What Flop C-Bet Size Should You Use in Cash Games? (The Ultimate Guide, Part 1)

Here’s a situation you’ve probably faced many times.
You are playing a $0.50/$1.00 cash game. The action folds to you on the button, and after raising to $2.50, the big blind calls and you see a flop that looks like this:
Q♠ T♦ 5♥
The big blind checks. You have a hand to continuation bet (c-bet) with, but what c-bet size should you choose?
The goal of this 2-part article series is to help you find and understand the answer to this question.
In part 1, we’ll go over the advantages and disadvantages of using a 33% pot sized c-bet. In part 2, to be published on Friday, November 9th, we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages for both 66% and 100% pot sized c-bets.
Before we dive into the first bet size, let’s take a step back and think about what we aim to accomplish when c-betting.
There are 3 major goals a c-bet can accomplish:
1. C-betting can build the pot so that you win more money with your strong hands (a.k.a., getting value).
Example: C-betting A♦ Q♠ on Q-T-5, which could be called by a hand like A♦T♠.
2. C-betting can make your opponent fold a better hand (a.k.a., bluffing).
Example: C-betting J♠ 9♠ on Q-T-5, which forces your opponent to fold hands like 4♥4♠.
And, lastly, an often forgotten and underrated aspect of c-betting:
3. C-betting can prevent your opponent from seeing a turn and river card (a.k.a., betting for protection, or denying equity).
Example: C-betting 6♥ 6♠ on Q-T-5, which forces your opponent to fold hands like K♠7♠. Even though you have the best hand right now, getting your opponent to fold two overcards (and 6 outs) is a great result.
C-betting sounds great, right? But before you start c-betting every hand in every situation, let’s look at some disadvantages.
There are 3 major disadvantages to c-betting:
1. You lose more money when your opponent calls with a stronger hand.
Example: If you c-bet on Q-T-5 with 7♣ 8♣ and get called, you lose an extra bet compared to giving up and checking down.
2. C-betting re-opens the action, which gives your opponent the option to raise.
Example: If you c-bet on Q-T-5 with A♦ 9♦ and your opponent raises, you are forced to fold. Now, you probably wish you would have just checked since a lot of turns improve your hand (e.g., K♦).
Additionally, making your opponent fold a worse hand is not always a good thing because:
3. If he folds to your c-bet, your opponent won’t have the chance to bluff on later streets or hit a hand that’s second best.
Example: C-betting J♣ T♣ on Q-T-5 and making your opponent fold his 7♣ 8♣. This is not beneficial. With 7♣ 8♣, you opponent has very little chance to beat your hand, and he might have called a bet if a 7 or 8 came. Or, he might decide to bet as a bluff.

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Now that you know the pros and cons of c-betting, let’s take an in-depth look at the 33% pot sized c-bet.
The 33% pot sized c-bet
The main point of this bet size is to accomplish protection by making your opponent fold his bad hands for a cheap price. You can also get some thin value with hands that you wouldn’t value bet for a bigger size. 
This size is best used when you want to bet a large part of your range. And it can even be used with your entire range. A lot of the hands you bet for this size do not really qualify as “value” or “bluffs,” in a traditional sense.
Your opponent should react to this size by calling with a lot more hands than he would against a bigger size. This is because he is getting a better price to call, and you are getting a better price on your bet.
He also has to start check-raising you more often to “punish” you for betting so many hands. He can accomplish this by raising thinner for value (and protection) than he would against a bigger c-bets — on Q-T-5, he might have to check-raise as light as KQ for value. He also has to raise with more bluffs. 
The 33% c-bet-size is most effective on low and unconnected — 2♥ 9♦ 5♠ — or low paired boards. This is because your opponent has a lot of overcards with equity on these boards that he might have to fold. And when he does fold these hands, you deny him a lot of equity.
This size also makes sense on boards where your opponent’s range is very weak compared to yours, e.g. K♦ 2♠ 7♥. 
Note, however, that playing turns and facing check-raises on the flop can be tricky with this size. Since you are c-betting so many hands, you are forced to call opponents check-raises very loose compared to most spots.
On turns and rivers, you want to go for big sizes to get value from your opponent. You also have to check the turn fairly often since you have a wide range with many weak/medium strength hands.
Here is what a 33% c-bet-size range could look like on the 5♥ T♦ Q♠ board:

Note: On this board, it also is a valid strategy to bet 33% pot with every hand. In fact, that strategy is easier to execute than a strategy that mixes in a few checks.
Pop quiz: Can you think of a reason why we bet 66 here but check 99, even though 99 is the stronger hand? Click “Show Answer” when you’re ready.

