Donk Bet in Poker: Is It Ever the Right Move?
Last Updated: January 24, 2023
Texas Hold'em is a complex game as there are many different options you can take in any given spot.
Usually, few of these options are viewed as “better,” bus as the knowledge of the game changes and develops, some plays that were considered a big no-no in the past somehow become a viable option.
These changes became very relevant with the introduction of advanced poker software, and the donk bet is a great example of this.
In Hold'em, it is a standard line to almost always check to the preflop aggressor and give them an option to either continue betting or check behind.
However, in some scenarios, the defending player will opt to bet into the aggressor once the flop is out, and this is what's known as the donk bet.
You’re probably aware that the term donkey is used to describe a bad poker player who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and the name for this particular play is clearly connected to this term.
Like I said, in the past, leading into your opponent was considered a donkey play that an experienced player would never resort to, but is it true these days?
What’s So Bad About Donk Bet?
Before talking about when the donk bet could be a viable strategy, let’s first discuss why the play has such a stigma connected to it.
Looking into these aspects will also help you understand why donk betting can be a part of your arsenal as long as you know what you’re doing.
First of all, poker is a game of information. The more information you have, the better.
When you’re defending against a button open from the big blind, and the flop comes, you’ll usually want to check to them because of this.
Based on their decision to c-bet or check, you’ll be able to make some assumptions about the strength of their hand (or even entire range).
When you donk bet, you take this opportunity away from them. Instead, you’re the one giving information about your hand and allowing them to adjust accordingly.
On top of this, it is very hard to build an effective donk betting range. You have to balance between value hands and bluffs, and that’s hard to do with almost zero information. Plus, by donk betting, you’re removing another powerful option from your arsenal, namely the check-raising.
Poker term evolution:— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) July 20, 2019
Mount em’ or come over the top became 3-Bet
Post Oak Bluff became a C-Bet
Move in became jam
Calling with nothing to outplay later became floating
Beat em’ in the pot became snap call
Weak lead became donk bet
So, looking at these things, it’s not hard to see how the donk bet got its name. For the most part, it was done by the players who didn’t know what to do with their hands or how to deal with c-bets, so they’d rather bet themselves.
When used for these reasons, donk betting doesn’t make much sense, as it allows your opponents to play almost perfectly against you.
However, the GTO poker theory has come a long way, and students of the game have concluded that the donk bet can be a legitimate part of one’s strategy.
HOW TO DONK BET EFFICIENTLY
Now that you know some of the reasons why you shouldn’t be donk betting let’s talk about when it could be okay to do it.
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that you’ll never be doing this a lot, so even in good spots, you’ll only want to donk bet some percent of the time.
When Having a Range Advantage on the Flop
If you’re familiar with the ideas of range and range advantage, you know that certain board textures favor the defending player.
If you call a raise from the big blind, there will be certain textures where you’ll have a big advantage over the in-position opponent, and this is where donk betting comes into play.
Boards with small and middling cards where you can have various two pair and set combos represent a good material for donk betting.
A good player will know that a certain texture is favorable to your range so, if given opportunity, they’ll check behind and try to catch up on the turn. By donk betting, you deny them this opportunity.
This is a good example of a situation described above. PokerSnowie app suggests donk betting with 13.3% of your entire defending range, with a further breakdown of how often you should do it with particular hands.
Now, this is clearly a lot of information, and you probably won’t be able to learn all these spots by heart, but with some practice, you can learn to recognize some good situations to donk bet.
As you can see, the software offers an interesting range of hands. As you scroll further down the list, you’ll also find some hands like 96 (both suited and offsuit) included in the mix.
One of the biggest mistakes players make is donk betting only value hands, which leaves them very vulnerable when checking.
You need to have some semi-bluffs to make it hard for your opponents to build an effective strategy against you, and only then you can effectively use donk bets.
Protecting Your Equity in Multiway Pots
When you find yourself in a multi-way pot, things start to change. You no longer have as much incentive to check to the original raiser as they’ll likely be much more selective with the hands they decided to continue betting.
You’ll want to protect your equity in multiway pots, and sometimes, donk betting is the right way to do it.
