If you’ve been playing poker for a few years, without much thought about strategy or how skill is imperative to winning at the game, you probably think poker is all luck. The night’s winner is simply who has received the best hands, gotten lucky and hit his straight on the river a few times.
Well, poker is not all about luck, it really is a skill game. If you’re still not sure, think of it like this: can you purposely lose at poker? What about craps or roulette? You can most definitely “mean to lose” at poker, but you can’t at the other two. Why? Because craps and roulette are 100% luck, skill has no determining factor with who wins and who loses. So they are games of chance. You could walk into any poker room in the world, play has horribly as you can, and you will be guaranteed to lose money every time because poker is a game of skill.
Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time you started playing like poker is a game of skill and less like it’s only about “having fun and gambling it up.” That is, if you want to actually learn how to win at the game.
So the first lesson is the Continuation Bet. When you’re playing poker, you can get great starting hands every hand and still not connect with the flop very often. Why is that? Because no matter your starting hand, you will miss the flop around 70% of the time. Sucks, doesn’t it? But wait – that also means your opponents also miss the flop about 70% of the time. And it’s for this reason we can take advantage of them using the C-Bet.
This is how it works: when you raise pre-flop and you only get one caller, you’re going to “continue betting” on most flops. Because your opponent will miss most flops, he will usually have to fold. Voila, you have just won your first pot via skill!
A $2/$5 NL Hold’em game. You’ve got AhKd in middle position and you raise to $12. The Big Blind comes along for the ride. The flop is Qh 7c 4d. This is a great flop for a C-bet. The Big Blind checks, you lead for $18 and he folds. You’ve just picked up the pot with what was still arguably the best hand. Easy enough, right?
But it doesn’t end there. Say you’ve raised to $16 with Td7d in the Cut-Off to steal 3 weak limps and the blinds, but one of the limpers calls. The flop is Ad Kc 2d. This is another great flop for you – why? Because what kind of hand does a limper call a raise with? It’s not a good Ace, that’s for sure. Probably he has a small or mid-pocket pair or maybe he was feeling frisky with some suited connectors. So bet. You will take this pot down the vast majority of the time. If the other player calls, you will NOT 2nd barrel unless there is an obvious flush draw on board and your opponent is a known flush chaser. But if you have an Ace-high hand, you might be willing to just check it down, as the likelihood you have the best hand is still decent. But in most cases, if your C-Bet gets called, you are done with the hand unless you happen to hit something on the turn or river.
As you can see, you have to be a decent reader of hands, position and situations in order to do this successfully. But the more you do it, the more you will begin to recognize when it’s a good time to C-Bet and when it’s a bad time. A bad time would be when you raise and a player behind you or in the blinds calls, and the flop is KQ9 or J98 or any kind of coordinated board that could’ve hit a lot of the caller’s pre-flop range.
Another advantage to being a consistent – but careful - C-Bettor, is that you’ll start getting looked up on a lot of your good hands. Players will start to feel suspicious of you and begin to call flop and turn bets when they shouldn’t be. This plays right into your wheelhouse, because you will have a good hand some of the time, of course.
A winning poker player has got to win hands without showing down the actual winner. You cannot count on “running good” all the time. So you have to start picking up those pots that others don’t want. That means taking stabs at those orphan pots no one else seems to want. And that means using the Continuation Bet as a useful weapon in your poker arsenal.