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How Does Jonathan Little Deal with Donk Bets in the WSOP Main Event?

Jonathan Little

Last month, I’ve explored some interesting tournament spots encountered by some of my students. Topics included whether to value bet certain turns or check hoping to get to showdown, and how to play the nut flush draw on a monotone board.

In this week’s column, I share a hand that I personally played in the 2019 World Series of Poker (WSOP) $10,000 Main Event, one indicative of how to deal with donk bets.

In the hand, action was nine-handed and the blinds were 1,500/3,000/3,000 and I was sitting on a 212,000 (71 BBs) in the cutoff holding the {q-Clubs}{j-Diamonds}. This is definitely a fine spot to open it up so I make it 8,000.

Both the players in the small and big blinds, who had stacks of 62 BBs and 97 BBs respectively, called to see a {10-Clubs}{9-Clubs}{5-Hearts} flop. The player in the small blind, who was a loose-aggressive player, led for 7,000 and the big blind folded.

I have no idea what this lead means. It could be a strong hand or it could be a draw, of which there are plenty. Against flush draws, I don’t really want to play a big pot against, but against junky draws like worse straights, I definitely do. In this spot, I like a call getting good odds and the opportunity to learn more information on the turn.

Also, in soft, deep-structured tournaments like the WSOP Main Event, you typically want to reduce variances as much as possible, and I think raising here does the opposite. Obviously, you’d win the pot with a raise part of the time, but other times you won’t and the pot will bloat.

It's always a bit perplexing when an opponent leads into you when you were the aggressor on the previous street. The key is to try and figure out what portion of your opponent’s range they are leading with.

The {8-Clubs} turn gave me a straight but the problem was it could also give my opponent a flush. His leading range was comprised of a lot of flush draws, so when he continued to bet 18,000 it was an interesting sizing. I’d expect my opponent to bet bigger with a flush.

If I raise, what would happen? If they have a flush they’re not going to fold, while made hands I want to keep in the pot – like ace-ten or two pair – may very well fold. This is a scenario where I beat all of the marginal hands and bluffs but lose to all of the nut hands. In such cases, you usually want to call, which is what I did.

The {7-Clubs} river put four clubs on board and my opponent checked. Should I check or bet with my queen-high flush? For me, it’s a very clear check because we lose to the {j-Clubs} and {6-Clubs}, which make a straight flush. We also lose to the {a-Clubs} and {k-Clubs}, so what club are we hoping to get called by that our opponent could hold? If I were to bet, I like a small bet of about 20K into the 77K pot as we’d be trying to get called by a really bad hand.

However, given my opponent is loose-aggressive and capable of a check-raise, I think this is a great spot to check behind. My opponent showed the {8-Spades}{7-Spades}, so kind of a weird turn bet by our opponent, but in the end, we won the hand.

Dealing with donk leads can be tough. It's always a bit perplexing when an opponent leads into you when you were the aggressor on the previous street. The key is to try and figure out what portion of your opponent’s range they are leading with.

A good player will usually lead with a polarized range, made up of premium hands and draws. With that said, many small stakes players like to lead with one specific portion of their range, for example, middle pair so they can 'see where they are at'. Against bad players, once you find out what portion of their range they're leading with, you can maximally exploit them.

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com. Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at PokerCoaching.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

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