this time, we also have very little fold equity (multiple loose-passive calling station opponents, wet board). This places us in the lower left-hand corner of the chart. Therefore, we should not be continuation betting, but instead we should check and probably just fold to any action from one or more of the villains.
  • Big Draw. We have 8h-7h on a 6h-5h-2s board. Based on our reads, we believe our skilled opponent almost certainly has an overpair or overcards to the board. With our combo straight and flush draws, we have around 55% pot equity. Against this opponent it’s hard to pin down an actual fold equity amount, but here in the middle of the chart it almost doesn’t matter. Let’s assume something like 50% fold equity. This places us near the middle of the chart, and, therefore, we should continuation bet as a semi-bluff draw.

Further Reading:


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6 thoughts on “When to Continuation Bet in Poker

  1. Hi

    Firstly can I just say I really enjoy your blog, it is well written & makes sense of some concepts that can be made to look more complicated than they are. My results have improved no end just by following your simple advice of hand values! I’d slipped into bad habits & was calling far too often in the blinds UTG etc just to ‘have a l look at the flop’ this more often than not ended up in half a hand that I then continued with… lol. Only issue I have is I fold so many hands now it becomes a bit obvious when everyone else around the table is playing 80%… but I have now seen with my own eyes its for the best! even if the table all folds when I get involved (some of the time anyway!)…

    anyway, a question, in your blog today you said:

    Air. We have 6-5 offsuit on an A-K-2 rainbow board against one weak-tight opponent, who just cold-called our preflop open-raise. We have essentially no pot equity (i.e., essentially “air”), but, because the board also doesn’t hit our opponents range, and he is weak-tight, we also have reasonably high fold equity against him. We should be c-betting as a pure bluff in this situation.

    isn’t an ace or a king exactly the sort of card a weak tight player may be pinning his hopes on? I’d even be wary if a 10 came up.. so I’m a bit confused… as always..

    • Hi Roy,
      Thanks for the comment and the positive feedback. I’m really glad to hear you’re results are improving, too. A tight preflop starting hand selection is so vitally important to success I poker, but it’s also one of the first things a lot of players (including myself) tend to forget with time. Staying tight is right!
      As to your question, the range of hands that a weak-tight villain is playing preflop (i.e., cold-calling and not re-raising with) typically includes pocket pairs from 22-QQ, and some of the moderately big Aces (e.g., AJ-AQ). Most weak-tights will re-raise with AA, KK, and AK preflop, so we don’t include those in the villain’s range. If we look at the combinations of these hands the villain is playing, there are 10 x 6 = 60 combinations of his pocket pairs that missed this flop. Further, there is one pocket pair combination (six different deuce combos) and 2 x 16 = 32 combinations of big Aces in villains range that hit the flop. There might be other cards in the villain’s range, but we’ll stick with this basic range to keep this example simple. This means that there are 60 combos of villain’s cards that missed the flop, and 6+32=38 combos that hit the flop. In other words, the villain missed 1.57 times as often as he missed. Betting as a bluff here has roughly a 60/(60+38) = 61% chance of succeeding, so we should definitely take a stab, as villain is more than likely to fold on this scary board. Remember, we open-raised, so villain has to be thinking that a lot of Aces are in our range. Kings, too. Bluffing at least one street is the right play. If villain sticks around, we can shut things down.
      Cheers again!
      -Mark

      • Thanks! food for thought!, keep ’em coming, maybe I need to fine tune my bluffing points which I probably don’t do enough of & tend to play for value. I play at lower levels with a lot of loose players who wouldn’t see a bluff at a 1000 paces & just call with any pair. Which is great if you have something obviously (not so great 2/3rds of the time)… however easy to slip into cold calling on the flop…which is what I started doing over time even with premium hands… I’ve CTRL\alt\deleted that habit.

        • At the small and microstakes tables, value is indeed the name of the game. Said another way, at these smaller stakes games, with generally bad, level-1 type villains, you have little fold equity, so you will often find yourself over on the left side of the chart. Bluffing should not be nearly as big a part of your game as it would be at higher stakes and against better opponents. It’s that old adage: “you can’t bluff a bad player.”