It is especially true on dynamic boards where the next card could change things and hurt your equity in hand.
Since other players will also be careful in these scenarios, you often won’t get a chance to get a check-raise in and will end up giving a free turn card, which is very dangerous against multiple opponents.
It’s interesting to see how PokerSnowie goes about building the donk bet range in the situation where you’re in a 3-way pot playing from the big blind.
Some of the high-frequency donk bets aren’t particularly strong but are hands that have a lot of maneuverability on different turn cards.
By donk betting a hand like 5d 6d, you can achieve a couple of things. You can make your opponents fold even a better holding because the board is good for your range.
Even if they call, you will likely be playing heads-up and have many good spots on the turn to continue your aggression to pick up the pot.
So, having some hands in your donk bet range even in multiway pots is fine, but you should not overdo it since this play carry a lot of risks as well.
When Your Opponents Play Bad vs. a Donk Bet
Any play can be good when used exploitatively against a certain opponent or type of player.
Poker isn’t always about math and numbers – it’s also about people.
While not a given, most players on smaller rooms tend to be weaker, so choosing a safe poker site, but not necessarily the biggest one, can give you access to games with weaker opponents, which is a big win on its own.
So, if you ever come across someone who reacts poorly to donk bets, you should look to utilize this play even more.
What I mean by this is that some players will panic when you don’t follow the usual “check to the raiser” pattern.
So, they’ll either tend to fold too much because “you must have it,” or they’ll make a huge raise over your bet to punish you for “acting out of turn” (at least in their mind).
You can easily adjust to either of these extremes, so I won’t spend too much time talking about it.
Just make sure to pay attention to this, and if you find a player that doesn’t know what to do when they’re up against a donk bet, feel free to deviate from GTO strategy.
CREATING A BALANCED DONK BETTING RANGE
As mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with donk betting is doing it in a way that keeps your range balanced.
PokerSnowie examples paint a pretty good picture of what this actually means, as there are some hands in there that you probably wouldn’t expect. Donk betting with a gutshot straight draw isn’t something that comes naturally to most players.
So, if you want to utilize this strategy in your day-to-day play, you’ll have to spend a lot of time studying.
That’s the only way to do it right as donk betting based on your gut feeling is exactly where the name comes from.
Donk betting can only be good if you know exactly why you’re doing it, and you can only know this if you spend a lot of time studying different spots and board textures. If you do not want to be alone on this one, you can always join one of poker training sites to boost your progress.
Of course, you can get away with many strange plays in lower stakes games where your opponents don’t pay much attention to what’s going on.
However, as you move up through the stakes, you’ll start to encounter a tougher opposition in general who’ll be looking to exploit any leaks they can find in your game.
And the donk bet is the kind of play that can leave you vulnerable if you don’t know your math.
So, before you make it a regular feature in your strategy, make sure to spend enough time away from the tables to learn it. Otherwise, you’ll achieve the effect that’s exactly the opposite of what you were aiming for.
DONK BET IN MODERATION
So, in conclusion, can donk bet ever be the right play? As you could see from some of the examples in this article, there are situations when donk betting is correct, both from the GTO and exploitative perspective. However, with all that in mind, this play should be used in moderation.
Unless you’re prepared to spend many hours studying and memorizing different percentages to bring things to the point of perfection, I’d suggest having this as a sort of surprise weapon in your arsenal.
Balance it out with some strong hands and some bluffs, and you’ll be fine, simply because you don’t do it often enough for other opponents to exploit you, even if your balancing isn’t perfect. There is a detailed section about it inside the Upswing poker lab review, so you might want to check it out.
It can be a nice curveball to throw at your opponents now and again, but even if you never make a single donk bet while playing, you won’t seriously hurt your chances of long-term poker success.
- Donk betting has become a legitimate part of poker strategy
- Donk bet when you have a clear range advantage on the flop
- You can donk bet to protect your hand I multiway pots
- At the same time, do not donk bet too often in multiway pots
- Proper balancing is one of the hardest things about donk betting
- Having a donk betting strategy isn’t mandatory for your success as a player