Strategy: Continuation Betting Continued

Dara O'Kearney

In my last article, I explained what a continuation bet is, and asked you to start thinking about when they should and shouldn’t be used in this specific example:

You have 40 big blinds and raise under the gun to 2.3 big blinds. Only the big blind with the same stack calls.

The flop comes As 8h 2d. The big blind checks.

Which of the following hands would you bet, and would you use a small size (third pot or less) or a large size (two-thirds pot or more)?

(A) KK

(B) AA

(C) 33

(D) Ks Qs

(E) Ks 6s

Ok now let’s look at what we do with each of these hands if we are trying to play optimally (what’s referred to as Game Theory Optimal or GTO, the subject of my latest book “GTO Poker Simplified”), starting with

(A) KK

We all know the feeling: you get dealt Kings and feel a rush of excitement. You raise. The big blind calls. So far so good. But then the flop comes As 8h 2d and your heart sinks. “The ace always comes when I don’t have one” you think to yourself. The big blind checks and now you don’t know whether to bet or to check. Back when I learned poker, the popular wisdom was you should check because “there’s no point betting. An ace won’t fold and if the big blind doesn’t have at least an ace he won’t call”. We now know this is wrong for a number of reasons.

First, if you always check when you don’t have the ace but have a hand like kings, you might as well tell your opponent this when you check. Even if you don’t, if he’s paying attention, he will figure it out for himself and now you make it easy for him to play the rest of the hand. He will only put more money into the pot if he has kings beaten, or thinks he can get you to fold them with a big bet when he doesn’t. The technical mistake you’ve just made is referred to as “capping your range”, a fancy way of saying that you revealed to your opponent you don’t have a super strong hand.

Second, it’s not true that your opponent should only call with better hands. If that’s his strategy you can exploit him by just betting all the time when he checks. If you look back to all the hands he can have called within the diagram in my last article you’ll quickly see he won’t have the ace or better all that often, so your bluffs will be profitable because they will nearly always work.

When you bet small, this is what your opponent should be continuing with:

Basically all pairs (pocket or board), some king highs, and lots of other hands that can make a straight or a flush by the river. If he’s not calling all these hands he’s making your bluffs super profitable.


In actual fact, even if your opponent is calling all these hands when you bet small (third pot or less), you should still go ahead and bet all your hands all the time. The reason for this is your opponent has no idea what actual hand you have but should know that you are far more likely to have a strong hand than him (again go back and look at the preflop ranges if you don’t believe me). Even hands like king high will be ahead of most of the hands big blind called with. This is what is referred to as “range advantage”. When one player has significant range advantage they should go ahead and bet irrespective of their actual hand.  This is what is referred to as a “range bet” because we bet our entire range of hands. We generally range bet only in situations where we have a significant range advantage like this one. In my last article, I said I dislike the term continuation bet and this is why. It implies the fact that we were the aggressor preflop is a good reason to continue betting. In actual fact it isn’t: it’s only a good idea to bet if you have range advantage. In any spot, the player with the stronger range should be the one doing the betting. This is usually the aggressor on the previous street because they had the stronger range at that point and will retain the range advantage most of the time on the next street. Most, but not all of the time, as we shall see. Range advantage can switch depending on what comes. For example, if one player mostly has strong made hands on the flop and the other player has more flush draws, then if a flush card comes on the turn range advantage switches. So “range advantage bet” is in my opinion a more accurate description than “continuation bet”, but that ship has sailed.

When range betting you are generally better off betting a small size than a big one. If you bet big, you are less likely to get called when you actually have a big hand. You will also lose more when you bet as a bluff and it doesn’t work because your opponent has a hand. Betting big also just makes life too easy for your opponent: he just calls when he has a hand and folds when he doesn’t. When you bet small you make it more likely you’ll get paid when you have a hand, lose less when you’re bluffing and it doesn’t work, and generally make your opponent’s life more difficult. He’s obviously continuing when he has a hand, but if he doesn’t call as wide as shown in the diagram earlier, he’s allowing your bluffs to work too often. If he calls more often than that because “it’s only a small bet” he’s also making a mistake paying off your value hands too often (or calling on the flop when you’re bluffing but folding later in the hand if you keep bluffing).

