Introducing the delayed c-bet in poker

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By Zack Bartholomew, Big Slick Poker Academy Instructor

We all know what a continuation bet is. Raise preflop, and then bet the flop. Even amateur live players these days are starting to counter the predictable c-bet – or at least they’re trying to. This leads us to the problem of how to win pots when you have nothing, and your opponent probably has nothing as well, but they aren’t willing to fold to just one flop bet.
One option? Double barrel. Fire that second bullet. Although, if you have already been playing an aggressive game, some players may already have decided they aren’t folding to one, or even two bets. The fact that we c-bet to begin with automatically has our opponent in, “nope, don’t believe you” mode.

So how do we adjust?

This is where the delayed c-bet comes in. The play itself isn’t much different than a regular continuation bet. You raise preflop, and instead of betting the flop, you wait to fire your bet on the turn.

A common trouble spot I run into is when I have a losing image, and c-bets just aren’t getting through – or the board comes low, like 642r, and my opponents accidently correctly put me on two over cards (they had to think real hard to figure that one out!).

Say I check back that 642r board. Almost regardless of what hits the turn, if my opponent checks again, I am going to bet. Most opponents, especially when they are facing someone they think is aggressive, are going to bet the vast majority of their medium strength hands, like one pair. So when they check, it generally indicates they have either a monster, or nothing. Since it’s much more likely they have nothing (it’s hard to make monsters!) I will go ahead and fire my delayed c-bet on the turn.

The concept works the same for when I have a poor image. If my opponent checks to me twice, it is unlikely they hold anything they feel has value, so I go ahead and try to take the pot down on the turn. Occasionally, you should be willing to fire the second bullet on rivers depending on your opponent’s style, your analysis of their range, and how the texture of the board changes on the river.

Yes – delayed c-betting opens us up to being bluffed out on the turn when our unimproved KQ beats our opponent’s unimproved KJ. But hey, your preflop raise let you see 4 cards, and you don’t have anything. Folding is not illegal, and if your opponent check/donks out of position regularly, you will eventually be able to exploit that.

At Big Slick Poker Academy, we instructors are always trying to improve our own games, and delayed continuation betting is a spot I have been geeking out on lately from a theoretical perspective.

(continued from AnteUP Magazine print article)

Let me explain some of the math behind this concept in plain English.
The first general assumption you can make is that your opponents will be limp-calling you with an overly wide range. Limp-calling hands like 75 suited and other marginal trash hands is simply not profitable especially out of position. But our opponents do this regularly – bless their hearts. This effectively means that their range will be heavily weighted towards weak, small-ish hands that will not flop well.

The problem with situations like low boards, or when you have a losing image, is that your opponents are willing to call, even out of position, with hands like second or bottom pair, gutshots, and even just two over cards they normally wouldn’t continue with.

Since you will be getting called so wide, the effectiveness of your continuation bet is diminished. This is where the delayed continuation bet comes in.

Your opponent’s range for getting to the turn is now just as wide as it was on the flop, and the vast majority of their range still hasn’t connected much. Where they might have called you on the flop because they have “two cards to come”, now on the turn, there is only one card left, and often times what they could “improve” to isn’t even top pair. By waiting for the turn to bet, you dramatically decrease the percentage of the time you get called.

Because their range for getting to the turn is so weak, there just won’t be very many good turn cards for them, and they will be more likely to believe many turn cards hit you, especially when you bet them. They might have alarm bells going off as well – “Wait a minute, this guy DIDN’T c-bet? He always c-bets. I expected him to c-bet. OH NO HE FLOPPED A SET!!11!1!”

Let me throw some numbers at you to show what I mean. Note: these numbers are for example purposes only to illustrate these concepts. They may not exactly represent your specific opponent’s range.
Let’s say your opponent will limp-call preflop with a range of hands that consists of 100 combinations. (That’s really not even that wide – a tight range of 88+/AQs+ is 58 hands!)

You are in position, and you opponent checks to you, and you find yourself in a good delayed continuation betting spot. Maybe the flop is really low, or you have a losing image and think your continuation bet is likely to get called.

If you bet the flop, maybe you get called or raised by 60 of the combinations of the hands he has in his range; in other words 60% of the time. Now you will most likely face tougher decisions on the turn/river and may end up playing a guessing game as to how strong your opponent is.
Instead, you check back the flop. Your opponent still has 100% of the hands he started with, or 100 combinations in his range.

If you don’t improve on the turn, and he leads out with the top 20% of his range, or 20 combinations, you just fold. By checking back the flop, you get away from the hand without losing an extra penny to his strongest hands.

We should account for some slow playing. Let’s say 10% of the time your opponent checks, he is slow playing. That would be 10 combinations from the 100 total.

Now when he checks the turn again, he is left with 80 combinations. Seventy of those hands are very weak, and 10 of those hands are relatively strong.

Let me summarize where we are in this fictional hand before going any further. Your opponent has limped, and then called with a range that is made of 100 hands. He checks to the raiser with all of those hands on the flop, and you have checked back. Now on the turn he bets out 20 of those hands, which you fold to. Leaving him with 80 hands he checks.

Out of those 80 hands, we think he has 10 slow plays (10% of the starting 100), so that leaves him with 70 very weak holdings.
This means he will fold 70 out of 80 times when we bet the turn or 87.5% of the time. When you compare this to the 40% of the time he folds on the flop, delayed continuation betting in the right situations is clearly the superior play.

Sean’s Note: One more thing – sometimes our delayed c-bet allows us to improve to a monster, and we get to cooler our opponent! Example: We have 44, our opponent called us with 9h7h, and the flop comes 9c7c2d. Our opponent is ITCHING to check-raise us here – but wait, we checked it back! And BINK! 4s on the turn. We would have never seen the turn without checking back here, and now we’re in a great position to stack our opponent. Sometimes, taking the free turn card and preserving our equity is superior to opening ourselves up to a checkraise – which happens often enough when we’re overly aggressive, or our image sucks.

In summary: Delayed c-betting allows you to play the turn with more information that you had on the flop. I use this play when I think my continuation bets will not get folds, for whatever reason. Generally, those reasons are going to be poor image, or poor boards to continuation bet on.

If you have any questions about this concept, or would like to discuss the theoretical work I have done on this subject, feel free to shoot me an email at zackb@bigslickpokeracademy.com