The Donk Bet | MED #8 Class 2 | Poker Podcast #146

In this episode, I discuss the donk bet: why you should rarely do it and also how to defend against it because it’s employed by many of your weak opponents.

In episode 145, I discussed the aggressive and fun to use Check-raise play.  This is a great way to neutralize your opponent’s positional advantage, and it’s great for both value and bluff raises.

What is the Donk Bet? (2:10)

It’s an OOP bet, HU or MW, but it’s a bet into the pre-flop raiser.  You’re effectively removing their ability to make a cbet by donking into the pot.  This can take place on any street.

The 6 Elements of the Donk Bet (2:25)

1. The donk bet is often made by weak players

Weak players often see the flop, but they just don’t know what to do with their marginal hands and draws.  They don’t want to check-call b/c that feels weak, and they don’t want to check-raise to bloat the pot.  It’s often an “information gathering bet”.  They’re trying to find out where they are in the hand.  Your reaction to their bet lets them know if they’re behind or not.

2. Donk bets purposely bloat the pot OOP

Any time you click that button or throw out chips, you’re making a decision to play.  With the donk bet, you’re choosing to bet OOP into your opponent(s).  And playing OOP in a growing pot is a dangerous situation to be in.

3. Know your opponent; likely to call, fold or raise

Only donk bet if you think your opponent will respond favorably.  If they tend to get to every turn, then don’t donk bluff the flop, but go for value instead.  If they’re flop honest, then donk as a bluff.  But if you’ve got a value hand, you might want to let them catch something on the turn or maybe bluff the flop.

Notes are key to understanding donk bets.  I make sure to take note of every donk betting situation that goes to SD to help me understand my opponents.

Use stats to help you gauge how they’ll respond:

  • Fold to Bet IP: after a couple hundred hands this can be very useful. The more likely they are to fold, the more successful your donk bluffs will be.
  • Fold to Donk Bet: don’t look at the number of hands in total, look at the number of instances this stat is calculated over.  If their Fold to Donk Bet is 50% over two instances, it’s not reliable.  But, if it’s 50% over 20 instances, then that’s very telling.  If you’re donk bluffing half pot, it only needs to work 33% of the time to break-even.  So, a 50% Fold to Donk bet is great here.
  • Raise Donk Bet: look at the number of instances it’s calculated over.  If they raise donk bets 80% of the time over 20 instances, then you should not be donk bluffing, but instead, you should be going for max value against them.

4. Ranges Matter

Here’s an example:

  • The BTN opens at a wide 45% range (above left). Lots of strong and weak cards in this range.
  • He gets called by the TAG SB, who is only calling a narrow 10% range (above right).
  • So, the flop comes down A83 rainbow.
  • The narrow SB range has 61% equity on this Ace high and dry board (at bottom of pic above).
  • The reason: the smaller range has a greater % of Ax hands contained within, and the wider range, while it has every Ace, has all the pp’s and broadways and random crap that didn’t connect here.

This might be a great time for the SB to donk lead for value here, especially if they have a hand like AQ or AJ or AT.  TPGK beats all the crappy Aces that can call, as well as random pairs of 8’s or underpairs to the Ace.  Donk leading here can be especially profitable if the BTN doesn’t cbet often, but can call lots of flops with marginal hands.

5. Donk sizing matters

The mindonk is one of the most telling bets in poker.  The smaller the donk bet in relation to the pot, the weaker it is.  Of course, be on the lookout for players who can try to trick you with bets like this.  But for the most part, small = weak when dealing with donk bets.

6. MW pot donk leads are more likely strength

The more players involved in the hand, the more likely a donk bet is for value.  This is because bluffs have a harder time succeeding when they’re trying to get too many IP players to fold, and most players realize this.

Donk Bet Downsides (8:50)

There’s a reason why most good players hardly every donk bet.  It’s because when you donk bet, you’re giving up on the chance for more profitable plays.

  1. We lose value from bluff cbettors
    • Most of our opponents cbet way too much. When you’ve got a great hand and your opponent cbet bluffs a ton, your donk lead takes away their bluffing opportunity.  You’ve shown them that you might like your hand, and they can more easily play straight-forwardly.
  2. You lose the profitable check-raise opportunity
    • When you donk lead, you can no longer check-raise. You’ve replaced one strong play with a weak play.  Often, you opponents will cbet/call because of their position.  But when you donk lead, now they’ll just call and you’ve missed out on maybe a 2.5x check-raise call.
  3. You lose value from double-barrel bluffers
    • When you donk lead, you miss the opportunity to get value from double-barrel bluffers.  You can c/c the flop, then check-raise the turn and blow your aggro opponent off their bluff or weak semi-bluff.

