A donk bet can best be described as a player making a small opening bet when acting before a player who has previously shown aggression in the hand by betting or raising either before or after the flop. Donk betting is a relatively new term in poker jargon and became popular because such a bet is often associated with players who lack experience and don’t fully understand the dynamics of no-limit betting. However, though its perceived as a “fishy” move, a donk bet can be an effective ploy to build the pot or take control of the hand when used properly. Let’s look at why donk bets are made and the proper way of reacting to them.
There are basically four reasons or goals in making a donk bet. The two most recognized are to either entice opponents to fold their cards or to get them to make a call with a marginal or worse hand. But due to the small size of a donk bet, neither of these goals tends to be realized. The bet is usually too small to induce a fold and also does not garner maximum value. That leads us to the other two goals of donk betting, which are to encourage your aggressive opponent to raise your small bet when you’re holding a strong hand or to prevent your table rival from betting so much that he keeps you from calling and seeing the next card. The latter is often referred to as a blocking bet.
Let’s use an example to illustrate how to react to a donk bet. You are holding on the button and fire a pre-flop raise into the pot of 800 in chips with the blinds at 100/200. The only caller is the big blind and the pot now totals 1,700. A flop of : 2c hits the board and you are surprised to see the big blind make a donk bet of 400–less than 1/4 of the pot. At this point, you should be asking yourself, why did he make this donk bet? Does the big blind want you to fold, call or raise? If you can better understand his reasoning, you will be in better position to react properly.
Players will sometimes make a stab at the pot in such circumstances in hopes that you failed to connect on the flop and they can win the pot on the cheap. In such situations, a raise on your part can often get them to fold. However, other times the donk bet is made knowing that you will not believe that your opponent’s hand is strong and will come back with a raise. A donk bet that entices the aggressor to raise actually brings in more value than not making a donk bet and check-raising. So how can you be sure which of these goals the donk bet is aiming to accomplish?
Your skills at knowing the tendencies of your opponents as well as determining how your play is perceived by others will come into play. If your image is that of a loose player, the donk bet may be made in an effort to get a raise out of you. If your opponent has you pegged as a tight and solid player, it’s possible that he may have a hand. When deciding how to react to the donk bet, it helps to get inside the head of your opponent and evaluate exactly what he is trying to achieve with his donk bet. If you’re not sure whether your table rival is holding a strong or weak hand, raising will go a long way in answering that question.
If the donk bet is used as a blocking bet so the bettor can look at the next card with minimal chips risked or because he is holding a marginal hand that may possibly be a winner, you then must evaluate the strength of your hand. If you’re holding a possible draw or marginal hand, you can use the donk bet to your advantage by just calling and seeing how the hand materializes when the turn or river is revealed. If your hand happens to be strong, its advisable to not let the blocking bet accomplish the bettor’s goal of seeing the next card cheaply. You must raise and show the donk bettor that you’re serious.
Donk bets are made in an attempt to control or manipulate the hand and allow the bettor to set the tone. After careful evaluation of what your opponent is attempting to do, your reaction should be focused on foiling the ploy or attempt at manipulation. More times than not, your reaction should lean toward aggression and raising the donk bet. However, before doing so, determine whether that is what your table rival expects you to do so that he can come over the top with a re-raise. Donk bets can be combatted when you realize the mindset or thinking behind such a small bet out of position.