You’ve likely heard someone say “poker is an evolving game”, well no play better exemplifies this than the donk bet.
Once thought to be a play only used by ‘donks’, hence the term, it’s become a widely accepted strategy, and even an integral part of many top poker player’s winning ways.
This article, we aim to provide you with the knowledge you need to start making better use of the donk bet. In turn, this will also allow you to proceed more competently in a hand when facing a donk bet. With this useful skill in your toolbox, you’ll be a tougher adversary at the poker table!
So let’s briefly discuss what a donk bet is and then dive into why donk betting is such a great strategy to use!
What is a donk bet?
A donk bet is a flop bet made by a player into the preflop aggressor. The term is most commonly used to refer to when the big blind player donk-leads into the preflop raiser.
Since the preflop aggressor has the betting lead, indicating they have a strong hand and therefore an advantage, not to mention position, the OOP (out-of-position) player is expected to check.
The IP (in-position) player will then frequently continue the aggression with a c-bet.
As straight forward as this sounds, it’s a big part of why many players still fail to correctly use the donk bet.
In the game of poker, having a range advantage in a hand is what fundamentally drives betting. It incentivizes players to want to put more money into the pot and hence make a ‘value bet’.
Many players routinely break this basic cardinal rule of betting. They mistakenly force money into the pot, putting themselves in a difficult and often costly situation.
Could it be ego or an insistence on trying to bluff someone? Perhaps fear of a bad beat or even just a sudden impulse? A lot of the time, it’s likely the result of being misinformed about when is a good time to donk bet.
See, despite its former reputation as a donkey play, donk betting is a really useful tactic that you can use to improve your poker game. The key is to know what flop textures can make donk-betting a sound option. Or more specifically, what flop textures help OOP's hand range more than IP's.
So when is a good time to donk bet on the flop?
We said "having a range advantage in a hand is what fundamentally drives betting", so what we need to do is identify those flop textures. This will give the OOP the advantage in the hand and therefore an incentive to bet. Additionally, we want to be confident donk betting is more profitable, or at least as profitable, as the other strategic options available (check-calling, check-raising, etc). GTO solvers can help us to confirm this, which we will analyze shortly.
Imagine you are in the big blind and call an early-position player’s raise at a 9-handed table halfway through a tournament. They’ve been playing quite solid and you have no reason to suspect they are getting out of line. Using GTO ranges as a reference, we can expect players to be holding something like this, respectively.
Now consider the following 2 flops;
Whose range does each flop interact better with?
On the A♥K♠8♦ flop, a huge percentage of the EP raiser’s range connects with this board. Whilst at the same time, it leaves the big blind holding a lot of ‘nothing’. Not only does this give the EP player a range advantage, but they also boast a nut advantage. That is, they hold the highest distribution of super-strong hands including AA, KK, 88, and AK (and A8s). The big blind player on the other hand holds far fewer of these nutty hands (88, A8).
Alternatively, notice how the 4♦5♣6♥ flop can often connect with the big blind’s range? And, in fact, it can sometimes give them some really strong hands!
Anticipating this, an astute EP player will be wary of these low-connected flop textures. This prompts the IP player to check-back more since they have a lot of hands that would have trouble dealing with aggression. Even a hand as strong as pocket aces would become nothing more than a weak bluff-catcher when facing a check-raise. The big blind player can easily be holding 2-pair, trips, or even a straight.
This gives rise to the donk bet. The big blind player can anticipate the IP player checking back frequently on dangerous flop types that fit better with their range. Yet, with numerous really strong holdings, the player in the BB would often prefer more money to go into the pot. And so in order to do this, there’s merit to them implementing a donk betting strategy. This ensures money will go into the pot on the flop, preventing them from missing a street of value with their strong hands the times the IP player checks back.
To help clarify this situation, as well as provide some further insight and tips on how to best use the donk bet, including donk bet sizes to use, I created the following video to help. Check it out.
We can see in the video above the important role position plays in NLHE. A stronger range combined with position regularly translates to an edge postflop. This allows the IP player to play aggressively across the majority of flop textures. However, there are some specific flops textures that can give the OOP the upper hand. On these low-connected flops, the IP play will often look to proceed cautiously and check-back. This is where the OOP can look to attack with a donk bet, ensuring they don't miss a street of value with their strong hands.
