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Back to Basics (Part 4): Continuation Betting

In the Back to Basics series, we’re taking concepts that you probably learned early in your poker career and looking at them from a more detailed standpoint than you likely did when you first learned about them. This week, we’re going to look at continuation betting. For our purposes, continuation betting is going to be betting on the flop, turn, or river while we have maintained the betting lead throughout the hand. We’re going to show how these are related and how you have to consider future continuation betting in your play.

Playing the Semi-Bluff Out of Position

Last week, we looked at semi-bluffing in and out of position and found that we’re going to be more likely to have profitable semi-bluffs out of position relative to the value of checking. Along those lines, we’re going to look at a semi-bluffing situation where we are continuation betting on the flop and show you the extra things you should be considering that you probably aren’t considering at this point in time.

Suppose we have As7s on a flop of Qs6s4c out of position against a single player in a $0.10/0.25 game with a pot of $1.85 and a lot of money behind. We make a continuation bet of $1.50. Consider the three possible outcomes from this point:

  1. Our opponent folds, and we win the pot of $1.85.
  2. Our opponent raises to which we fold, and we lose our bet of $1.25.
  3. Our opponent calls, and then ???? happens.

If we can estimate how often our opponent will raise or fold, then figuring out the expected value of those first two possible outcomes is as easy as doing the multiplication. However, finding the EV of the third outcome is something that most players tend to ignore, and that’s what we’re going to look into with more depth here.

Looking Deeper

If our opponent calls, then we’re going to need to break up the turn cards into a few categories. First up are the spades that give us the nuts. We may need to account for the four of spades as being an issue since our opponent could have four of a kind or a full house, but it’s pretty unlikely since we weren’t raised on the flop. There are eight of these cards plus the four of spades. For the sake of example, we’re just going to call it nine.

Second, we have the three aces that give us top pair. How we play this situation is a little tricky, and a bit outside the scope of this week’s article, but let’s suppose for the sake of example that we continuation bet with the plan of stacking off. There are three of these.

Third, we have all of the other cards that pair the board without giving us a flush. We have to proceed with a bit of caution here, but it’s still unlikely that our opponent has us beat because of combinatorics and because we weren’t raised on the flop. There are eight cards that do this, and we plan to continuation bet the turn.

Four, we have all of the other cards that don’t really do anything interesting. This is a little more than half of the cards left in the deck with 27 cards that fit this description. What’s interesting to notice is that people tend to think that a higher percentage of turn cards fall into this category. Again, we’re going to continuation bet the turn if one of these cards come.

Continued Aggression on the Turn

Have you noticed a pattern here? We’re continuation betting on every single turn card if our opponent calls. You might be wondering why that is, so let’s consider the fourth example scenario there on the turn while we look for an answer.

The turn pot is going to be $4.85, and let’s assume that we bet $3.25 on the turn. Our opponent can either fold, call, or raise us on the turn. Something that’s really important to point out is that our chances of getting raised on the turn are really slim because there aren’t many hands our opponent could have that would raise while simultaneously calling pre-flop and on the flop. If our opponent raises the turn, let’s just assume that we’re going to fold.

So that leaves calling and folding. Folding is an easy case to evaluate, and we’re left again with a more complicated calling scenario. The board could pair while we hit our flush (2/46), we could catch an ace (3/46), we could hit our flush cleanly (7/46), or we could just miss everything (34/46). All of these potential scenarios open things up a bit and make the situation more complicated to evaluate.

However, something that should be noted is that we’re going to be making a good bit of money when we get to this point after continuation betting the flop and the turn. If we back up a step and look at our turn scenario, we get the feeling that we’re going to be making a profit overall as well. That takes us back to the flop with its three simple outcomes. If we know that our third outcome is going to be fairly profitable, then we can be pretty certain that continuation betting the flop is also going to be really profitable. This cascading feature of continuation betting is really interesting because the EV on the flop includes components of the EV on the turn and the river, both of which are favorable in most instances.

Evaluating Continuation Betting Game Trees

As you can see from our example above, the game tree for continuation betting with a semi-bluff on the flop is very large since you have to evaluate all the way to the river. This means that there are a lot of outcomes to analyze, but using a spreadsheet makes it pretty easy to keep everything straight without making a lot of mistakes with calculations. Next week, we’re going to look at how to use spreadsheets to do this type of analysis.

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