How to Play the C-Bet

How to Play the C-Bet

A continuation bet (c-bet) is when you bet the flop after you had raised pre-flop. Do you see how simple I made that? Prior to writing this article, I looked around the internet to see how other professional poker players felt about the topic of the poker c-bet.

I felt like I was reading a syllabus for Math 55a: Honors Abstract Algebra at Harvard University, which is known to be one of the most challenging classes in the world. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really enjoy reading charts, formulas, and other mumbo jumbo. I eventually focused to understand what the writer was trying to convey, but I learned two things by doing so.

One, the writer could have put all of this in much simpler terms. Two, I don’t agree with the poker strategy. It was very technical. It was telling readers/poker players to always do this here and to always do that there, but it didn’t take into account who was sitting at the table. How can you know what to do if you don’t know your opponent? This does not fit into our poker rules for winning. Am I living in some kind of alternate universe?

I live in a poker world where I need to know my opponents. Knowing your opponents definitely fits into our poker rules for winning. I profile my opponents the instant I approach the table. The player in Seat 1 today might be likely to call my continuation bet whereas the player in Seat 1 tomorrow might be unlikely to call my continuation bet. Poker is not black and white because human beings are involved.

C-Bet: Opponent Playing Style

Since we’re on the topic of opponents, let’s stick with it as it relates to a poker c-bet. Below are examples.

Example #1:

You’re on the button with AQ-off and open-raise 3x the BB. You want to open-raise in this spot in traditional poker games and Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, but let’s say this is the former, as in a cash game. The player in the BB is passive and calls.

Flop: JJ5.

The BB checks. What do you do?

This is a perfect opportunity to implement the poker c-bet. Your opponent is passive and that flop isn’t likely to have hit him. He’s a passive player who called from the BB. We can eliminate Top 5 Hands and rags. He likely called with something like KQ, KJ, KT, QT, JT, or a weak ace.

It would appear to the beginner poker player that KJ and JT present a major problem, but it’s no problem at all. If the BB checked in this spot, it means one of two things. Either they whiffed or they’re trapping. All we have to do is apply the continuation bet to find out the answer. If the BB folds, they whiffed and we win the pot. If the BB calls, he likely has the jack. Slow it down through the remainder of the hand.

Example #2:

You’re on the button with AQ-off and open-raise 3x the BB. The player in the BB is a LAG player. He likes to defend his BB, and you knew this when you raised. It’s good news because if he flats then you know you’re ahead with position going into the flop.

Flop: 687-rainbow.

The BB checks. What do you do?

That flop is very much in your opponent’s wheelhouse for defending the BB. Analyze the situation. If he’s a LAG player and watched you open-raise from the button, he’s not going to have you on something like AQ. He’s probably going to think you’re open-raising with a marginal hand because of position.
Therefore, if he had any hands that ranked as strong-marginal to premium, he would have raised. That’s his style. If he had rags like 93, 84, 72, T2, he would have folded. By process of elimination, we can estimate that the flop hit him, but there are still two ways to play it.

The first option is apply the poker c-bet to find out where you stand. I used to take this approach, and it’s the standard play, but I don’t play that standard stuff anymore. I play what leads to winning. And in this spot, I’m not going to apply the poker c-bet because he’s going to let me know where he stands on the turn. Assuming you’re listening to my poker strategy advice, you check behind him.

Turn: 8

The BB would bet here no matter what, but that’s not what we’re looking at. We’re looking at the size of his bet. If he bets 3/4 of the pot or more, he wants you gone. When a LAG player bets big after an opponent shows no interest, it’s because he wants to take down the pot right then and there. This doesn’t mean he has air, though. It means one of three things: Air, Draw, Top Pair. It’s almost never a monster.

If the BB bets half the pot or less, he wants a call. And then you have that gray area when he bets between 1/2 the pot and 3/4 of the pot. Those bets are tough to read in this spot, but it doesn’t matter because you have AQ. Why would you call here anyway?

There is only one answer to that question: Ego! Even if you say you don’t believe him, you can’t be certain and it’s a small pot. Why take the risk? Live to fight another day.

As a side note, stop being upset when you’re dealt AK and AQ. These are excellent poker hands. While I would rather have AA and KK, AK and AQ are easier to play. You’re not going to feel like you’re locked in and they’re easy to fold when you miss. Here’s a poker tip for you as well: Never announce that you hate AK and/or AQ. That’s a tell that you’re an amateur.