Donk bet execution
Naturally, as part of a good poker strategy, the big blind player will want to mix up their betting pattern to avoid being predictable. We said the OOP will sometimes want to bet their strong holdings to get value. Thus, in turn, they'll want to make use of some weaker hands that we can also bet as a semi-bluff. This gives us the added benefit of being able to leverage our nut advantage and will sometimes force our opponent to relinquish their equity and fold a better hand. Overall, combining a mix of value bets and semi-bluffs that will keep even a vigilant opponent guessing. The precise hands to use and ideal frequencies we'll cover in the later parts of our donk betting series.
When seeking to implement a strong strategic approach in poker based on GTO findings, it's important not to forget the importance of player profiling. When you’re facing off with a player who is giving little thought to your strategy, or perhaps likely to misinterpret what your donk betting range looks like, then we can simply take an exploitative approach.
This is, of course, one of the keys to success in the poker world – knowing your opponent. This is never more so the case than when it comes to donk betting. In my experience, players regularly completely miscalculate a donk betting range. Some will view it as overly strong and hence over-fold, whilst some might take offense to the sheer sight of it and feel compelled to raise!
Players with aggressive tendencies, particularly one’s you could label as ‘old-school’, may sometimes get overly aggressive when faced with a donk bet. This is mostly due to the fact they will likely have no idea about the theory behind it. Hence associating the play with it's historical 'donk' image.
They may not even realize that it’s carefully selected flop textures like 4♦5♣6♥ that you are donk betting on, rather than flops better for IP like A♥K♠8♣. This will lead to them potentially making some monumental errors that you can capitalize on. So anticipating how your opponent will react when facing a donk bet, is crucial.
So now you're ready to voraciously donk bet away, right? Well, something to consider before you donk bet is that just because some players may play poorly facing a donk bet doesn't always make it the 'go-to' option. For example, an aggressive player who over c-bets is still a prime candidate to hit with a check-raise on a lot of flop textures that are a good fit for your range.
Since we can often anticipate the preflop raiser frequently following up their aggression with a flop c-bet, their c-betting tendencies are something to seriously consider when weighing up if there's merit to donk betting. The following article titled 'Should You Ever Donk Bet on the Flop', points out 4 reasons not to donk bet which are all related to c-betting.
Basically, if you haven't been much of a donk bettor before, consider how the new bet style might impact different branches of the game tree. Specifically, check-raising and turn lead betting. For example, if you start donk betting a lot of strong hands and draws on the flop, you may find your check-raising or lead betting ranges are deficient in strong hands. Additionally, we also need to make use of appropriate bet sizes to get the best result.
Donk bet sizing
One thing we tend to notice when seeing what we can learn from GTO solvers is they frequently use a variety of bet sizes (if you're unfamiliar with solvers and if you should use one, check out our GTO poker solver guide. However, rather than over-complicate things, making use of a ¼ pot size bet, as well as a larger 2/3 pot size bet, works well. For the most part, using 2 bet sizes is adequate to maintain a sound fundamental strategy that’s more appropriate for human use! It will still retain most of the additional EV that can be gained by adding a donk betting strategy into your game.
The EV associated with donk betting is hard to quantify and some do, in fact, argue a fairly low EV gain for what is more work away from the tables. This opinion is mostly generated for 2 reasons;
- Donk betting is only used on a small percentage of flops (low-connected textures) as is shown in the table below.
- It doesn’t provide huge gains if a player is already implementing a strong check-raising and turn lead betting strategy.
Is it really worth learning a good donk betting strategy?
It’s a fairly small group of flop textures that are favorable enough for the OOP player to consider donk betting. Mostly, as we said, 4, 5, 6, and 7-high flops with connectivity are where we see a high donk betting frequency. Ultimately, viable flops for donk betting only constitute around 2-3% of all flops. So it’s not a play that is going to drastically alter the results of a single poker session.
Some donk betting enthusiasts will find themselves sitting at the table waiting to try out their new donk betting knowledge only to wait an hour for a chance to donk bet! Does this mean we shouldn’t waste our time exploring this strategic option?
I would argue donk betting is an extremely useful tactic for several reasons:
- Playing OOP is one of the hardest parts of the game, so any additional tactic we can use to help is beneficial (for more on BB play, our big blind article should be helpful).
- Over a poker career, most poker hands are played heads-up in a single raised pot between the BB and IP, exactly where donk betting comes in handy.
- Exploitative opportunities regularly arise that you need to be ready to capitalize on with a donk bet.
