Poker Strategy: To Donk or Not to Donk

There are a lot of techniques and strategies you can employ in poker. The beauty of the game is that no action is truly worthless; there’s a time and place for everything. Even the most egregious “mistakes” can work in the proper scenario. 

In this poker guide, we’ll look at this philosophy by analyzing one of the most common beginner mistakes in poker: Donk betting. We’ll explain what it is, why it’s bad, and when it’s a good idea. By the end, we hope you’ll understand exactly when to donk and when not to. 

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Donk betting overview

Donkey betting, donk betting for short, is an infamous term in the poker community. In most games, the standard line of play is that a player, usually in a late position and acting last, will be aggressive pre-flop. Other players will then check to that player on the flop, and that player will usually continuation bet. Donk betting is when a player in early position bets on the flop instead of checking, and it’s frowned upon for several reasons. 

Even the name shows how discouraged it is; “donkey” is slang for a bad player. For a long time, donk betting was the hallmark of an inexperienced poker player who didn’t understand concepts like position or initiative. While donk betting is a bad move in most cases, recently, even pros have been showing that the technique can be used. It’s no longer seen as a universally wrong move, just a niche one. 

Why donk betting is bad: Position, explained

Donk betting is bad for various reasons. The first and most obvious is that it puts you at a massive positional disadvantage. It’s incredibly rare to see someone bet from an early position, and most players would only do so with an absolute monster hand. If you don’t know what position is, it refers to when you act relative to the other players. Acting first is known as being in an early position, while acting last is known as being late. 

Position is a key element of poker strategy, as when you act determines how much information you get about the other players. By acting first, you’re essentially going in blind. Acting last allows you to react to other player’s actions, such as making a huge bet when many people check to you on the turn since it’s a sign of weakness. 

So, by donk betting, you miss valuable information and put yourself in a terrible spot. You’ve acted blindly into all the players behind you, meaning they could potentially pressure you with a raise. The reason most early position players check on the flop is that it negates positional disadvantage. If the pre-flop aggressor happens to make a bet, the check will allow you to act after your opponent and respond by folding or raising. 

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Why donk betting is bad: It makes the game simpler for your opponent

The last thing you want to do in poker is make the game easier for your opponents. Often, being aggressive is used for its psychological impact; by making large bets and raises, you pressure your opponent and force them to consider how to respond. If you apply enough pressure, you could cause your opponent to make a mistake in the heat of the moment. 

Unfortunately, donk betting, while it is a bet, doesn’t apply the same pressure most bets do. Instead, it simplifies your opponent’s thought process to: Fold if I miss the flop, raise if I hit it. An alternative action like check-raising is far trickier for your opponent to deal with and decide which hands they should play, as it could catch a potential continuation bet bluff. 

When to donk bet

Again, while donk betting is bad, there are some scenarios where you can use it. The most common one is when you’re on a flop that greatly favors your range. The pre-flop aggressor will likely have high-ranked premium cards like aces and kings. While those hands would normally be great, on low-ranked, connected boards like 6-3-5,  the aces and kings won’t be of much use. The pre-flop caller, more likely to have low-ranked drawing hands like 65s or 54s, would do much better on that board.

So, when the board favors you like this, it’s a great idea to donk bet as a cheap bluff. Your opponent will likely see a bet from an early position as a sign you have already connected with the flop, and since the board heavily favors you, it’s unlikely they’ll think you’re bluffing. If you were to check, the opponent may just check to see a free card, and they might see your check as a sign of weakness and continue playing aggressively. 

Another benefit of donk betting is simply how rare it is. For the longest time, nobody donk bet except experienced players. Some players might not know how to react to it, allowing you to actually use donk bets to pressure with a mix of value hands and bluffs. 

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Learn how to donk bet properly online!

So, donk betting isn’t useless, just highly situational. Learning when and how to execute the donk bet takes a lot of time and practice, regardless of how much you read about it. The best way to do this is to play poker online. Online lets you get more hands in per hour, accelerating your learning speed. It also has other benefits like poker tracking software and exclusive site benefits. 

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