Before we move on, as an aside, I want to talk a little about that “the ace always comes when I don’t have one” feeling. Like a lot of human feelings and intuitions, it’s incorrect. We have selective memories and the times we have kings and the ace flops are much more memorable than when we have ace-king, so it appears in retrospect that the ace comes more often than it actually does.

That said, and this might surprise you at first, it is true that when we have kings an ace flops more often than when we have ace-king (or any other ace). The reason for this is a concept referred to as “blockers”. When we have kings, there are four possible aces that can come on the flop. On the other hand, when we have ace-king, there are only three (other) aces that can come, so it’s 33% more likely an ace flops when we have kings than when we have ace-king. The ace in our hand is a “blocker”: it blocks or reduces the number of aces that can come on the flop.

Blockers work both ways. It’s also true if our opponent has an ace, an ace will appear less frequently on the flop than when he doesn’t. So when an ace appears on the flop, that actually makes it less likely your opponent has one.

With that off my chest, let’s look at what we do if we have any of the other hands I told you to think about in the last article.

(B) AA

Well since I said in the Kings discussion we should just bet our entire range on this flop, I’ve kind of let the cat out of the bag that we should bet all these hands too. I chose them all deliberately because they are all hands popular wisdom said not to bet back in the day when I learned poker. We were told to check aces as a trap, on the grounds that it was very unlikely our opponent had a hand to continue with. By checking we gave him a chance to catch something on a later street or to start bluffing. There is a certain logic to this, and if you’re playing very weak opposition likely to make the mistake of putting more money into the pot later in the hand for one or both of these reasons, then it can be a good exploitative play.

The problem though is if you only check very strong hands as a trap, observant opponents will pick up on this and won’t bet even pretty strong hands that would have called a continuation bet on the flop (or fold them if you bet), recognising that you only check very strong hands on that flop. A second problem is that if you always check your super strong hands as a trap, you cap your range when you do bet the flop, telling your opponent you don’t have a super strong hand on this occasion.

Yes, it sucks when you flop top set and they just fold to your small continuation bet, but they probably weren’t putting more money in later, and it’s more than compensated for the times when they have a hand strong enough to call (even more so if they call all the way to the river), and the times when you only have King six suited but they fold King ten because you could have aces. By now you may have picked up on the fact that one of the keys to playing good poker is to “play your range, not your hand”. Your opponent doesn’t know which particular hand you have in your range.

(C) 33

(D) Ks Qs

(E) Ks 6s

All these hands used to split opinions down the middle back in the day when I was learning poker. One school of thought was “bet now because you probably have the best hand but it’s very vulnerable”. The other was “don’t bet now because worse hands won’t call and better hands won’t fold, instead just try to get to showdown cheaply and hope to win”.  Both viewpoints have logic to them, but that’s beside the point. The point is we want to bet our range not our hand and on this flop, our range is so much stronger than the big blind’s that we just want to go ahead and bet everything.

Before moving on from this hand, here’s the GTO approach to continuation betting on this board.

The lighter red represents small bets and the darker red big bets. You can see a small amount of green (representing checks) and dark red (big bets) but in practise it’s best to ignore very low-frequency plays. They just over complicate your strategy and lose little or nothing just betting small with everything in this spot. It’s always better in practise to simplify your strategy when there’s a simple one size fits all strategy used almost all the time.

All of these diagrams and strategies come from a tool called GTOWizard which I very strongly recommend. In the next article, we will move on to another example where the action, stacks, and positions are the same, but the flop is very different. Specifically, we will consider the flop

8h 7d 6h. Before we do, as homework I want you to think about and decide what you would do as the under-the-gun raiser if the big blind checks and you have the following hands:

(A) AA

(B) TT

(C) 99

(D) 55

(E) A8s

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Dara has written three number 1 best-selling poker strategy books (“Poker Satellite Strategy”, “PKO Poker Strategy” and “Endgame Poker Strategy: the ICM book”) with Barry Carter and hundreds of strategy articles for various sites and magazines. I have coached dozens of players of all standards, made training videos for various sites, and cohost the Global Poker award-winning podcast The Chip Race with my good friend David Lappin.

"I have played a number of Irish Poker Tour events and I’ve absolutely loved the atmosphere and craic at them, so when they asked me to start providing strategy content for them aimed at the players who play them, I was flattered and honoured to accept."


  1. Avatar Jerry on January 28, 2023 at 6:56 pm

    This is top top stuff!!

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