Postflop: Time to Play Poker – Leading


Leading, aka donk-betting, is betting into the pre-flop raiser. Few players donk-bet, and even fewer do it effectively. Donk-betting has many purposes—to steal the pot, to induce a bluff, to build a pot, to slow down the pre-flop raiser, etc.

The first time you lead should be with a weak made hand or draw. Most players in the lower limits don’t react well to leads and either fold or call. Decent players understand that you would have shown aggression pre-flop or gone for a check-raise on the flop with a strong hand. So they’ll either call lighter on the flop or bluff-raise with weak pairs, overcards, and gutshots, and you’ll need to fire a second barrel to win.

Polarize Your Leading Range

You generally want to lead with strong made hands that can easily call a raise, or with draws (pair + flush draw, flush draw, open-ended, overcards + open-ended, gutshot + opened-ended, gutshot). This cannot be emphasized enough. There is nothing worse than leading with JQ on KJ3 rainbow, getting raised by the pre-flop raiser, and not knowing what to do. Don’t put yourself into these difficult situations without a plan.

This is a good spot to lead. Check-calling makes the hand tough to play because there are a lot of turn cards that will leave you not knowing what to do. Leading will often take the pot down. If you get raised, you should fold. Pocket eights are actually at the bottom of your range on the flop, since you can have two pair, sets, and a straight in your range. You can also have a strong combo draw that wants to take the bet-3-bet line.

If he calls your leads, you should consider betting on any turn, because he’s probably calling the flop with a naked flush draw or a smaller pair. Checking allows him to bluff, and it’s tough for you to call because he can have other strong holdings as well. It’s a difficult situation, but betting is generally superior to check-calling or check-folding here.

Single-Raised Multi-Way Pots

Consider leading with middle and bottom pairs in a single-raised multi-way pot. It’ll be too hard to profitably check-call with medium pairs. Leading also puts the player behind you in a difficult situation. He has to worry about you showing up with a strong hand, as well as the other player in the pot. This is evident in our next example.

Check-calling is sub-optimal. The button will c-bet nearly 100-percent of his range because he has the betting initiative on a very dry board. Although we may sometimes have the best hand, there are plenty of turn scare cards that Villain can barrel off on (9 or higher). Leading here forces the Button into an awkward spot. Even if he thinks you’re leading light here, he’ll have to worry about the SB waking up with a strong hand. If you bet the flop and either opponent raises, then you can safely fold, knowing you’re beat.

Who to Lead Against

Generally, you want to lead into straightforward players who are passive. Your prime targets are:

  1. Players who fold too often to leads. A good example is a regular who is playing more than nine tables. You can also check a pre-flop raiser’s stat on your HUD to see if he’s folding a lot (75 percent) to donk bets.
  2. Players with a high stealing frequency from the CO or BTN. Their ranges will often be wide and weak.
  3. Weak-tight players. They play a straightforward game and will just fold to your flop leads without a strong hand.
  4. Players who like to check behind for pot control. When you have a strong hand, consider leading into them to extract value since they are going to check behind a lot.

Who to NOT lead Against

Do not lead into aggressive players. They don’t usually like being donk-bet into and will raise your flop bet. Consider leading into them with a strong hand.

Do not lead into good players who are capable of bluff-raising you some percentage of the time. However, if you are capable of leading with two pair of better, then you can balance it out with a draw here and there.

Do not lead into calling stations. You want to take down the pot on the flop without having to fire numerous barrels.

Playing the Turn

After Villain calls your donk bet, bluff the turn again on a scare card. On a two-tone board, lead if the turn completes the flush because a flush draw is well within your donking range. Overcards are also great scare cards to barrel on. If you lead on T83 and the turn is a 6, you can lead again because the 6 is well within your range and Villain could be floating the flop with Ax. He will most likely have a hand like Tx, 99 or 8x.

Leading the flop makes the turn a lot easier to play. This is because if Villain has a strong hand on the flop, he’s likely to raise your donk bet. By calling, he somewhat reveals the strength of his hand, and won’t have strong holdings very often. After all, how often do you call a donk bet with the top of your range?

A good time to lead is when you have two overcards with some backdoor straight and flush draws. This allows you to barrel the turn often against Villain’s weak turn range.

Fire again. Villain will call the flop donk bet with any gutshots, complete floats and of course, made hands like sets, two pairs, TT+, 66-88, 5x, and 2x. However, most hands in his range are small pairs and some straight draws, and he’ll fold to a second barrel. If Villain floats the flop with Kx or won’t fold A9+, you have some outs. In the above example, unless Villain has shown me he is capable of calling light, I’ll barrel the river again. If he calls with a marginal holding, I’ll adjust by only donk-betting him with strong hands over the next few thousand hands. People have selective memory; he will remember this hand where you donk-bet three streets as a bluff. Of course, he doesn’t know that you have good reasoning behind your play and are not randomly bluffing into him.

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