When to Donk Lead (10:10)

I don’t recommend donk leading often, but there are some signs that a donk lead may be more profitable than a c/c or a check-raise.

  • You’ve hit a value hand, but the PFR doesn’t cbet a lot and their range likely missed the board. So, a donk lead might get them to call when they otherwise would’ve checked-behind.
  • You flopped lots of equity with draws and bd draws, so there are lots of great turn cards to barrel bluff on. If you combine this with an opponent who folds a lot on the turn, then donk barreling is very profitable.  Their call on the flop builds the pot, and they’re propensity to fold to the turn barrel means that pot is more likely yours.
  • If you think your aggressive opponent is capable of raising then folding on the flop, you can get lots of value out of them when you donk bluff then re-raise their raise with a 3bet bluff.

Defending Against the Donk Bet (15:05)

You’ll be facing donk bets more often than making them.  Your choices when defending against the donk bet are the same for any bet you’re facing:

Fold

You’re going to fold against the donk bet if you don’t see any way of getting them to fold their hand either on this street or in the future. You can also fold if you have such weak hand with no draw that it makes no sense to stay in.  You might also have other players with position on you, and calling with them yet to act can put you in a tough situation, so you may elect to fold instead.

Call

You’re going to be calling either for value, with the right price on a draw, or to potentially make a future bluff. You need to take their donk range and tendencies into account before you call with any of these ideas in mind.

Raise

Raising is great as a bluff or for value, but the success will depend on what your opponent is up to. If you’re bluffing, you want to be reasonably sure they can fold to a raise and that their range didn’t hit this flop well.  If you’re going for value, then you want a call or a reraise with worse hands, so be sure to name the hands in their range that can accommodate this.

What to look for when facing the donk bet

  1. Your opponent
    • Your donk betting opponent is likely weak, and you’re IP, so you should be able to find a way to take advantage of this. Maybe they don’t barrel IP that much, or they fold to bets OOP on the turn/river a lot, or they just fold in general.  Their donk bet is bloating the pot OOP, so this is a great opportunity to flex your IP muscles and put them to the test for this growing pot.
  2. Notes on previous donk bets
    • A popular note I make when I see somebody make a small donk bet then fold is “small donk = weak”.  When I see this note I know to pounce.
  3. Sizing
    • The smaller the sizing, the more likely it’s weak. Consider raising over tiny donk leads.
  4. Stat: Donk Bet %
    • Anything at 10% or below (over a good sample size) is likely for value, with 5% or below being absolutely for value. If it’s over 20%, then either bluff them with a raise now or just call in hopes of extracting more value later with your great hands.

Donk Bet Research (18:00)

In my database, I ran a filter for “Flop Raise Donk Bet Opportunity” + “Hands Went to Showdown”.

donk bet filter

Out of the 33K hands I’ve played this year, only 36 hands were returned (that went to SD):

  • Only 8% of the donk bet hands were strong (2P+)
  • 58% were pairs (TPTK down to 4th pp with the overwhelming majority being TPWK or worse)
  • 19% were some form of draw
  • 14% were weak bluffs (like 2 overcards)
  • The smaller the donk lead, the more likely it was a weak hand or draw
  • The three ps donk bets I faced were all TPWK
  • Bets around 2/3 – ¾ pot were 50/50 strong vs weak hands
  • All 8 of the 1/2pot bets I faced were TPWK or worse
  • SS overshoves were draws or weak pairs

Looking at this data, donk bets aren’t something to be worried about.  They’re most likely marginal hands and draws, so you need to be playing back at them more often.

Challenge (19:35)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Become a student of the donk bet.  Do what I did and filter in your database for “Flop Raise Donk Bet Opportunity” + “Hands Went to Showdown”.  Go through each of these hands and make a list of what your opponents are donk leading.  At the same time, make a player note on the sizing and strength of hand they’re donk betting with.  Create a hand tag that says “DonkBet” and tag every donk betting instance.  These notes and your research into donk bets within your own database will make you super comfortable when dealing with these odd and seemingly weak bets.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.

Shout-outs:

My Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4 was purchased by Jason Biggs (probably not that Jason Biggs).  He’s now on his way to a more improved online game.

David Singh purchased the How To Study Webinar ($5 off).  It was held a few months ago to rave reviews.  I’m sure David’s gonna become a study beast after watching and learning from this.

Sky Matsuhashi
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