(24) QuickFact: Whenever You’re Facing Passive Opponents With A Strong Hand, The Goal Is To Start Building The Pot Early.
(24) QuickFact: Choosing The Most Optimal Line Hinges Upon The Capitalization Of Dead Money.
By now you may be tired of all the negative publicity that playing OOP gets. Every PLO 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 pre-flop 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 AT on a KTx 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 in Chapter 5, we established the five main reasons why position is valuable in PLO, which 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 that 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. 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 chapters, we established that when constructing our lines post-flop, one of our 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 drawy 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 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 in 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 gut-shot 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♥
Last, 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 don’t hit 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.
To Donk, or Not to Donk?
The last several pages have been devoted to showing you a couple of strategies for fighting back when OOP. Understanding the theoretical framework makes sense on the surface, but the key to printing money from donking and check-raising comes from knowing the right time to use each one.
The decision of whether to donk or check-raise is primarily based on player type, hand strength, and the capitalization of dead money. Before we go any further, there are two very important definitions to hammer out.
Many players don’t understand that all dead money is not created equal. More specifically, to give yourself the best chance to capitalize on dead money, you must be conscious of exactly where the dead money comes from in the first place. It’s important to point out that the following definitions were taken from Andrew Seidman, aka Baluga Whaleʼs e-book on NLHE titled Easy Game, which is a fantastic read.
There are two types of dead money: passive dead money and aggressive dead money. Passive dead money occurs when a player calls a bet on one street with the intention of folding to the next one, while aggressive dead money is defined as an aggressive act like (betting or raising), after which the aggressor will fold his hand to further action. The biggest difference between aggressive dead money and passive dead money is that aggressive dead money is created by an attempt to win the pot, while passive dead money can’t possibly win the pot. Put more simply, passive players create passive dead money, and aggressive players create aggressive dead money.
Capitalizing on passive dead money is a key element for conquering the lower stakes, and it’s one of the reasons why hyper-aggressive styles can work very well at these levels. Since the majority of players haven’t developed hand-reading skills yet, they tend to play passively when facing aggression. That said, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a player destroy the lower levels using this style, and then get crushed when they try it at the higher limits. As you move up, the players can hand read better, which means they won’t let you get away with nearly as much as the players at the low/micros. Instead of check-calling the flop and then folding to a bet on the turn, players at the higher levels will check-call the flop just to check-raise the turn to win more dead money.
Understanding these definitions is easy enough, but how does all of this relate to check-raising? It means you must pay close attention to opponent tendencies. If they are c-betting too much, then check-raising is often a better option, because they’re creating aggressive dead money for you to take away by re-bluffing them. Passive players generally don’t bet their air, which means that to take down the pot, you may have to donk bet to pick it up instead.