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Delayed Continuation Betting

This is my winning essay, cross-posted in the win money, coaching from nutsinho thread. I agree with nutsinho that I should have discussed bluffing more. I also suspect that many will have a problem with my supposed ranges. I wrote the essay as a FR player guessing at 6max ranges. Since writing this I’ve played only 6max and have learned a ton.

Delayed Continuation Betting

A continuation bet, or cbet, is, as the preflop raiser (PFR), continuing or following through with a bet on the flop, whether for value or as a bluff. A delayed cbet is deferring the option to continue the betting by checking the flop and instead betting the turn (or even checking the turn and betting the river).

The cbet is especially powerful in NLHE because a single two-card holding will only make a pair or better ~33% of the time on the flop, meaning that if you cbet and your opponent believes your show of strength, you will win the pot much of the time when he hits nothing, and some of the time when he hits something weak enough that he may not want to continue with, i.e. bottom pair. If you obtain the initiative preflop and press it on the flop, you will win a majority of the pots in which neither you nor your opponent hit the flop, which is the most basic measure of whether you are outplaying the opposition.

It would seem that cbetting 100% of flops would be +EV. However, the problem is that with awareness of the power of cbetting nearly universal in the poker community, it has become highly exploitable, with the player without initiative either floating or raising flops where the preflop raiser’s range is behind the preflop caller’s range. So, as the PFR, to prevent becoming exploitable, we are looking to only cbet flops where our range is ahead of our opponent’s range and where neither range is hit by the flop.

Delayed cbetting comes into play on those flops where our range is behind our opponent’s range. Cbetting these flops with all of our preflop raising range will not show a positive expectation against reasonably-skilled opponents. This does not mean, however, that we have to give up on the pot. If our opponent checks to us on the flop and again on the turn (or checks in position on the flop), he has narrowed his range to the point where our range is again ahead of his, which means a bet on the turn will show a positive expectation.

Example in a 2-bet pot:

In a shorthanded NLHE game with six players, we raise UTG to 3BB and everyone folds to the player in the SB, who calls, and the BB folds. The flop comes 5Club 7Heart 9Heart. The SB checks to us. Let’s say our range for raising UTG in a shorthanded game is {22+,ATs+,KJs+,QJs,AJo+,KQo,QJo} and our opponent, who we estimate to be a somewhat loose-passive but thinking player, has a range for calling an UTG raise in the SB of {QQ-22,AQs-AJs,KQs,QJs,JTs,T9s,98s,87s,76s,AQo-AJo,KQo}. Preflop, our range is a 53:47 favorite over his. After this flop, which hits his range harder than ours, SB’s range becomes a 52:48 favorite. Against a less aware villain, betting this flop might show a profit, but we know that our opponent knows that his range is stronger on this flop than ours, so a bet here with all of our range would be, in a vacuum, a –EV play. So we instead divide our range into two subranges, and manipulate our opponent’s range so that all of our lines can be profitable.

Nut+air subrange: These are the hands that we are willing to make a continuation bet with, those hands that we gain the most from by betting. The nut hands are ahead of our opponent’s range and if our opponent folds to our air we profit immensely. Moreover, the combination of nut and air hands in our cbetting range gives our play balance. Our subrange here is {22-55,77,99,KK,AA,Axhh,QJ/KJ/KQ combos without flush draws}.

Medium-strength (showdown value) subrange: This is the subrange that we are going for a delayed cbet with. These hands may be best but cannot stand a reraise on the flop and become weaker if called. This range is {66,88,TT-QQ,Ax,QJ/KJ/KQ combos with flush draws}. These hands can improve greatly by seeing a free turn and do not want to bloat the pot. If our opponent checks to us on the turn again, even if we haven’t improved, we can make the delayed cbet and likely take it down. Our opponent has shown weakness twice, and many of these hands are likely to be best now.

Example in a 3-bet pot:

A loose-aggressive player opens on the HJ in a six-handed NLHE game for 3.5BB. We 3b from the BTN to 11BB, the blinds fold, and the HJ calls. The flop is ADiamond 7Spade 5Spade. HJ checks. Our range for 3betting this player is {AA,KK,QQ ,AK,67s,78s,89s,75s,86s,97s,22-66}. We estimate villain’s 3bet calling range to be {KK,QQ,JJ,TT,99,AQ,AJs,KQs,QJs,TJs}. On this flop, our range is 48.5:51.5 against our opponent’s, another situation where betting our entire range is going to be –EV. Again we’re dividing our range into two subranges, those that we check, and those that go for the delayed cbet.

Nut+air subrange: {AA,AK,6s8s,7s9s,75s,22-66} These hands play easily against a c/r, which we expect with a common frequency on A-high flops in 3b pots.

Medium-strength+weaker draw subrange: {KK,QQ, 67s,78s, 97s,89s/86s(no spades)} Betting KK here folds out all worse hands and keeps all better hands in. Betting QQ folds out all worse hands and folds only one better hand (KK). None of the hands in this range can continue against a c/r and all can benefit from seeing a free turn. If villain checks to us again on the turn it is much less likely that he has an A since it is rare for players to go for a c/r twice in a row. We can bet and often get value with our high pairs and folds with our junk.

In conclusion, on flops where our opponent’s range is ahead of ours, it is often wiser to cbet only a polarized range, and to go for a delayed cbet with medium-strength holdings. In this way we manipulate our opponents’ ranges such that we can get value often when we are ahead and get folds often when we are behind, while at the same time avoiding building a huge pot with mediocre holdings and adding balance to our flop checks and turn bets.

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