When you raise pre-flop in a game of No-Limit Hold ‘em and are called, you’re faced with a decision when the flop hits the board. Should you put out a continuation bet on the flop or should you check and let the turn come off for free? Of course, there are a variety of factors that will effect any decision in a hand of poker, but if I was the one who raised pre-flop, I’ll put out a continuation bet on the flop a large proportion of the time.
I can afford to put out a lot of continuation bets, whether I hit or not, because my post-flop bets are usually pretty small – about half the size of the pot. Pre-flop, I normally raise to three times the big blind, then on the flop, I’ll put out a bet of the same amount. When I bet these relatively small sums, I don’t put a whole lot at risk. If I get check-raised on a flop that I missed, I can fold without having lost a whole lot of chips. Most of the time, however, my poker opponents will have missed the flop, so my small bet will win me the pot right there.
While I prefer to put out continuation bets on most flops, there are some situations where checking is the right play. For example, say I raised with K-T and was called by the big blind. The flop of A-J-2 gives me a gutshot straight draw. I know my opponent in the hand likes to check-raise on top pair. When he checks to me on the flop, I’m happy to check behind and have the free draw to the nuts. If my opponent hit something like two-pair, I could double up if the Queen comes on the turn.
I also like to check the flop in hands where I’m either very far ahead or very behind. Say I raise pre-flop in late position with pocket Kings. The flop comes A-J-3. Here, my pair of Kings is either very far ahead (if he missed completely or has something like pocket 5s) or is very far behind (if he hit an Ace). In a spot like this, I don’t want to get check-raised and I don’t want to just give up, so I’ll often check the flop and then call a bet on the turn. I can then try to get a read on my opponent if he bets the river. The worst thing I can do in this sort of situation is to put out a big bet on the flop and then call an all-in check-raise.
As with every aspect of poker, it’s vital that your continuation bets don’t become predictable. If you check every time you miss and bet every time you make top pair or better, then you’re opponents will know exactly how to play against you. They’ll be able to bet any pair with total confidence. So occasionally, you’ll want to check when you hit top pair on the flop. Your hand will be disguised and you’ll stand to win a big pot if you hit trips on the turn. Showing that you can sometimes check a good hand will keep your opponents off balance.
It’s a good idea to put out frequent continuation bets, but also be sure to look for spots where a check may be to your advantage. If you’ve got a draw or hold a hand that will be difficult to play for a raise, a flop check may be your best play. Also be sure to mix up your play – being unpredictable is vital to playing winning poker.