Pre-flop Raise, then C-bet Strategy
I was playing a live game on Friday night, and someone commented that I rely too much on the “preflop raise, then c-bet flop” strategy. It’s a strategy that I picked up from Daniel Negreanu’s books and videos (yes, I’m a huge fan-boy of Negreanu), and yes, it’s probably true that I use it a bit too often. But well, that got me thinking, how often does the strategy have to work?
A lot depends on the raise sizes. I currently play the microstakes SNGs online, where my standard raise size is between 2.5 to 3 big blinds (depending on how tight the table is), so let’s go with 3 big blinds.
For ease of calculation, let’s assume I’m in late position, it folds around to me, I raise to 3bb, and it folds around to the big blind, who calls. So that means there’s now 6.5 big blinds in the pot, when the flop comes.
The big blind is often going to check to me (the standard “check to the raiser”), and I’ll bet about half the pot here, so another 3.5 big blinds. That means I’ve placed a total of 6.5 big blinds in, and the pot is now 10 big blinds.
For a start, let’s assume that I can only win by my opponent folding. That means, if the probability of my opponent folding is x, then, for it to be a good play,
x * 10 – 6.5 > 0
x * 10 > 6.5
x > 6.5 / 10
x > 0.65 = 65%
Therefore, I need my opponent to fold at least 65% of the time on the flop, for this to be profitable. This is about equivalent to him folding every single time he does not pair the flop.
However, this also assumes that we never hit the flop ourselves. Let’s say I have a hand like AJ suited. I then have more than 13.75% chance of hitting TPTK or better, as discussed here. If we use that 13.75% (which, as one of the commentors pointed out, is in actual fact, a low estimate; it discounts the flops when you pair your Ace, and also discounts the times when you flop mid pair, or two overs, or draws) as the times we will win the hand, we then have the following.
x * 3.5 + (1-x) * (0.1375 * 13.5 – 6.5) > 0
x * 3.5 + 0.1375 * 13.5 – 6.5 – 0.1375x * 13.5 + 6.5x > 0
3.5x + 1.856 – 6.5 – 1.856x + 6.5x > 0
(3.5 – 1.856 + 6.5) x > 6.5 – 1.856
8.144x > 4.644
x > 4.644 / 8.144 = 0.57 = 57%
Meaning that your opponent would have to fold at least 57% of the time.
Let’s look at the co-relation of how often your opponent will have to fold (which we’ll represent with x), with how often you have to win if he calls (y). To break even, therefore:
x * 3.5 + (1-x) * (y * 13.5 – 6.5) = 0
3.5 x + 13.5y – 6.5 – xy + 6.5x = 0
10x + 13.5y – xy = 6.5
y(13.5 – x) = 6.5 – 10x
y = (6.5 – 10x) / (13.5 – x)
For a few values of x, we have the following table:
|How often Opp Folds (x)||How often you need to win when called (y)
So, what does this show. Even if your opponent does not fold at all, you still need to win less than half the time to be profitable.
More realistically, though, you’ll win the pot about 10-25% of the time when called on the flop. I won’t go into the details of that here, there are too many possibilities to go through, but if you consider 13.45% the chance you flop TPTK with a J-high flop, or 2-pair or better, and add in the 9% of the time or so that you flop an A and no J, Q or K; as well as the semi-bluffs you may hit with if you flop and bet on a draw, I think 10-25% is not too much of a stretch.
Given that, that means you need your opponent to fold between about 30% to 50% of the flops. More specifically, 32% to 52% of the flops. If you average that to 42%, that means he needs to be “bluffing”/semi-bluffing the flop about 1/3 of the times he misses.
Whether this is profitable or not really depends on the player. But from the (admittedly limited players) I’ve encountered online, I think it’s not unrealistic to expect them to fold to about 35-40% of your c-bets, which would mean you need to win the hand about 23-27% of the time when they call. If you’re not playing too wide a range, that’s highly possible, I think (that’s about the chance of you hitting one of your cards on the flop).
Of course, any strategy that’s too obvious can be exploited, and any time you’re unable to adjust to your opponents, you’re losing out. But in general, I think it’s not a bad default strategy to fall back on, especially against unknowns. I think the required fold equities are highly possible, and with Poker Tracker, you can keep track of how often a player folds on the flop, and use that to make a decision as to whether this is a good strategy. I think, based on the above calculations, if he’s folding to at least 35-40% of flop c-bets, it’s a profitable strategy to use.
What do you think? How often do you c-bet your flops, and how much?
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