From Amateur to Pro Continuation Betting
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
By Lee Davy
This is the fifth part of a coaching series featuring Blue Fire Poker’s Alan Jackson. The goal of the series it to create a roadmap that allows amateur poker players to take their games to the next level. In this latest installment, we look at the continuation bet.
Continuation betting, or c-betting, can be a great way of making money or a great way of losing it, and it all depends on your education. The untrained poker starlet may believe that the raw aggression of the c-bet itself is enough to be profitable, but this is simply not true. In order for a c-bet to be effective over the long run, there are a series of factors that need to be considered and applied to your game.
Lots of coaches operate on a “sweat only” basis, meaning that they watch their students playing online while offering them advice on parts of their game they observe and believe they can improve. Alan Jackson’s approach is somewhat different. The first thing Jackson will do is analyse how successful your c-bets are by looking at Hold Em Manager (HEM). There is a quick and easy filter you can use that breaks down the number of times that you c-bet and how often your opponent folded.
Let’s use an example to explain Alan Jackson’s way of thinking. Imagine you are playing in a $1/$2 6-max cash game and, after a standard raise and a call, there is $12 in the pot. A typical c-bet of $8 means that, over the long run, you only need to be successful 40% of the time to be break even. So that is Jackson’s first starting point. When you start working with him he looks at how successful you are by using HEM and this gives him a rough understanding of what he is dealing with.
Next he will then ask you to write out your standard c-bet lines. He wants to know what is going through your mind when you’re deciding to take action on a flop where you are the pre-flop raiser. Jackson believes writing down your standard lines and thought processes helps reinforce the actions in your procedural memory. The more poker thoughts and processes that come naturally to you, the more energy you free up to concentrate on the tougher spots. Think of it like writing your own poker instructional manual for someone else to follow. The idea is not only therapeutic but it also really does help you remember everything.
When it comes to c-betting, Jackson wants to see an understanding of flop textures, position, opponent player types, opponent statistics, betting amounts and potential action on the turn (or thinking ahead). If he finds a problem with your stats, he will use more statistical analysis to break them down even further. He comes from the school of root cause analysis.
Once I’ve written down my c-betting lines, Jackson wants to know whether or not I have a basic understanding of why I’m choosing to c-bet. This may seem a simple observation, but there are people who play a lot of poker who will c-bet nearly 100% of flops and there are those that c-bet as low as 20%. Both of these types of players are unbalanced and therefore more exploitable than most.
Jackson tells me to aim for a c-bet percentage of somewhere between 60% and 74%. This isn’t just plucked out of thin air; he has found that all of his students who play profitable poker fall within this range. Jackson then created some simple rules to help me hit the 60% to 74% target.
Ace-high, king-high, queen-high boards are always good candidates to c-bet because they fall into your initial pre-flop raising range. However, when firing at these types of boards, it’s important to note the statistics of your opponents. If they are not folding to a lot of c-bets, it may be better to steer clear of bluffing these types of boards and maybe just apply pressure for value, but if they are folding 50%+ then these types of boards are great.
Position is important. Having position on your opponent will result in a 5% increase in your c-betting success frequency.
Jackson is an ardent believer in the value of c-betting with some form of equity, even if it is just a backdoor flush draw, gutshot straight draw or two over-cards. The suck-out equity is just as important as your opponent’s statistics.
Paired boards are great candidates for a c-bet but only if you are prepared to follow up with the aggression on the turn. The paired board play almost always results in folds on the turn and analysis over the long run show these types of boards to be profitable.
Bet-sizing should be player dependant. If your opponent had a very low fold-to-c-bet percentage then you should only c-bet for value and make your bets bigger. If he has a very high fold to c-bet, then you would c-bet more frequently and make the bets smaller.
After a while, the rules start to sink into my procedural memory and my next task is to log lots of hands and do lots of homework. The c-betting rules that Jackson started me off with can now evolve and change. Each situation is uniquely different and we can discuss deviations from statistics.
My homework is to spend a lot of time in the HEM reports section where you find the “Board Texture” tab and analyse how I’m fairing when c-betting certain board textures. I find that I had a very low success percentage firing at jack-high and ten high-boards, for example.
Another great tool that Jackson uses to analyse flop textures and compare c-betting success criteria is a piece of software called Flopzilla. Flopzilla is excellent for examining calling ranges with flop textures to show you the mathematical likelihood that a flop hit your opponents range or not. This helps you recognise and avoid unprofitable board textures and jump all over the profitable ones.
Jackson’s strength comes from his ability to break your game down and create a solid A-B-C foundational structure from which to propel yourself forward. He does this by analysing your c-bet success rate, creating lines and rules, helping you to understand your opponents’ tendencies and fostering continual self improvement through hard work and homework.
This is also a video series that can be found at www.bluefirepoker.com. You can follow my own personal story on my blog at www.leedavy.co.uk. If you are interested in receiving coaching from Alan Jackson visit www.AJacksonPoker.com.