Stealing initiative on the flop

I’ve been thinking about continuation bets for a while now. The theory behind continuation bets is that you only make a pair on a flop (with an unpaired hand) 32% of the time, so in a heads up pot about 46% of the time neither player will flop a pair and a bet will frequently take down the hand. Traditionally a continuation bet is made by the preflop raiser, but if we’re out of position and we were not the preflop aggressor, there’s no reason why we can’t make the equivalent of a continuation bet on the right board.

I’ve been thinking about adding this move to my repertoire for a while now and had an excellent opportunity to try it out in a session this week:

  • I’m in a medium-soft seven-handed 3/5 game. The table is pretty weak passive with fit-or-fold tendencies post flop.
  • The player under the gun limps and so does a player in middle position. The guy in the cutoff is about to bet $20 (his standard raise in all positions) but stops, re-evaluates, and decides to bet $25. The button and small blind fold, I call with 5h 5d (we’re deep enough for this to be standard) and the two limpers call.
  • The flop comes 8s 6h 4d
  • I decide to lead out for $60. The two limpers fold quickly, the original raiser looks annoyed and hems and haws a bit, but folds fairly decisively

There are a few things going on here that make it a good spot to donk out and either seize the initiative or just win the pot outright.

  • The original raiser is unlikely to have connected with this flop. The standard bad players at this level are unlikely to raise two limpers with suited connectors (even though at this table it’s pretty profitable to do so) or low pairs, so the only hands he’s going to have that connect with this flop are a suited A8, pocket 8s, and overpairs. I’d further discount the big overpairs (QQ+) because I think he would have thought a bit more preflop and maybe bet a bit more. So we’re ahead of his range.
  • We have some equity if we get called, but not enough to call the original raiser’s continuation bet. We have a pretty easy time bet folding if we get raised, but the original raiser is likely to only do that with overpairs, which is a small part of his range. When we get called we’re probably still ahead, but we also have six outs to catch up. We wouldn’t be able to call any reasonable continuation bet with the 12.8% draw equity we have, but it’s a useful plan B for when we encounter resistance.
  • There is a decent chance one of the two limpers is ahead of us, but they’re unlikely to have connected strongly enough to call our bet. The limpers’ ranges should mostly be suited connected hands and small to medium pocket pairs, which means there are going to be a fair number of single pair hands, but super strong hands are going to be rare. Our line looks pretty strong and the fact that the original raiser has yet to act has to look a bit scary to them. In general when people lead out on flops into the original raiser they tend to have medium strength one pair hands, e.g. top pair medium kicker, so we may see hands as strong as 89 folding here.
  • We maximize our fold equity against the medium strength part of the limpers’ ranges that beats us with this line and we minimize it with a check call line. If we take a check call line we make it really easy for a limper with 67, for example, to call, since they can justify it to themselves that the original raiser is just continuation betting and our hand looks like some draw or something else unthreatening.
  • Taking a check-raise line risks a lot more money and may have even less fold equity than a donk bet does, since the original raiser may become attached to the pot because he’s already put money in. There’s definitely something to be said for making it psychologically/behaviorally easy for our opponents to make the decision that we want them to make.

I like this little weapon, and while I’m not going to make a ton of money with it, I think it’s probably going to turn a tidy profit. There are some things I want to keep in mind when using this in the future, however:

  • It’s important to use this mostly on flops where the original raiser is unlikely to have connected strongly. I don’t want to do this on most Ace high flops, for example, unless I have strong evidence to put my opponent on a pocket pair.
  • I generally don’t want to be out of position but not be the original raiser – in a vacuum limping is not optimal, so I want to make sure I’m only doing it when I have a good reason – so this is more frequently going to be a play I consider when I call a raise out of the blinds (which is also something I hate doing).
  • This play is something that depends heavily on my opponent – I definitely don’t want to run this against completely unthinking players, against stubborn calling stations, against maniacs that like to play back at me, etc.
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