Every poker player knows how much easier it is to play hands in position.
In position players get to play looser, bet more frequently and ultimately win more pots than an out of position player can.
This article is about flop continuation bets(aka c-bets) in single raised pots– how to most effectively beat down your opponent when in position, and reduce your own disadvantage when out of position.
What is a continuation bet?
A continuation bet, or simply put a c-bet, is a bet made by the last preflop aggressor. It is named this way because the player who decided to take the initiative preflop has continued seizing the initiative on the following street.
Before we get into a specific hand example, let’s review why the in position player has such a great advantage.
The Benefits of In Position Play
A couple notable advantages come with playing in position as the pre-flop raiser.
- The in position player has an informational edge
The largest advantage of playing in position is the extra information available to us when making post-flop decisions. It’s easy to take for granted, but knowing whether our opponent(s) bet, checked or raised before we make a move is a huge advantage.
- The in position pre-flop raiser almost always has a range advantage on the flop
Given that the out of position player chose to just call pre-flop, the in position aggressor has a stronger range. This range advantage carries over to the flop on almost all board textures. (For all intents and purposes, this range advantage carries over to all board textures.)
For these reasons, we can value bet and bluff on the flop more aggressively and at a higher frequency when in position.
Out of Position Perils
Playing in position sure sounded great, didn’t it? This section is less great.
When out of position on the flop, we’re forced to play our range more conservatively than when we are in position because of our informational disadvantage.
Playing our entire range more conservatively mitigates the in position player’s informational advantage because it keeps our range disguised and protected.
The out of position raiser has a range advantage against the capped range of the in position caller, but that usually isn’t enough to overcome the informational disadvantage. There are exceptions on certain flop textures…
Let’s say Hero raises from the HiJack and the button calls. Some examples of flop textures where the out of position player retains a relatively big advantage are:
On these boards, Hero has more strong hands in their range than the in position player, and thus can bet with a relatively wide range(usually with a small continuation bet sizing). That said, an overwhelming number of boards and situations call for a conservative approach.
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C-Betting In Position vs Out of Position
Now let’s have a look at a sample hand on a “normal” flop texture to see these differences in action.
Assume we open-raise from the Cutoff with the The Poker Lab recommended range:
Let’s start with the more common spot, playing against a caller from the blinds.
Example A. Playing the Flop In Position
After open-raising the cutoff, the player in the big blind calls and we go heads-up to a flop of:
Here is how we should play our range on this flop:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.
- Category 1: Strong hands (QT or better)
These are strong hands that can comfortably bet the flop, turn and river for value on most run outs. If we get check/raised while holding these hands, we can profitably call with plans to reevaluate on later streets.
- Category 2: Marginal hands (55 to JT and some Ace-highs)
These are hands that have somewhat connected with the flop, but aren’t strong enough to bet multiple streets for value(and many of them can’t even face a check/raise). Checking back with marginal hands is almost always the way to go.
Keeping some borderline hands in this range, such as JT, is an effective way to balance and protect our check back range.
- Category 3: Bluffs (straight draws and strong backdoor draws)
We balance out our Category 1 strong hands with bluffs(or semi-bluffs, if you prefer) like these. Straight draws, such as 87 or J7, are the obviously good candidates to bluff with on this board. Beyond the obvious, hands with multiple backdoor draws also fit well into this range(such as 65s or K7s).
- Category 4: Weak hands (33 and worse)
These are hands that have missed the flop with which you should give up. Check back with these hands, hope to bink a card and fold if you don’t.
Example B. Playing the Flop Out of Position
Now let’s compare this against our flop c-betting range when out of position against a caller on the button:
That’s a lot more green and a lot less red/pink, which is a nice visual representation of the conservative approach required when out of position. Let’s consider the notable changes from the in position range:
- KT and QT shift down to Category 2 check/calls
We need to strengthen our check range in order to effectively defend against bets from our opponent. Choosing the worst of our strong hands and shifting them down to Category 2 is a great way to do that.
Also note that AA is in Category 2 in order to further strengthen our check range. AA is the least vulnerable of all the overpairs, which makes it a reasonable hand to slow-play at some frequency. You don’t have to do this, nor should you every time, but it’s something to consider.
- The Category 3 bluff range shrinks significantly
With fewer value hands in our bet range, we’re forced to reduce our bluffing frequency as well. High equity draws, such as open enders and strong gutshots, remain present in this range, but there are notably fewer weak gutshots and backdoor draws.
- **** gets weird with AK/AQ/AJ
As the pre-flop raiser, we have a lot of combos of AK, AQ and AJ. 48 combos to be exact. These hands function well as check backs in position, but it isn’t that simple out of position.
If we check/call every combo of AK, AQ and AJ, our check/call range will contain far too many ace-highs. This allows our opponent to run us over on later streets by barreling frequently. If we check/fold every combo of AK, AQ and AJ, we will check/fold far too often which allows our opponent to profitably over-bluff on the flop.
The solution is to use a mixed strategy with these hands- check/calling some and check/folding others. It’s best to start by check/calling the 3 combos with backdoor flush draws, but that usually won’t be enough combos. Just add a few more into your check/call range using some sort of randomizer (e.g. if you think you should check/call 50% of your AK/AQ/AJ combos, flip a coin and only check/call when it’s heads).
Continuation Bet Wrap Up
Optimal c-betting ranges when IP and OOP share some similarities, but each require their own unique approach.
When you are in position and have an informational advantage over your opponent, you should apply pressure by value betting and bluffing more frequently. When out of position, you need to be more conservative with your c-bet range in order to protect your check range, which will be required to effectively defend against bets from your opponent.
Read more from UpswingPoker:
- Make sure you’re avoiding these 5 Poker Misconceptions That Way Too Many People Believe
- Are you a live poker player? Check out these 8 Live Poker Tips That Will Put More Cash in Your Pocket
- Want to review your continuation bet strategy? Go back to the top of this c-bet article.