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Donk Leading

28/08/2020 by Matt Affleck

I recently asked for topics to write about on Twitter and had a couple questions regarding donk betting. Followers were interested in hearing when the correct time to donk bet is and what strategies should be used when implementing a donk betting strategy. Today we will cover what a donk bet is, equity and betting, donk betting later streets, and exploits.

By definition, a donk bet is leading into the aggressor in the hand from out of position. This goes for any street. So, on the flop, it is leading into the pre-flop raiser. On the turn, it is leading into the player who continuation bet on the flop. The donk bet sometimes gets confused with the probe bet. The probe bet is leading the action after a check-check situation. For example, the pre-flop aggressor chooses to check behind and now the BB bets from OOP on the turn. These bets are quite different because the ranges in play are different.

Equity is everything in poker. No matter the words you use, often you are discussing equity in some way. Equity is the backbone of the decisions we make at a poker table. When a player raises preflop from middle position with the top 20% of hands to 2.5BBs, you will often defend your big blind with around 60% of hands. You will 3-bet AA, KK sometimes QQ and JJ, and AK. You will call with all suited hands and a lot of junky offsuit hands because of equity and pot odds.

No matter the flop, the MP player will ALWAYS have an equity advantage on you. Some flops, 456 all spades, MP still has a 51% range advantage, but that is the best-case scenario for the big blind. Even though the big blind can have 87o, 23s, 65o, 54o etc., they are still at an equity disadvantage. What allows you to bet in poker is equity, plain and simple. There are different nuances of equity such as how it is distributed, or nut advantage, but in general, the more equity, the more you bet. From the BB, it is almost never correct to lead into the pre-flop raiser because the big blind is always at an equity disadvantage on the flop. Thus, it is always better to check to the in position stronger range, who will often bet, and then re-evaluate the correct response.

There is a time in the hand that donk betting becomes a viable strategy. Let’s take that same MP 20% range and the 60% range (minus AA-QQ and AK that 3 bet) in a hand. The flop comes Ad-8c-5d, the BB checks, MP bets 1/3 pot, and BB calls. The turn is now the 4d. This is a very dynamic turn as both the straight and flush draw have completed. Let’s take a visual look at both pre-flop ranges:

Screen Shot 2020 08 28 at 12.25.33

The key difference in these two ranges is the amount of flushes that the BB has. He has every single suited combination in his range for a possible flush and also has 76o that the MP does not have. The most common flush the MP player has is the Ace-high flush, but with the Ad on the board, that is impossible. So, the BB has a major flush advantage and also a straight advantage. Now let’s take into consideration the flop action. On A85, MP should be betting 100% of his range versus the BB due to his equity advantage. He has all the Broadway combo hands, 99-KK etc. The reason he bets 100% is the BB has nothing a TON on this board. Now, the BB folds all of his junk on the flop, meaning he is left with SOMETHING all the time on the turn. In other words, the BB has an equity advantage on this turn now, and thus should bet a LOT. In summary, when a turn or river card changes the composition of the board a lot, donk betting can be considered a viable strategy, especially when that card benefits the BB’s range more than the MP range.

Finally, we will look at exploits versus weak players. So far, we have only discussed donk betting as an equilibrium strategy. These strategies are based on maximizing your EV with your entire range, not a specific hand. For example, same set up MP v BB, but the flop is 853r. A hand such as 87 might prefer to bet because it can gain value and needs protection from over cards. However, our whole range wants to check this board. The reason is if we start betting all of our 87, 98 type hands, our checking range becomes extremely weak and we will get punished. We sacrifice the desire to bet 87 to protect and enhance the EV of other hands in our range, making us indifferent between betting and checking. Against very weak opponents, we can ignore balancing our range and begin to play exploitatively. For example, if we know our opponent will never raise our donk lead with a hand like T9, JT or other weak overcard holdings, donk leading becomes attractive. Getting a hand like A9o to fold right away if it was going to just check behind is beneficial. If we know our opponent will always check with a non-pair with two overcards in position, we should not allow him the free card and donk lead to deny equity and gain protection. HAVE A REASON to donk lead and that reason should be an error in your opponent’s strategy you have picked up. Exploit the leak and maximize your EV.

In summary, the donk lead should never be used on the flop unless there is a specific exploitative reason to do so. On board changing turn cards (flush and straight completers and board pairing cards), the BB can use donk leading as a powerful strategy. Whenever the turn or river is a “brick” donk leading should never be used because equities did not change. Finally, EQUITY is the backbone of our strategy. Learn to think about how ranges interact with the board and how big of an equity advantage a range has. Also learn to recognize which turns and river can flip the equity, allowing you to donk lead.