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Poker Strategy | Advanced Poker

The Wisdom of the Continuation Bet: Part II

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Last time (Part I) I argued that conventional wisdom exaggerates profitability claims for continuation bets. In Part II, I want to discuss whether continuation betting can be made profitable. My suspicion is that the success rates needed to show a profit are not attainable, but I think we can come close to break even while still providing cover for value bets. As I mentioned last time, I think disguising value bets is the main reason why one should continuation bet.

To refresh everyone's memory, the example I started with is one in which I raise 4 big blinds with A-K, get one caller, miss the flop, and bet half the pot, hoping to win the hand right there with my continuation bet. Since the pot is 8 big blinds, my half pot bet is 4 big blinds and each hand is an 8 big blind investment on my part.

Can we show a profit with our continuation bets in the real world? In Part I, my analysis showed that a half pot continuation bet is not profitable even if successful half the time. I expanded my analysis to include cases in which one improves on the turn to arrive at a more accurate success rate. So what rate is the break-even rate for half pot continuation bets? A 60% success is not the minimum but it is close and is a nice round number. Over 100 hands, the continuation bet wins 4 big blinds 60 times for 240 big blinds. It wins 8 big blinds 5.12 times for 40.96 big blinds. You lose 8 big blinds 34.88 times for 279.04 big blinds. Total profit is 1.92 big blinds. (The break-even rate is 59.81%)

Is a 60% success rate achievable? If it is, do you really want it? Let's start with that last question. Part of the reason why you want to continuation bet is to provide cover for your value bets. If you never continuation bet a missed A-K, then when you do bet, every observant player at the table knows you've hit the flop and will fold or milk you with 2 pair or a set. That's not +EV. With a hand like A-K, you make your money when you hit, and you can only make that money if it isn't obvious that you've hit. Thus, you must continuation bet at least a significant portion of the time. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to take a loss on my continuation bets if that means I can make up that loss and then some on my value bets. Thus we have competing considerations. We want to maximize total EV for a hand like A-K, and this means that we want to do both, make money from our value bets and minimize losses on our continuation bets. The ideal situation would be maximum return on both value bets and continuation bets. The question, then, is whether a 60% success rate is achievable while at the same time my continuation bets are frequent enough to maximize my expected return on my value bets.

Perhaps, however, the half-pot continuation bet is not the ideal betting amount. I've seen both extremes utilized for continuation bets. Let's run the analysis on each, starting with the ever popular minimum bet, frequently employed by the fishies. What success rate does the fish need to make these continuation bets profitable? It turns out to be a little more than 48.2%. That rate is almost certainly unattainable for the minimum bet strategy. At the other extreme are full pot continuation bets and the over bet. Let's just stick to pot size continuation bets for the analysis. Since the pot is 8 big blinds after the 4 big blind preflop raise, the continuation bet is for 8 big blinds. Thus each hand is an investment of 12 big blinds. How successful do these bets need to be? They need to be slightly more successful than 69.06%.

I'll save you the math and give the following schedule for continuation bet amounts and their break-even (roughly) success rates assuming a preflop raise of four big blinds with one caller.

Minimum bet 48.2%
One-third pot 55.36%
Half pot 59.81%
Two-thirds pot 63.45%
Three-fourths pot 65.03%
Full pot 69.06%

As you will notice, the lower the bet, the lower the success rate needed and vice versa. You can decide for yourself if you think any of these rates are attainable in the long run. I am rather skeptical. Nevertheless, even if your continuation bets fail to net a gain for you, they are still quite useful.

As I said above, part of the reason why you ought to continuation bet is to provide cover for your value bets. Another part of the reason to continuation bet is because you lose less doing that than not. Recall from Part I that a half pot bet that was only 50% successful resulted in a net loss of 97.6 big blinds. That number gets much worse if you don't continuation bet. Let's say you have raised preflop, committing four big blinds into the pot and abandon them when you miss the flop, but let's say you also value bet if you hit the turn. Out of 100 missed flops that get to the turn, you will value bet 12.8 of them winning 4 big blinds from your caller for a total of 52.2 big blinds. But you lose your 4 big blind preflop raise 87.2 times for a total loss of 348.8. That means if you never continuation bet, then the 100 flops that you miss will cost you 296.6 big blinds. That's almost 200 big blinds more than a half pot continuation bet that wins the pot only half the time. Continuation bets save you money in the long run, even if they don't give you a profit on their own.

Aside from saving you money, continuation bets also provide cover for your value bets. If the plan is to maximize the total value we get out of a hand like A-K, then we ought to be continuation betting close to the amount that we would value bet. How much you value bet depends on your own particular game - the higher your bets, the higher your variance. How much variance you can withstand depends partly on your bankroll and partly on your emotional temperament. First, if your bankroll is tight, then aside from not playing at the level you are playing at, you should try to lower variance. Second, there's no point in playing so as to maximize EV if the inevitable suck outs set you on tilt. In my experience tilt is far more likely if I'm on the wrong end of a big pot than a small one. Whatever you typically bet for value, you should be typically betting as a continuation bet. This will provide cover for your value bets.

Another factor to consider is the type of opponent you are up against. If your opponent has never folded to a half pot continuation bet but has folded to a full pot continuation bet, then consider betting the pot. If you are up against a calling station who calls with any piece of the flop, there is no need to bet the pot. All you need to know is whether he has hit a piece of the flop, if not he will fold. Thus, bet small against this player, as the size of your bet matters very little.

Of course, you also want to pick your spots. If you always continuation bet, this will be spotted and exploited by your better opponents. Flops with good texture for your hand are good candidates for continuation betting. You can also check the flop, and if you have position and are checked to on the turn, then you can continuation bet with a fairly good chance of taking the pot down. Is this chance in the mid-60 percentile? I'm not sure, but if these bets fail, your flop bet would also likely have failed. Whether you should hold off on a continuation bet until the turn also depends upon the type of player you are up against. If you check, in position, against an aggressive player, that player is probably betting whatever card hits the turn. Not so bad if you hit the turn, but the majority of the time you'll be folding. Against a weak, passive player you should probably go ahead and fire on the flop, as the weak player will fold most hands even if they hit part of the flop.

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