Donk betting – Unprofitable & profitable

Donk betting

What is donk betting?

Donk betting refers to a postflop bet made by an out of position player, before the player who raised preflop has had the opportunity to bet.

The reason it is called a donk bet is in poker slang donkey or fish are terms some people use for weak players (shark is a term some people use for strong players). Betting into the preflop raiser, was in simplistic poker advice considered bad – and thus something only weak players would do. However, it is not so black and white. There are some situations whether donk betting can be the highest expected value play. As such despite its name which has stuck, donk betting can be used by strong and weak players. The difference is weak players do it for the wrong reasons, and thus can be massively exploited by better opponents, for making this mistake.

The potential problems with donk betting

  • The reason we correctly should check to the preflop raiser in many situations, is that they will often have the range advantage (especially nut advantage) on many board textures. Donk betting when you don’t have the range advantage, is likely to be a negative expected value play.
  • The out of position player, in a turn based game such as poker, will be at an informational disadvantage on all postflop streets – the in position preflop raiser will be able to see what the out of position player does before making his decision. By donk betting, the out of position player is giving out unnecessary information. Checking all hands in a range does not give out any information.
  • Donk betting might fork your ranges, and thus might leave you unbalanced (which may lead you vulnerable to getting exploited). Weak players, in particular, often donk bet a condensed range consisting of medium strength or weak made hands and/or draws but not their strong hands (as they think they will get more value from strong hands by check-raising the likely continuation bet). Strong players can balance their donk betting range, with their checking-range – but this takes work. Weak players who fork their range in this way, face a problem when they don’t donk bet – as their opponent can put them on really stronger hands or give up (i.e. a polarized range).
  • One of the mistakes low stakes players make is continuation betting too much, and on board textures (given their opponent’s range) that they shouldn’t continuation bet. Thus even if donk betting was a profitable play in a scenario, check-raising might be a higher expected value play.

Poor reasons to donk bet

  • Donk betting without any thought to board texture, opponent’s ranges, opponent’s’ frequencies, opponents’ tendencies.
  • Donk betting to ‘see where I’m at’ – this is never a good reason for betting. Betting should only be done to help realize your own equity (by denying your opponents their equity), or to build a bigger pot.

How to react to a donk bet from a weak player

What do you think are the intentions of the player making the donk bet? Against weak opposition their donk bet is unlikely to be balanced. They are likely forking their range – and, only betting weak or medium strength hands (and not their strongest hands). Or, they are trying to set a price for a draw. Consider what their donk betting range looks like, and react accordingly. In future hands, when the same opponent does not donk bet, consider what it says about their range.

Good reasons to make a donk bet

Here’s a checklist we have put together at UnfairPoker.com to ask yourself when considering a donk bet:

  1. Do you have the range advantage on a board texture?
  2. Do you have nut advantage on a board texture?
  3. Is your opponent likely to continuation bet on this board texture?
  4. If the villain checks behind, can a lot of bad cards come on the turn and river for your hand?
  5. If you are up against a reasonable opponent, can you balance your donk betting range in this hand (e.g. lead out some strong hands, as well as weaker hands/draws) and overall (e.g. can you donk bet in such a way in this hand, but when you don’t donk bet in a future hand, your opponent cannot easily put you on a particular hand type).
  6. If donk betting is likely to have a positive expected value, would checking likely have an even higher expected value?

If you have the range advantage, especially the nut advantage, you should consider betting out. If your opponent is the type to continuation bet too much, despite all this, of course you should consider checking (and possibly raising). If you have a made vulnerable hand (such as a pair on a board without high cards) where your opponent does not have strong range/nut advantage, but you don’t expect you opponent to continuation bet enough, you might consider leading.

In a multiway pot, where you don’t think the preflop raiser will be betting often, you can consider donk betting made hands and draws. This can work especially well if you are one of the first to act, as players in-between you and the preflop raiser, may find themselves in a difficult position.

However, always be aware of balance, and consider whether it matters against the opponents you are playing.