Both of these poker hands have tremendous long-term value, and they’re great for late levels in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. You might lose a flip with them, but you must live and die with them if you’re going to be dangerous and successful in poker tournaments. If you start folding AK and AQ late in poker tournaments, you’re going to have no chance.

Poker C-Bet: Number of Opponents

I can keep this whole poker c-bet thing really simple for you. At the same time, you’re going to find this poker tip to be highly effective. Ready? Here it goes…

If you have three or more opponents and you whiff on the flop, never place a continuation bet. While there will be times where you missed opportunities, I just saved you a ton of money over the long haul. A TON OF MONEY! I know this because I had to learn the hard way for years. You’re welcome.

If you have two opponents, you whiff on the flop, and both of your opponent check when you have position, it’s almost always a continuation bet. I only say ‘almost always’ because there will be times when you sense something is fishy. You will either pick this up through physical tells or subconsciously.

When you have two opponents and you whiff on the flop, and you’re out of position, I would recommend basing your decision on the playing styles and patterns of your opponents. If they’re passive, apply the poker c-bet. When they’re sticky, I recommend checking.

If you’re heads-up and your raised pre-flop, your position doesn’t matter. I recommend applying the poker c-bet here almost every time. This is whether you hit the flop, whiffed the flop, hit middle pair or bottom pair, or picked up a draw. By always c-betting, your opponent won’t be able to pick up a betting pattern, and you will usually take down the hand.

Range Strength

Range strength isn’t something I have written about yet. I’ll do my best to simplify it. It basically means that the range of poker hands you would play in certain situations is stronger than the range of poker hands your opponent would play. That still might be a little confusing. Let me try it this way.

If you open-raise 3.5x the BB from UTG +1 and a TAG player calls you from the button, then you have a stronger range (range strength). You have a stronger range because you opened from UTG +1. Most players only open from that spot with elite hands. Also, he just called. If he had a better hand than someone who raised from UTG +1, he would have raised.

Flop: QQT (two clubs)

I’m not going to tell you your hole cards in this situation. I have secretly played many poker hands without knowing my cards. It almost always works. I do this from time to time to guarantee I’m playing the player and not my cards. I don’t let my opponents know I’m doing it though.
During pre-flop action, I will shift my eyes downward and flick my cards as though I’m taking a quick look at them, but I don’t see them. So, let’s play this one without knowing your cards. Based on your pre-flop raise, getting one caller from the button, and that flop, how would you play it?

If you answered that you would apply a poker c-bet, you are correct. That flop represents your range. You could have AQ, KQ, AT, or even AA or KK. It’s possible your opponent has the queen, but it’s not likely, so you can’t think like that. If you want to win in traditional poker games and poker tournaments, then you need to fire at the right time.
The right time doesn’t always mean when you have the stronger hand; it also means when your opponent is likely to assume that you have a stronger hand. Your opponent can have all kinds of poker hands here, from a weak ace to suited-connectors to suited one-gappers to medium and small pocket pairs.

Your opponent is likely to fold to your c-bet in this spot. If your opponent calls, it’s likely they have the queen or the ten, but only if it’s a good player. A good player will realize that the board is paired and will not chase draws. A bad player is a little tougher to read because they don’t understand the dangers of a draw on a paired board.
If it’s a good player and they call, check the turn. I’m telling you to check the turn because you have AK. If it’s a bad player and they call, place a small feeler bet on the turn. If they call again, slow down on the river.

Final Thoughts

C-bets are an important aspect of the game. If you can master continuation bets, then you will minimize losses and maximize gains early in hands. Most people will get excited about the latter, but minimizing losses early in hands is gargantuan in regards to your potential as a poker player. Understand your situations, which is almost always based on your opponent(s). See you at RunGood Poker Series!


C-Bet – FAQS

Q: What is a continuation bet in poker?
A: It’s when you bet the flop after you raised pre-flop. You are continuing your bet to show strength.

Q: How often should you c-bet in poker?
A: Too many variables. As a general rule, the fewer opponents, the more your c-bet percentage goes up.

Q: What is a good c-bet percentage in poker?
A: Many pro poker players will tell you around 70% of the time, but I believe there are too many variables to put a number on it. If you play in a loose game, that would be way too high.

Q: How should I size my c-bet?
A: It depends on your opponent(s) and how sticky they are. If they’re passive, you can usually get away with 25% of the pot. If they’re sticky, jack it up as much as necessary, but never more than the size of the pot.

Author: Henry Brown