How to Evaluate a Continuation Bet
There is a poker adage that some players misunderstand: if your hand is good enough to call with it is good enough to bet with. This is an oversimplification of good poker tactics. We will begin at this error in tactics and move from there to a Juicy Stakes talk about continuation betting.
Why Do Some Players Raise with Borderline Hands?
This is the perfect example of this error in tactics. Many players don’t want to be known as a limper, someone who calls with a poor hand hoping to strike it rich on the flop. The thinking is that by merely calling in early position a player is openly telegraphing that he or she has a poor hand and is hoping to hit the flop.
Furthermore, in early position, calling the big blind invites a raise by any player who is in line to bet after the limper has bet. In other words, many players see limping as an invitation to just take their money away with a raise.
So, these players either fold in early position or raise. They think that they are telegraphing strength with their raise. This is also a mistake in poker tactics.
Some players are overly concerned with the poker rake. The rake is the least important part of any poker hand. We set a maximum rake so if you are in a big pot, you won’t lose much to the rake. Always keep in mind that the rake is what covers the cists Juicy Stakes incurs from hosting poker games!
What Does a Raise in Early Position Indicate?
It may indicate anything from a poor hand that the player is trying to steal the hand with to a dynamite hand that the player is hoping to use to grow the pot and score a substantial win. A raise in early position can mean anything in between these two extremes. In short, it is impossible to really know what a raise in early position means unless the player is totally transparent and raises only with one of a few strong hands.
Is Limping Only for Calls in Early Position?
No. A limp is considered any call before the flop. This gets us back to the original adage: if you can call, you can raise.
This, however, fails to take a few things into consideration. In a low stakes game, a call before the flop may mean nothing at all. Similarly, in a low stakes game, a raise may mean nothing at all. This tactic might be a bluff or it might be a way of growing the pot for a big win.
High stakes poker players are generally people who can afford the higher stakes. This usually means that they are a lot more seasoned then players who play on occasion and only in low stakes games. A call from an experienced player might telegraph weakness but it might be a fake as the player wants others to stay in the pot against his powerful hand.
A Bet before the Flop Might Mean a Set up for a Continuation Bet
Now we arrive at a much misunderstood aspect of poker strategy. Most people think of a continuation bet as simply something the bettor has to do if he doesn’t want everyone to know that he missed the flop.
A continuation bet works like this: a player raises before the flop. This can be done in any position except of course the big blind can’t raise himself. Then, after the flop, the player who raised before the flop has to bet again. If he doesn’t he is sending out a message that he missed the flop.
He may be bluffing completely. He might have raised before the flop with a very borderline hand intending on bluffing his way through the hand. This is especially sound poker strategy when the other players at the table are short stacked. Players with a short stack are often intimidated by a betting player even if they know full well that the bettor could be bluffing.
What if I Have a Very Good Hand?
If you raised from strength before the flop or if you hit the flop, you can raise again on the next street but it is no longer strictly called a continuation bet. In this case it is considered a value bet since you are looking for the right amount to bet to keep players who will ultimately lose to you in the pot.
The trick in poker is to be able to identify a continuation bet from weakness or a value bet from strength. This is so much easier said than done that even many pro poker players never master the ability to read the bets an opponent makes. A pro may know another pro very well but they don’t know the new guy at the table and without the very exceptional skill to differentiate between a continuation bet and a value bet, even these seasoned pros make mistakes after the flop.
Aren’t Continuation Bets Dangerous?
Yes, they are! A player who bluffs too much will often lose so much that they won’t have enough money to pull off a really good bluff or grow a pot they should win. Making too many continuation bets can backfire big time if you don’t really understand the dynamic of the bet itself and the dynamic of that specific table you are playing at.
Every table plays a little differently and what worked the last time out may not work at all this time. We often say that poker requires thousands of hands to get enough experience to really know what is happening at the table in real time.
In this sense, poker is a sport. There are the basics and there are the game day adjustments you have to make. An opponent may be having a very lucky day. He or she might be hitting hand after hand on the river. So, a continuation bet from this player may be just another bluff or it might be the time they have a really solid hand that you can’t see because you think that they raised with a very borderline hand.
Betting Requires Players to Quickly Evaluate the Flop
What could an opponent have to stay in this pot? This question has to be asked on every hand you stay in. Remember, you are not the only player employing the continuation bet tactic. Every player at the table is using it too! You have to learn to read their bets as much as you hope they fail to accurately read yours.
Is a Continuation Bet Wise against an Aggressive Player?
It is often not a good tactic against an aggressive player. It is much better to find ways to bet from value against inveterate aggressive players who will call a good value bet thinking that it is a continuation bet from weakness.
Against a smart aggressive player, a continuation bet will probably have little use. He or she will either fold and you will take a small pot or they will aggressively counter your continuation bet with a powerful bet of their own and that will intimidate you out of the pot.
So, be careful with continuation bets. But you already know that! You know that in real poker you have to be careful all the time while trying ever so much to telegraph the idea that you have no fear!
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