Having recently gone through Alex Millar's Advanced Cash Game Strategy Course, I realized there were many spots in my game I had not fully explored or studied, and that in some of these spots I was missing out on a lot of EV. One such situation was donk betting on the flop. In this article I will attempt to demonstrate the importance of developing a flop donking range, and provide you with some tips on how to construct that range.
What is Donk Betting?
"Donk betting", or "donking" (also sometimes referred to as "leading"), is the term used to describe betting out of position while not being the aggressor on the previous street. This article will specifically be focused on flop donking, which refers to when we call a preflop raise out of position (usually in the big blind), and are first to act on the flop.
One piece of strategy advice most poker players learn early on in their career is to not donk bet, or, put another way, always check to the preflop aggressor on the flop. This is not unreasonable advice; after all, 97% of time we should in fact check to the preflop raiser. However, this does not mean that we should check to the preflop raiser 97% of the time on all flops. On many flops we should have a 100% checking range, but on some flops we should have up to a 53% donk betting range. If we are automatically checking our whole range on these flops, it's clear we are making a significant mistake.
When Should We Donk?
In understanding when and why we should donk bet, it's first important to understand the basic strategy mechanics behind betting in general. One of the biggest factors in determining a player's betting frequency on any street is their range advantage. In other words, when one player's range is made up of a higher percentage of strong made hands (two pair, sets, straights, flushes, etc.), that player should likely be more aggressive than the other player. In most cases, this leads to the preflop aggressor being checked to--not because they were the preflop raiser, but because their range is usually stronger. For instance, when the button raises preflop and the big blind only calls, the button's preflop range is obviously stronger. This range advantage often carries over to the flop, but, as we will see, this is not always the case.
First, let's talk about when not to donk. Ace-high boards without a straight possible and king-high boards in general come to mind as the most obvious boards to always check BB vs BTN in single-raised pots. This is because the button's range will contain all the top sets and top two pairs, while the big blind's range will not.
So when thinking about what flops we want to donk on, we should look for boards where we have significantly more strong hands than our opponent. The most common example of this is flops on which a straight is possible and we have all the off-suit combos of the straight(s), but villain only has the suited combos.
As a practical example, let's say BTN raises preflop, we call in the BB, and the board is 5♠ 4♠ 3♦. Here, we have all 16 combos of 7-6 for the nut straight, while the button only has the 4 suited combos. Additionally, we always have A2o in our range, while the button may or may not be opening A2o pre. Finally, we can have many more two pair combos with 54o and 43s, while again the button is likely to be folding those hands preflop.
As we can confirm with Flopzilla (using approximations of solved preflop ranges), only 3.73% of BTN's range (top) is two pair or better, versus a whopping 9.18% of BB's range (bottom) being two pair or better!
This is clearly a huge advantage for the BB, and therefore we should have a donk betting range! Of course, we don't want to donk bet with our entire range, which brings us to our next topic: range construction.
What Types of Hands to Donk With
Now that we know what situations in which to donk bet, let's explore what hands we want to actually make this unconventional play with.
Continuing with the 5♠ 4♠ 3♦ example BB vs. BTN, the obvious donk betting candidates include our sets and straights. Additionally, we'll want to throw in hands that have a straight blocker plus a draw, so our 6x and 7x hands fall nicely into that category. Of course we cannot blindly bet all of our 6x and 7x combos; we want to favor lower equity combos which don't love to check and see a bet, such as J♦ 6♦ and T♦ 7♦. Finally, many hands such as two overcards with a backdoor flush draw, as well as our weaker flush draws, can be donk bet with some frequency, and again we want to favor the combinations with weaker showdown value. A GTO (game theory optimal) donk betting frequency on this particular board is about 37%, so I would encourage you to develop a range in that neighborhood that makes sense to you.
Depending on the flop, we may want to check some percentage of our strong hands to avoid being exploited, and in some cases it's actually some of our bluff combos that want to be betting 100% of the time as a donk. For instance, BB vs. BTN on 6♣ 3♦ 2♠, according to a GTO strategy, we should donk bet 9♦ 7♦ effectively 100% of the time, but should only bet about half of our 2pair+ combos.
One thing worth noting is that our big blind donking range should vary based on which position opened preflop. Imagine BTN opens and we flat in the BB, and the board is A Q 6 monotone. Here we should likely not have a donk betting range, because not only does villain have top set, middle set, and top two pair (none of which we have since we are 3-betting those hands pre), but villain also has plenty of flushes, since they will be opening all suited kings, and plenty of hands like J7s, T7s, 54s, and so on.
However, now consider being in the same situation, except instead of BTN opening preflop, it was UTG that raised. In this case, it is clear that we will have many more flushes in our range than our opponent, since most of UTG's suited hands are Axs as well as suited broadways, most of which are blocked by the A and Q being on the board. The big blind, on the other hand, is calling preflop with all suited kings, many suited jacks, and plenty of suited connectors and suited gappers. This should lead to the big blind having a leading range on this flop versus UTG, but not versus BTN. The same previously discussed concepts of range advantage still apply, but just keep in mind of how opening ranges from different positions will interact with the flop differently.
Wrapping It Up
I hope you will now start to think about incorporating flop donk bets into your game. For the full in-depth video on Donking on the Flop (which discusses optimal bet sizing, detailed range construction, and how to respond to donk bets) as well as 35+ hours of other stellar videos to develop you into an elite poker player, check out Kanu7's Advanced Cash Game Strategy Course here.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions, and good luck at the tables!
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