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Donk Bets

Donk Bet: Why Initiative Doesn’t Matter

“I check to the raiser.”

We’ve all probably heard it or said it ourselves at some point.

Our opponent was the last raiser pre-flop, so he has “initiative”. And that means we are supposed to check to him on the flop, right? To donk bet is wrong, right?

Wrong.

The Fallacy of Initiative

Obviously there is no rule requiring that everyone checks to the pre-flop raiser. In fact, the whole idea of initiative as it is commonly defined is a misnomer.

If you’re first to act on the flop, guess what? That means you get to act first! And if anyone actually has “initiative”, it’s the player that acts first!

It’s COOL to Donk Bet

It’s important you accept this because doing so opens up another realm of strategic options to you.

Leading into the pre-flop raiser is commonly called “donking”. And we use this label because we often consider the players that do it to be “donkeys”. We figure the player must be less skilled if he doesn’t follow our time-honored tradition of “checking to the raiser”.

But the truth is, these guys are on to something! There is definitely a time and a place for it.

How Do We Decide What to Do?

So now that you know that it’s ok to donk bet, how do we decide to do it? Well there are a couple things to consider.

What Will He Think?

What level is your opponent on? Is he as smart as we are? Does he also know that donking is perfectly acceptable? (Hint: most online small-stakes regulars have figured this out.)

Some players (e.g. a regulars in low-stakes live games), still hold on tightly to the concept of initiative and might even get offended if you disrespect this unspoken rule by leading. If he’s aggressive, he might raise you quite wide.

It’s similar to “chopping the blinds” in live poker. Again there is no rule requiring this, but people get upset when you don’t do it. If you’re a skilled HU player, or at least more skilled than the guys next to you, then you shouldn’t be chopping.

Attempt to predict how your opponent will respond and use that to your advantage. Once you start leading more, you’ll get a better at anticipating their reaction.

A Simple Technique

One technique is to simply ignore who raised last pre-flop. When the flop arrives, look down at your cards and treat the situation just like you are considering a continuation bet.

For example, let’s say you call out of position with QJs and the flop is A92r. Would you continuation bet bluff this board? If so, then you should donk bet. For more plays like this, learn my 5 trick plays that actually work.

Now you still want to think about the likelihood that your opponent will bet.

Let’s say you call out of position pre-flop with AT and the same A92r board falls. Using the continuation betting technique, you might decide to lead. But if you stop and consider what your opponent will do if you check, you would probably guess that he’s going to be bluffing a lot. So let him!

Advanced Strategy Considerations

At higher levels, versus strong opponents, your strategic considerations will get more complex. You start to ask the question: who did this board hit harder? Is this flop better for my range or his?

Answering this question helps determine your betting frequency and size.

Also who has position? Position will make a big difference on who does the betting on more “volatile” or “wet” boards. If most turn cards are likely to shift who has the best hand, then the player with position has more of an advantage.

The Range Implications of Initiative

Now that I’ve dispelled the myth of initiative, I’ll give you one valid reason why it matters at least indirectly.

Think about the hand range that someone might open raise. It includes the very best hands like QQ, KK, and AA.

Now consider the range with which someone calls such opens. It typically does not include these top tier hands.

Thus it is fair to say, that the opening range is “uncapped” whereas the calling range tends to be more “capped”. But then again proper reg calling ranges are tighter than opening ranges. Overall they contain fewer hands, so the “capped” effect is tempered.

Where this typically matters is on very dry boards. The player with “initiative” and thus the uncapped range will be polarized compared to the capped player. And being polarized gives you a distinct advantage.

Thus in a sense, on dry boards, the player with initiative does often have an advantage, but the reason is more subtle than most people realize.

Do YOU Believe in Initiative?

How about you? Do you still think the idea has merit? I’d love to hear your thoughts. There’s a comment section down below where you can share them with me.

Or if any of the advanced ideas are over your head and you’d like a deeper explanation, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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10 Comments
  • Noodle
    March 25, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Sorry I thought this was a direct email.. A little naive I suppose, Didn’t mean to crash the stream. Great stream though. Glad I caught it

  • Ila Arumugam
    March 25, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Excellent post. I read it a few time to understand the concepts better. A few examples to show the ‘Advanced Strategy Considerations’ and in the last part of ‘The Range Implications of Initiative’ would help newbies like me to understand better. Thanks for the article!

      • Ila Arumugam
        April 4, 2016 at 2:01 pm

        Thanks Mike! I understand the scenarios above. Assuming we are out of position and called someone’s raise, we should donk bet in the following scenarios

        – when board is dry and hits your range stronger than the villain. And you believe he is going to check it down.
        – on a wet board, donk bet on the draws that hits your range
        – It doesn’t matter if you hit the board or not, if your range does then donk bet. Since his range is polarised and yours is not, there is fold equity you can capitalise on.

        These are great lines! I myself going through lot of villains donk betting when moved up the stakes and wondering how to counter-act it. The article timing can’t be better. Thanks very much!

  • Samuel Duguay-Ricard
    March 27, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Good topic.
    I moved up a stake playing live poker and now I encounter a higher proportion of good thinking player than before. The lines I would use on the lower stake was no longer working efficiently versus some of them so after a few sessions I came up with a strategy of ”messing” then up by playing a non conventional poker when involve in a hand with some of them. These new lines include donking as the caller in some spot and check-raising as the aggressor in other spot. It put your opponent out of their comfort zone and they ”lack experience” with that style. Bringing your opponent where they don’t feel comfortable is the first step to make them do mistakes….

  • Matthew Sylvester
    July 24, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Hi Mike,
    Can you explain how well you hit a board vs your opponent should affect your sizing+frequency? Could you give some examples of how to size your bet when its “close” (due to opponent range being strong on a board)?

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