C-bet for Victory: The Maths Behind the Continuation Bet

The continuation bet is a powerful tool in a poker player’s arsenal, but only when used correctly. Use it wisely and it pays dividends, as the Tip Top Fox explains

The continuation bet, or c-bet, is a concept most players are familiar with. Useful in both tournaments and cash games, it allows you to win the pot as the pre-flop aggressor.

Let’s say you raise pre-flop with A♥ Q♥, pick up one caller and miss the flop. You can still win the pot with a c-bet, meaning you continue your aggression in the hand and bet the flop as a bluff with the intention of ending the hand right there. 

“The perfect size c-bet is generally around 1/3 to 1/2 of the pot, though the smaller the bet the more likely it is your opponent may call.”

When to C-Bet

So when should you continuation bet? The more players in a hand, the more likely it is they have hit something so you should not really be c-betting into more than two players unless you have hit. Several parameters need to be met before you can c-bet profitably:

  • You should be the pre-flop aggressor and have the initiative, meaning you were the last player to raise.
  • You will be making the first bet, either because your opponent(s) have checked or you are first to act.
  • You missed the flop and don’t have a made hand or strong draw.

You continuation bet when you raise pre-flop and miss, but think betting will enable you to win the hand. You are using the aggressive image created with your pre-flop raise to win the pot with a bluff, your show of pre-flop strength being enough to allow your c-bet to be successful.

The Perfect Flop

Some flops lend themselves towards c-betting, others not so much. If your opponent thinks you are bluffing they may call with bottom pair or with the intention of bluffing the turn or river. C-bet the wrong kind of flop on a wet (draw heavy) J♦ 10♦ 7♥ board with A♥ Q♥ and for example, and you can find yourself in trouble. 

Not only is this the sort of flop likely to have hit a caller, it is also one you have to fold if you c-bet and your opponent raises; meaning you miss the opportunity to hit your nut gutshot straight draw or pick up a backdoor flush draw. 

The best kinds of flops to c-bet are dry boards with one Broadway card and two other smaller unconnected cards so there are no likely draws. A flop like K♥ 7♦ 2♠ is a great flop to c-bet if you have missed with A♥ Q♥ and you may well get an opponent to fold something like 7♣ 8♣, which is the sort of hand players like to call pre-flop raises with.

Crunching The Numbers

So why continuation bet? Lets take the previous example where you raise pre-flop with A♥ Q♥and pick up one caller. When you raise the chances of hitting one pair or better on the flop is roughly 33%.

While this means you will only hit 1/3 of the time you raise, this also means your opponent will miss two times in three or around 67% of the time.

So 2/3 of the time your opponent misses and will find it tough to continue. Even if they called with a small pocket pair in the hopes of flopping a set there are now three overcards on the board. 

Size Matters

The perfect size c-bet is generally around 1/3 to 1/2 of the pot, though the smaller the bet the more likely it is your opponent may call. Conversely the larger the bet the more often it has to succeed to show a profit. A 1/2 pot sized c-bet only has to work 1/3 for it to be profitable. 

For example, the pot is $2 on the flop after you raise with A♥ Q♥ and miss. If this happens 10 times and each time you bet $1, you only need to win four times (just over 1/3) for this to be profitable. Four times out of ten you win $8 ($2×4) and six times you lose $6 (6x$1) so your total profit is $2 ($8-$6). Over time as long as your 1/2 pot c-bets are successful more than 1/3 of the time you will show a profit and this is where continuation betting comes into its own.

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