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14Aug/143

CBetting the Flop at the Micros (Modern Evolution)

CBetting the Flop at the Micros (Modern Evolution)

I don't believe that I have ever really covered CBetting the flop in detail on this blog. Also, CBetting theory has certainly evolved at the micro and small stakes in recent years. Five or six years ago when the games began to tighten up people began to realize that frequently continuing up their preflop raise (regardless of their holdings) was a very profitable thing to do. This is because the play shifted to a weak-tight model where a lot of people thought that being overly tight both preflop and postflop was the way to go.

The pendulum has started to swing back in the other direction though in recent years at least amongst "thinking" players at NL10+. By this I am referring to the better regs at these stakes who are aware that you are CBetting too much and will actively take steps to exploit this. It is important to note that versus most of the regs at lower stakes and against most recreational players at all limits CBetting the flop frequently is still very effective.

So how should we re-adjust on the flop versus the better players in today's games?

Be Unpredictable

Decent regs at the micro and small stakes today are going to rip you apart if you CBet the flop 80%+ of the time against them. They will float you when they are IP and bet the turn when checked to. Or they will simply raise the flop or the turn. If OOP they will check/raise or check/call and lead or check/raise the turn. They know (correctly) that against heavy CBetters they will be able to get folds a lot of the time with these types of lines because their opponent simply won't have a hand to fight back with very often.

The way that we can counteract this though is by widening our check/continuance range on the flop. By this I mean having a range of hands that we check the flop with as the preflop raiser both IP and OOP. However, we are not giving up with these hands. This range should be a fair bit wider when we are OOP in order to counteract our positional disadvantage.

So in practice we do this by mixing in more check backs IP and check/calls and check/raises OOP with a wide variety of holdings. This is really just about balancing our range more in these situations. When you have an active checking range on the flop (that doesn't only include total air) you make yourself much harder to play against. This is because our opponent now faces the threat of being played back at when they attempt to float or check/raise us on the flop or turn.

Now don't get me wrong. We should definitely still be CBetting the flop frequently in many spots against good players. We did raise preflop after all which generally means that we started the hand with something halfway decent. It is certainly still profitable to follow it up with a bet quite a bit of the time. Conversely, we also want to still give up with total air especially when OOP a certain amount of the time.

What this is really about is widening that third part of our range (checking and continuing) that became almost non-existent among the flop CBetting frenzy of past years. In 2014 CBetting 80% and giving up almost always when floated or played back at will not cut it against many of the better regs especially by the time you get to NL25. We need to let our opponents know that a check on the flop is not necessarily a white flag from us. In fact it very well might be dangerous for them. Let's look at some examples of how this might play out.

Example #1 (Full Ring)

TAG Villain: 15/12/3, fold to flop CBet 56%, raise flop CBet 33%

Hero opens from MP+1 with A♥5♥
Villain calls from the BTN

The flop comes:
Q♥7♣3♦

Hero???

Most people would just make a "standard" CBet here versus a single opponent on a dry single broadway board like this. But consider the opponent in this situation. We are against a reg who folds to a flop CBet a fairly mediocre to low amount of the time at 56%. He also raises a flop CBet at a fairly high 33% of the time.

Also though, as I mention repeatedly in Modern Small Stakes, we need to adjust for the situation. We need to think about why a good reg like this would choose to flat us preflop in this spot. He knows that our range is wide when opening from MP+1. Most regs will simply go ahead and make a light 3Bet here. When he calls it is at least in part to balance his range and prevent us from being able to 4Bet the crap out of him.

But more importantly it is also done with the full intention of using position to take the pot away from us after the flop. We would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed here. So considering the situation (he knows that we are weak a lot and at a positional disadvantage) we should probably expect our opponent here to float or raise us considerably more than what the numbers above indicate. How can we adjust to this?

Well, as I mentioned before, this is where having a reasonably wide check/continuance range can really help. Instead of just blindly tossing out a CBet here and getting floated or raised all day why not check/raise here instead? Or how about a check/call and then lead the turn or check/raise the turn line? This puts all of the pressure back on our opponent here. And the truth is, he usually doesn't have anything very good either especially on an exceedingly dry board like this.