Show answer

The reason is that with 66 making opponent fold hands like 7♠8♠, 7♥K♥ is great, since these have a lot of equity against our hand.
On the other hand, holding 99, making these hands fold is not that big of a benefit.
Protecting our vulnerable 66 is more important than getting the small benefit of beating 77 or 88.

Now, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using the 33% c-bet.
Advantages of the 33% c-bet
1. Not risking many chips when bluffing or betting for protection while behind.
2. Getting thin value by forcing your opponent to call with a lot of his range.
From your opponent’s perspective, he is getting a good price to call. He also knows you are getting a cheap price on bluffing your weak hands.
Example: C-betting A♣ 5♣ on Q-T-5. By betting just 33% pot you force your opponent to call hands like K♦ 5♦, which you beat.
3. Your opponent has some hands he has to fold pretty much regardless of your bet size, because they are just too weak.
This is especially true in situations where your opponent has a range containing many weak hands (E.g., in the above example, where our opponent just called from the big blind). Folding out these hands is usually good for you because, even though they are weak, you still gain protection. 
Example: 7♣ 9♣ is likely going to fold on Q-T-5 no matter what size you bet. By betting small you fold out the equity of this hand while not risking many chips if he does have a strong hand.
4. Your flop decision becomes easier. 
Since you usually bet most or even your entire range, you do not have to think much about whether or not you want to bet a certain hand. You thus almost automatically make fewer mistakes with your flop c-bet. 
For example, consider whether you c-bet 2♠ 2♥ on 5♥ T♦ Q♠ with a big size for protection/as a bluff, or check it trying to get to showdown. By betting small with (almost) all hands, you avoid such a dilemma!
5. Seeing the river more often. 
When you have a weak hand, like A♥ 6♥, you can not afford to bet big. Thus you would have to check. Your opponent will likely probe bet turn fairly often, forcing you to fold and preventing you from seeing a river.
However, when you bet 1/3 on the flop you are always going to see a turn and a river, unless your opponent check-raises on the flop or donk-bets into you on the turn. Most players check-raise the flop and donk-bet a lot less often than they are probe turn.
Therefore, you can more often check turn behind with your A♥6♥, and perhaps get to see that sweet A♦ on the river.
6. Taking advantage of passive “fit-or-fold” players.
This size is especially good against players you suspect pay little attention to bet sizes, since you give yourself a cheap bluff.
Similarly, this size is profitable against opponents who don’t check-raise often.
Disadvantages of the 33% c-bet
1. Risk of missing value with your strong hands
Imagine betting 33% on the flop, a big size on the turn and a big size on the river on a 5♥-T♦-Q♠-2♦-3♠ board with K♥K♠. Your opponent calls three times, and shows down A♥Q♠.
While you still win the pot, you win way less than you would have with a bigger flop c-bet sizing since your opponent would very likely have called a bigger size.
This is especially true against players who call way too much.
2. Losing more with a weak hand against a slightly stronger hand.
Since you’re betting with such a wide range on the flop, you very rarely check down. This means you lose more when you have a slightly worse hand in a pot both players would have “normally” checked down.
Example: You lose one extra bet with 44 against A5 on a 5♥-T♦-Q♠-2♦-3♠ runout.
3. You don’t always get to see a turn card.
You bet a lot of your range with this size, including a lot of hands with which you would be very interested to see a turn card.
But when you re-open the action, you give your opponent the chance to check-raise. When that happens, you have to fold a lot of these hands before the turn.
4. Playing future streets and defending correctly versus a check-raise is tough.
You may have an easy decision with your c-bet, but after that things can get complicated.
You have to figure out how to correctly play turns and defend against check-raises on the flop with such a wide betting range. This is something that comes with experience and study. 
Wrapping up
Let’s take a break and pick things up next week (Friday) with part 2 of our c-bet size article series. Meantime, leave questions and comments below.
And good luck, grinders!

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