- Studying and using a donk betting strategy helps prepare you for the times you face a donk bet yourself. Here's a related article for those who are already having trouble facing donk bets - How to Deal with Donk Bets
- Overall, it gives us an extra weapon to use to take down more pots. And one that many players are still unfamiliar with. Even Reg's tend to omit donk betting as an option when doing GTO study, resulting in them having miscalculated the strategies they're implementing at the table.
- Finally, being donk bet aware helps you make inferences about players. If you spot a player donk betting on a high-flop, you can assume he’s not a strong player. Alternatively, if someone seems too precise with their donk bets and frequencies, you may in fact suspect the player is a bot!
Here are a few examples of donk betting in action so you can get a better idea of how to execute the donk bet and see the merit behind it.
The above video highlights the important role flop texture plays when it comes to donk betting. Using Simple GTO Trainer (very handy software and as a partner company, those interested can download here for a discounted price), we saw specifically connected flops like 6♠7♥8♣ and 3♣4♦5♠ are good candidates for donk-betting.
PIOSolver chooses to donk-lead on these flops at a considerable frequency, using quite a mix of hands that are centered around very strong made hands, and good draws which perform well when combined with fold equity. In further investigations when comparing simulations that had the option to donk bet on such flops to simulations that weren't, donk betting always increased the net EV result for the OOP player, although gains mostly aren't overly substantially.
There are actually 34 distinct flops that result in an average donk bet frequency above 50%. Whilst that's not a lot of flops, that’s more than ½ the time on certain flop types a GTO solver will donk bet! This clearly highlights how favorable this option can sometimes be. Moreover, it’s relatively easy to learn this strategy, since it’s such a limited selection of flops where it’s used the most.
There are a few other flop types rather than just low-connected boards where we can use the donk bet. Among them are paired flops, when the paired card is a 9 or lower. As you can imagine, the big blind player's wide range will allow them to flop trips more than the IP player on a flop like 4♦4♥8♥. Thus, incentivizing them to want to put more money in the pot and develop a leading strategy. However, this nutty portion of the BB's range will still only represent a small portion of their overall range so it should be used sparingly.
Solvers tend to use donk betting on paired flops around 10-25% of the time. Although exploitatively you could increase this as profitable situations arise. In the video below, Jungleman has aces so the pot may have ballooned anyway. But it's interesting to see Tony G capitalize on his wild image and get a flop donk bet to pay off big time! Although do note, this hand Tony was actually in the small blind so we'd rarely want to donk in this exact instance. It's still an interesting hand though so check it out!
For most, the difficult part when it comes to implementing a donk betting strategy is using the right frequencies. Some players correctly identifying the flop types, but donk bet on these textures every time. As we pointed out, like many good poker strategies, using a mixed strategy approach will help you avoid being predictable and make you more difficult to play against.
In our future donk betting parts in this series, we’ll further dissect the donk bet. The next part will look at more flop textures where we can donk bet, the best frequencies to aim for, as well the types of hands to use. Some of which might surprise you! So be sure to check back for that. For now, let’s wrap-up the theoretical scope we’ve covered in this post on this important topic.
It wasn’t long ago when if you saw a big blind player bet on the flop into the pre-flop aggressor, you could label them as a ‘donk’. These days, sure, it could be a recreational player messing around, but it could also be a pro implementing a very effective strategy.
GTO solvers demonstrate that donk betting can improve the overall performance of our game, or EV, at the tables. Additionally, it also opens up excellent exploitative opportunities when you know your opponent and can correctly anticipate them behaving in a certain way when facing a donk bet. Furthermore, understanding a good donk betting strategy provides more overall ‘power’ at the table. That is, the ability to both utilize this important skill, defend against it, and make inferences about players when you see them using it.
It isn’t often we’ll want to donk bet. It mostly comes into play on specific low-connected boards. Flops that are 6 or 7-high and connected are where we see the use of donk betting peak, reaching more than a 50% frequency in a GTO solver. But that’s still a significant amount of donking! Especially over the long-run, donk betting can improve your win-rate. So be sure to properly equip yourself with this important skill so you aren’t left behind by this ever-evolving strategy game!
Thanks again for reading our Pokernerve blog. Stay tuned as we look forward to bringing you part 2 of this article series soon. In part 2, we’ll examine in more detail specific flop textures that are great to donk bet on, including the hand ranges to use, along with the frequencies. A must-read for any avid donk better! See you again then and good luck on the felt, well, virtual felt for most of us given the current times! Speaking of which, be sure to check out GGN poker if you haven't already, currently the best online poker site with a whole host of tournaments and cash games to suit any poker fan. Stay safe team!