Choosing Between Donk-Leading And Check-Raising In PLO

WSOP bracelet winner John Beauprez thinks the donk bet is an important tool for all players.

WSOP bracelet winner John Beauprez thinks the donk bet is an important tool for all players.

By now you may be tired of all the negative publicity that playing out of position (OOP) gets. Every Pot Limit Omaha book or training video constantly reminds us of how cool being in position is, so does that mean we can only play monsters when OOP? Are we honestly supposed to just surrender whenever we find ourselves facing a raise OOP? There must be a solution to this!

Fortunately there is, and it’s called the donk bet, which is defined as leading with a bet on the flop without the preflop initiative. There are three main reasons why donk betting is effective in PLO. Most importantly, donk betting helps neutralize the positional advantage. In NLHE, you can get away with rarely donking because of the difference in equity distribution between the two games. To put it in layman’s terms, there are many more way ahead/way behind situations on the flop in Hold’em, which means that check-calling OOP can be the best line to take if you have, say A-10 on a K-10-x board. However, in PLO, falling into the habit of check-calling OOP all the time will present difficult spots on later streets, since the equities are so much closer together post-flop.

If you recall, the five main reasons why position is valuable in PLO are: extracting value, bluffing, pot control, equity realization, and getting to showdown. In one way or another, donk betting neutralizes each of these advantages the player in position has.

My students will tell you I’m a huge advocate of playing heads-up, especially when learning how to play a new game. If you have aspirations of playing heads-up soon, you will get demolished without a keen understanding of how to donk bet correctly. Good players will destroy you if you don’t find a way to minimize the damage of playing OOP half the time, and even against fish, you’re losing a ton of value if you rely solely on gaining profit when in position. Simply put, the guys that crush the games win a high percentage of the heads-up action. It’s no coincidence the best players in the world prefer to play heads-up above any other form of poker. Multi-way pots in six-max PLO can be limiting for a huge sicko because of how they force straightforward play.

Second, donk betting is deceptive when used correctly. From my experience, there are few players that know how to correctly adjust to a balanced donk betting strategy. In earlier articles, we established that when constructing our lines postflop, one of the primary goals is to choose the line that represents the widest range of hands. Donk betting complements this strategy perfectly, because again, if you remember from earlier lessons, we established that the situation we want to avoid the most in PLO is check-calling OOP with medium-strength hands and draws.

This concept is true, but the fact is we won’t always have the luxury of only having nuts or air when OOP; it’s just not that easy. Sometimes you’ll be forced to play a medium-strength range OOP, and donk betting with these ranges on a variety of boards is a great line to take in these scenarios.

Donk betting also gives us information about the ranges of our opponents. Most players are inclined to protect their strong hands (especially on draw-y boards), which means that depending on the board texture, you can narrow their ranges down, while at the same time your range remains less defined than if you had check-called.

Last, controlling the dead money by having the right to bluff first is another benefit gained from donk betting. As you’ll see in the next few sections, against certain player types, simply being the first one to bet is enough to take down the pot. Additionally, donk betting allows you to take it upon yourself to build up a sizable pot to scoop later on, rather than relying on the player in position to continuation bet (c-bet) for you.

You Should Donk When…

Of course, we can’t donk bet in every heads-up pot OOP, so what kind of flop scenarios should we consider donk betting on? The following are four different scenarios where donk-betting has merit.

1) You hold a strong hand or draw, and your opponent(s) are unlikely to bet.

Example: K K 7 5 on K Q 8

This is a good time to consider leading out with a bet. You definitely want to avoid giving free cards to a field of players with hands they won’t bet themselves, especially on boards where there are many possible draws.

In these scenarios, many beginning players avoid donk betting for fear of killing their action, prompting a quick fold from their opponent(s). I wouldn’t worry about looking too strong. On these boards, there is a wide range of hands that will unquestionably call you. So make it easy on yourself, and get to work on building a pot with the best hand. Pots in PLO grow geometrically, so if you turn big hands into only two-street betting games, you’re surrendering a ton of value in the long run. Remember, when facing passive opponents holding a strong hand, the goal is to start building the pot early.

2) You want to define your opponent’s range.

Example: A A T 4 on K J 7

A good spot to donk bet is when you want to define the opponent’s range, because many times it forces opponents to play straightforwardly. Using the example above, leading out is a good option because if we get raised it’s an easy fold, and if he calls, his hand is turned face-up. Most opponents lack the discipline to smooth call with top two or a set on boards like this, so when they smooth-call in position, it’s mostly a range of top pair and sidecards, bottom two pair, or some other type of medium-strength straight draw. Besides, things aren’t so bleak for us anyway, because we have a gutshot and a backdoor nut flush draw to go along with our overpair. Plus, we’re fine with him outright folding, because there are many random hand combinations with equity hovering around 30% that will fold to a donk bet.

3) You want to be deceptive when holding a monster.

Example: J T 8 7 on J T T

It’s important to note that donking out when you flop a boat like we have in the example here probably isn’t the best option against an unknown opponent, because most players usually bet trip tens, some over-pairs, and probably their air as well, so you don’t want to kill your action by leading out on the flop. However, in an aggressive dynamic against a player you have some history with, donking can be a great way to induce floats and bluff-raises.

4) You believe to have fold equity.

Example: K Q 6 5 on J T 6

Lastly, if you think you have fold equity and your opponent is unlikely to c-bet, then leading out on paired and monotone boards is fine too. Remember that passive players won’t c-bet nearly as much, so the easiest way to both prevent them from realizing their equity, and to pick up the pot, is to lead out on the boards they connect with infrequently. Another reason for donking instead of check-raising boards like this is because the former is much cheaper.

One last thing I want to mention is that if you don’t have any fold equity, then leading out is a bad idea. When playing a passive calling station, don’t lead out unless you plan on betting three streets. As we’ve said before, building pots with no hand and no fold equity will destroy your win rate.

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John Beauprez

John Beauprez is a WSOP bracelet winner with over a half million dollars in tournament earnings. He’s a Pot Limit Omaha specialist and been writing with BLUFF since 2010.
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