If you are capable of taking lines like this a reasonably significant amount of the time then the better regs will have to think twice next time about flatting you IP preflop and trying to screw with you after the flop. It should be noted that we should have a check/fold range here as well. And a traditional CBet range as well. But versus an active reg in a situation like this who is obviously only in the hand to mess with me a lot I am not afraid to alter my frequencies heavily.

It is also very important that you are able to take these lines with much more than the nuts as well. It should be balanced out with draws, middle pairs and even total air like in this hand.

Hero Should:
Check/Raise or Check/Call (with turn followup) 1/2 of the time, CBet 1/4 of the time, Check/Fold 1/4 of the time

Example #2 (6max)

TAG Villain: 22/19/3, fold to flop CBet 52%, raise flop CBet 35%

Villain opens from the CO
Hero 3Bets from the BTN with Q♠Q♣
Villain calls

The flop comes:
5♥5♦J♠

Villain checks
Hero???

We are IP this time and we have the virtual nuts. This is another spot where we need to develop a checking range in order to make it more difficult for the better regs to play against us. Checking behind here on occasion will encourage the more aggressive regs to lead the turn and possibly the river as well as a bluff. It will also make them think twice about check/raising us when we do CBet because they will know that we can show up with hands like this sometimes as well.

In contrast, most of the weaker regs at the micro and small stakes these days will just auto-CBet here and only check behind on occasion with total air. This is extremely exploitable because first off we can just lead the turn no matter what we have and expect to take it down a lot because they have essentially given up. Or we can take a check/call the flop and lead the turn or check/raise the flop and lead the turn line and expect to get a lot of folds because a lot of their range includes ace highs and mid pairs that cannot withstand a lot of heat.

By balancing our range better in these spots versus the thinking regs in these games we can prevent ourselves from being exploited by these lines. We can confuse our opponent and provide no clear path to success for them. This should always be one of your most important goals when playing against good poker players.

Hero Should:
Check behind 1/3 of the time, CBet 2/3 of the time

Final Thoughts

I hope that this discussion has proven useful for some of you who are struggling versus the better players who will play back at you as you move up the stakes. Balancing your range against them is the answer. And as regards the flop this means widening your check/continuance range (especially when OOP) so that your actions are not so black or white and predictable.

I want to be very clear though that none of this really applies at NL2, NL4, NL5 and even NL10 for the most part. The regs at these stakes are still largely beginners and are not thinking much beyond the strength of their own hand. Even versus many of the bad regs at NL25, NL50 and NL100 this sort of balancing is not overly important. This really only applies to that small subset of regs who populate the higher end of the micros, play a moderate or low amount of tables and are actively thinking about how to exploit their opponents.

Otherwise, you shouldn't bother complicating things for yourself. Just making the obvious play is still overwhelmingly the right decision in most micro and small stakes games today.

Let me know your strategies for counteracting chronic flop floaters and raisers in the comments below.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

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Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I really like this blog and have read it a few of times. I do believe people are getting a bit more wise to the aggressive c-bettors even at lower stakes. I don’t like example #2 though. To me this is just 100% cbet and fist pump when our out of balanced flop raising friend does his thing and puts way too much money in with a weak hand. I actually want to to stack this guy in this spot and call his raise and check to him and let him barrel later streets..(if that’s what he does. if he likes to raise draws for a cheap turn, i will call his raise and bet turn myself). I can understand checking back 99 to play a smaller pot…but no way QQ. I don’t want to balance my flop c-bet range to someone who raises 35% when i have the very top of my flop cbetting range. We wait so long to attack these aggro guys cos we hardly have a hand on the flop.

  2. Also, in example #2 we seem to be out of position but the explanation says we are in position. i actually think checking OOP is pretty cool if he will stab at the pot with his entire range. But if he will just raise our c-bet 35% it almost seems too ‘fancy play syndrome-ish’.

  3. Hi Lina,

    Glad you like my blog. I made a mistake originally in example #2 which was pointed out and fixed on my actual blog http://www.blackrain79.com. I forgot to edit it here as well. It reads correctly now with hero being on the BTN, not the BB. Please also note that I suggested that we check back here 1/3 of the time and CBet 2/3 of the time. So we actually are CBetting here most of the time.


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