No Limit Texas Hold’em is a game that allows players to put any amount of their chips into the pot at any point, without any limitations. Yet, most players play in certain patterns, as some plays have been found to be more effective than others.
That being said, some less orthodox plays are also used occasionally, and the so-called "donk bet” falls into this category.
In this article, we will look at the topic of donk betting and explain why it’s usually not a good idea, when it might be, and how you can deal with donk bets you encounter in your games.
So what is a donk bet, and why is it used? In simplest terms, a donk bet is any bet made by a player out of position who was not the pre-flop aggressor in the hand.
For example, imagine you raise to 3x from the button with AK, and the player in the big blind makes the call. The flop comes 9x 7x 3x, and instead of checking, the big blind immediately fires out a bet.
This bet is called a donk bet, which goes against the game's natural flow, where the OOP player usually checks the flop.
Of course, it is clear that the donk bet can win the pot every once in a while and can be effective, but check-raising on the flop is usually a better option.
As a general rule of thumb, the player who made the last aggressive action before the flop is the one who should continue with the aggression on the flop.
There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that the aggressor has a stronger range that contains all the best hands, like AA, KK, and QQ, which are not in the range of the defending player.
Furthermore, the defending player has little reason to come out betting because it is very likely the aggressor will fire out a bet. If the defending player actually has a big hand, going for a check-raise is almost always the superior option.
Balancing out a donk betting range is also extremely difficult, which makes the donk bet an inferior play to checking in almost all cases. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the top reasons a donk-bet is not a great idea.
If we flop a huge hand as the defending player, such as a set, two-pair, straight, or a flush, check-raising allows us to bloat the pot on the flop after the opponent c-bets.
If we miss the flop but make a drawing hand like a straight draw or a flush draw, check-raising allows us to win the pot often and win more chips in doing it.
If we miss the flop completely, check-raising can still be an effective play on boards that connect with our range better than with the original raiser's flop, still allowing us to often win the pot on good boards.
The only downside of going for a check-raise instead of a donk bet is that our opponent gets to check back, not allowing us to put our plan into motion.
Yet, when the raiser checks back, other options open up, including a lead on the turn and a check-raise on the turn, all of which can still be superior to firing out a donk bet on the flop.
If the c-betting range of our opponents was perfectly balanced, donk betting would have a lot more merit because the opponent would be checking back a lot on the flop.
However, most players still c-bet way more than a GTO strategy would recommend, which means we can exploit this tendency by checking the flop a lot.
By checking the flop, we allow players to c-bet with all sorts of garbage they can't possibly continue with on the later streets or defend against a check-raise.
Exploiting our opponents’ tendencies is one of the key things we can do in poker, which is why ensuring we exploit players who c-bet too much is so important.
Players tend to donk bet their strong hands and strong draws, but this makes a huge problem for our overall defending range.
If we often donk bet with our big hands, all the hands we check with will be weak, making us very vulnerable against attentive opponents.
In online poker, players can track our every move with their poker tracking software, which means they can determine how often we donk bet. This means that donk betting can make our play extremely susceptible to big c-bets and barrels from players when we check and big folds when we do donk bet.
For this reason, we would need to perfectly balance out our donk betting range, which is something that is done by very few players and is very hard to do effectively.
By donk betting on the flop, we give our opponents a chance to gather even more information about our hand while we deny ourselves a chance to learn more about their range.
If we check our entire range on the flop, we are not giving away any new information to our opponent. We also allow them to check or bet, which tells us about their potential holding.
If we donk bet, on the other hand, we definitely give away some information about our hand while not allowing our opponent to proceed with his planned play.
This way, we further increase the informational disadvantage we already have as the out-of-position player, which you definitely don't want.
We have discussed several reasons why donk bets are not optimal in most situations, but there can be some exceptions to this rule.
Primarily, we should never donk bet on ace-high boards or boards with coordinated Broadway textures, which typically favor the pre-flop raiser's range.
However, there can be some merit to donk betting on low to mid connected boards, as we will have a strong range advantage against the pre-flop raiser.
What’s more, by donk betting, we can stop the opponent from seeing the turn card for free if he decides to check back the flop, which means we will deny some equity to his ace-high and king-high hands.
Multi-way pots are a great example of a spot where donk betting makes sense, as the pre-flop raiser is less likely to c-bet with weak or marginal hands into multiple opponents.
In all these cases, we can argue for a donk bet. However, there is still the question of which hands we should donk bet and how to prevent our opponents from exploiting us if we use donk bets as part of our overall strategy.
When you find yourself in a situation where a donk bet could make sense, you need to decide which hands to do it with and how much to bet.
It is best to donk bet a fairly wide range and choose a small bet size.
A wide donk betting range makes it less likely that our opponents will exploit our tendency to donk bet. If we used a polarized range made of strong hands and weak draws, it would be possible to remove many hands from our range after we donk bet.
Instead, we should donk bet many different hands, including strong made hands, strong draws, and weak draws alike, all for the same sizing.
Since we are betting such a big portion of our overall defending range, we should bet for about 30% of the pot, as a bigger bet with so many different hands would be a mistake.
Firing out a small donk bet into the pot allows us to profitably play the hand on future streets and get all sorts of information from how our opponent responds to the bet.
Donk bets are not very common in online poker games these days, but you may often encounter them in live cash games. When you face a donk bet, it is important to proceed with caution and determine what kinds of hands your opponent is donk betting.
Most players who donk bet regularly are not doing so as part of a well-balanced strategy but rather because they are not very skilled at poker. You can use this to your advantage.
If you have completely missed the board and are facing a donk bet on one of those mid to low connected boards I mentioned earlier, you should usually just let your hand go.
The opponent will have a lot more strong hands than they will have bluffs, and many of their bluffs could still have a ton of equity against you.
However, keep in mind that most weak opponents will also not want to donk bet their strongest hands, such as sets or two pairs, which is exactly why their range will be unbalanced.
In most cases, a donk bet will mean one pair with a gutshot straight draw, a flush draw with an overcard, etc.
Against all these hands, a big raise can work like a charm, as they can’t really stand the pressure of facing a big raise that indicates you have a strong hand. Even if they decide to continue, they will do that against the odds, meaning you will print money in the long run.
While board texture will be a very important determining factor in how you choose to proceed, making a big raise on these types of boards with hands like flush draws or straight draws with overcards can be extremely profitable.
The donk bettor will simply be forced to lay down even as strong hands as a top pair with a weak kicker when you make a huge raise on a 9-high board, and there is little he can do about it.
In fact, once you have recognized the players who like to donk bet their middling hands on the flop, you will be able to profitably exploit these players for many hands to come, as long as you keep quiet and never let them know you are bluffing them.
While I have talked about exceptions to the rule and about some scenarios where donk bets can make sense, a donk bet is generally not considered a great play in poker.
In fact, you could play poker profitably for decades without ever donk betting, and you would not be losing much value for it.
If you can construct well-balanced donk betting ranges, you could make it slightly more difficult for your opponents to play against you, but building well-balanced check-raising ranges will do that even more effectively.
Donk betting is not the worst thing you can do in poker, but I would recommend you steer clear of this play in 90% of all scenarios and only consider applying donk bets after careful analysis and training in the appropriate poker software.
If you are playing in extremely weak live cash games, you could try and identify players who play fit-or-fold after the flop and apply some donk bets against them, but even against these players check-raising the flop or leading the turn will usually be a more profitable strategy.
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