A play that I enjoy more than many of my peers is the donk bet. Originally, the donk bet was named after a bad play. A player would raise preflop, the “donk” would call out of position, and the flop would come down. The donk would see they missed the board, but they didn’t want to give up their hand so easily. So, they would fire a bet in, even though they were out of position and the other player was the preflop aggressor.
It didn’t take long for the raiser to figure out what was going on. He’d ask some fairly basic questions: “If he really wanted action wouldn’t he check to me? Doesn’t he know I’d likely throw in a continuation bet?” Assuming that the donk was simply trying not to get blown off the pot the preflop aggressor would raise. The donk, being caught with nothing, would sheepishly throw his cards away. Eventually, the donk bet went away as a play, because it was so easily exploited. For years, no one really used it. It is still a sorely undervalued play.
At some point, some astute players began throwing the donk bet back into their game, which seriously confused the regulars. They knew the guy was a good player, so why would he do something that is so obviously weak? The play put them in a spot they weren’t comfortable being in. They didn’t want to do the typical play, which was to raise, as they feared a trap. They’d often find themselves on a board where they couldn’t represent much of anything either, so raising would leave them vulnerable to a 3-bet bluff. Still, if they called they knew they didn’t have much of a plan for the turn.
What happened and what still happens is that they’d call, not really knowing what to do next. Taking them to this no man’s land is really beneficial for us. My results have been excellent with the donk bet. It is one of my favorite plays. I’ve labored on it extensively and I can tell you what works.
General Occasions to Donk Bet
The simplest way I can explain when to donk bet is when your hand doesn’t quite fit into any other range. It’s not bad enough to check/fold, it doesn’t work as a check-raise, and it’s too weak to check/call. This is usually a terrific time to throw in a donk bet.
One great example of this is when you have three to a straight flush. Say the
board is 10♥-8x-2x and you have the Q♥-J♥. You have three to a straight flush and a gut shot, so on the turn any A, K, Q, J, 9, or heart gives you a serious draw
or a pair. That is a serious improvement. Even better, there are 25 cards that give you this possibility. That’s almost half the deck! Many people would say, “Well if our hand has that much potential why don’t we just call?”
Let’s imagine a scenario where we do check/call here. We have 25 helpful cards out of 47 unseen ones. Most of these give us draws, so let’s look at that scenario. We check/call and “hit” the turn 25/47 = 0.532 or 53.2% of the time. For fun let’s give ourselves a terrific turn card for our draws, the Ah. Now we have a double gutshot straight draw and a flush draw. That’s 15 cards that will give us the lock out of 46 unseen. We check/call again and take our shot at the 15 cards: 15/46 = 0.3260. We hit 32.6% of the time.
To hit our draw we needed both of these to come through: 0.532 x 0.326 = 0.1734. We’re going to get there on the river 17.34% of the time. So, when we call on the flop we should just fist pump right there and go, “Yes! I’m calling a bet on the flop for an opportunity to call another bet on the turn so I can lose over 80% of the time!!! You might as well ship the money to me right now!”
Let’s try the donk bet however. We donk lead two-thirds the size of the pot. Quick, how often does that need to work? The reason we should lead so much is because our opponent could reclaim his positional lead by putting in a small raise. We could conceivably 3-bet, but our hand can develop substantial equity on the turn and river, so we want to be seeing those streets. We should save the hypothetical 3-bet bluffs for when we have no equity.
The bet needs to work 40% of the time, by the way. We lead for two-thirds the size of the pot, and our opponent needs to defend with 60% of his range. Figure 71 shows how difficult that is.
As you can see, even if our opponent is opening a tight range of 17% (most MTTers open way more) and they defend with any pair, draw, or gutshot, he will only be defending 57.3% of the hands, so they are folding 42.7% of the time. Recall that our play only needed to work 40% of the time. It is possible that our opponent could float with some ace highs, although in my experience if you securely lead the flop with this larger bet many people just won’t bother. However, we want to donk lead with backdoor or small draws because we can’t be positive that they’re going to fold their ace-highs on the flop.
Now let’s say our opponent flats us, which is his most likely play. On the 10- 8-2 rainbow board many guys are not gunning to raise. The public perception is that no one raises one-pair combinations all that much. Therefore, his raising range becomes a couple of over-pairs, a two-pair (there’s only one) or better. That is a very narrow range to represent. It’s much more likely he has a bluff when he raises. Out of fear of poorly polarizing his range he’s likely to call.
Assuming all 15 of your cards give you the lock on the river let’s now calculate your turn bet on Ah. For simplicity’s sake you lead the size of the pot. I don’t know about you, but I’d be getting squeamish right now if I were the villain. I usually don’t have much of anything, and this person just led heartily into me on flop and turn. This looks a lot like a terrified set by a newer player. The bet as a complete bluff needs to work 50% of the time, but remember you have 15 additional outs. Recall, 15 cards out of 46 unseen will hit 32.6% of the time.
Assuming your opponent only calls or folds your bet needs to work 50% of
the time minus the 32.6% of the time the river saves your ass. That means your preposterous pot-sized donk lead needs only to work 17.4% of the time. You’ve gone from a play that was going to fail four times out of five to a play that could fail four times out of five and still make a profit!
Of course, we have made some assumptions here. One that hurts us is that we assume our opponent never raises. Obviously, this is not going to be the case. If he makes two pair with all those draws out there he’s likely to shut down the action right now. However, we also assumed that we’d make no money on the river. In this hypothesis we river the royal flush and go, “Hey Bernie! I got a royal! Don’t bet anything!” If we make any additional chips on the river we can get away with a few more bluff failures on the turn.
Many don’t like making this play because they could get caught bluffing. We wouldn’t last very long as children if we repeatedly touched a stove that burned us 80% of the time. Yet, in this example, we can do that and still turn a profit.
This is one of the hardest parts of being a poker player. If we go by our instincts in basketball it will likely really help us. We can feel when our form is on point, and we can see the results. In poker something can feel so wrong and regularly fail miserably… and it will be the right play. Only through concerted study away from the felt can we find these unorthodox bets.
Other examples of good draws to donk lead are small flush draws. For example, 6♦-5♦ on a J♦-8♦-2♥ board. In this case many people prefer to check/call, but I’m always puzzled why. If they hit on the turn what do they do?
Donk lead then? That looks fairly obvious. Check-raise? The cocktail waitress is probably going to know what the player has then. Check/call with a flush draw then check-raise when you get it might be the oldest play in the book. If you check on the turn, what do you do if they check behind? That gives them a chance to hit a superior flush if a fourth suited card hits the river. Even if fifth street is fairly safe you have lost an entire round of betting.
For these reasons I like to donk bet a number of my small flush draws, and use the equity as a rebate on my bluff equity. Other good hands are open-ended straight draws when there’s a flush draw on the board. Since you only have six pure outs it’s less desirable to check/call. You can also turn a bottom pair with a backdoor flush draw into a bluff by donk leading out. If you get raised it’s unlikely you’re ahead. If you check/called versus a frequent better it’s likely you will have had to release the hand at some point anyway. Might as well turn the hand into a bluff if you’re committed to not folding on the flop.
Those backdoor flush draws are extremely important. While they might only add a couple of percent to the overall equity they are very powerful as a bluff. It gives you an additional 10 cards on the turn to keep firing on, and they give you 20%+ more equity to assist you in your bluff bets. This vastly reduces how often your bluffs need to work, and makes your donk bets much more difficult to deal with, since they so frequently come with an additional barrel.