There was a time when the so-called continuation bet (c-bet) was a tactic used only by stronger, more experienced players, but nowadays everybody and his dog seems to be at it.
For those of you who don’t know, the c-bet is a tactic whereby the aggression that begins with a player putting in a pre-flop raise is then continued by their betting on the Flop, regardless of the strength of their hand. The point is that, in the absence of the opposition hitting a big hand, the caller(s) tend not to put up resistance, and the c-bet earns a decent profit with minimum effort.
It would be a mistake, when facing this strategy, to too readily roll over and allow our opponents to dominate us, especially with so many players adopting this play to the point where it’s become not only fashionable, but a pretty blatant feature of the game. Indeed, when in position (ideally on the Button) it’s almost expected of us to give the c-bet weapon a go.
With this in mind it makes sense to have in our armoury a way of not only combatting the continuation bet, but exploiting it. Success in poker is dependent on our taking typical situations and taking advantage of them, using our opponents’ stereotyped and often predictable behaviour against them.
One such effective strategy where the c-bet is concerned is ‘floating’ – this is when we call a continuation bet from a pre-flop raiser with the sole intention of simply stealing the pot on the Turn with our own bet or raise. This sounds almost too simple an exercise and even too good to be true but, prepared and executed properly, floating is a worthy addition to any player’s box of tricks.
The Psychology of Floating
Some of the best tactics in poker revolve around understanding how players think and acting accordingly, creating a believable narrative that is designed to elicit reactions in our opponents that are to our advantage rather than theirs. To better appreciate how we can exploit those players who like to c-bet, first we need to understand why they get away with it in the first place. As I mentioned earlier, many players give up the chase so often against the c-bet, but on the face of it it’s a perfectly understandable response. This is because most of the time with a starting hand that isn’t a pair we’re simply going to miss the Flop. That’s just a matter of the probabilities of poker. Consequently, most of the time we won’t be in a position to put up a fight against a c-bet if we’re going to base our decision making process primarily upon the strength of our hand. And herein lies the beauty of the c-bet strategy in that it doesn’t even require a strong starting hand to be successful, rather it relies on the fact that much of the time opponent will miss and, consequently, keep their powder dry for when they hit. Moreover, even if they do have a hand, they still need to be confident it’s worth putting up a fight with, and will still give in to the possible strength shown by an aggressor willing to bet both pre and post flop.
Now that we properly understand the psychology behind the c-bet and why it work so well, our mission is to take that further and turn it to our advantage. One key factor to note is that, just as we are unlikely to hit the Flop, the player who uses the c-bet tactic is often doing so without a hand, too. The only difference is that they’re using the advantage that their assuming the initiative affords them to apply the pressure with the c-bet.
Floating allows us to change the narrative by giving our opponent the opportunity to (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that their usually successful strategy hasn’t worked this time because they’ve simply come up against an opponent who has a stong(er) hand. This is to be expected, of course, so the scenario we’re trying to create is already perfectly feasible and therefore eminently believable. Moreover, those players who successfully use continuation betting to over time steadily accumulate chips accept it’s going to be along the lines of, for example, ‘three steps forward, one step back’ in terms of a strike rate – we’re simply trying to convince them that this is a necessary step back, and that they’d be better simply cutting their losses and moving on to the next opportunity.
We’ll delve further into this interesting subject in future articles but, for now, here are a few factors to consider.
Not surprisingly, position is important. A typical floating scenario is when we’re in the Big Blind and have called the Button’s pre-flop raise, and nobody else has come along for the ride. While this is one of those common situations that presents a floating opportunity, it’s nevertheless preferable to have position.
It’s also much easier to successfully execute this tactic when it’s just us and the c-bettor, so we should be looking for spots not only that afford us a positional advantage but also that feature a lone opponent.
Other factors also come into play, and this topic cannot be covered in a single article, but the main determinant in all of this is weaving together a believable narrative – a ‘convincer’ that will lead our target to do the right thing and fold…