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The Hand History
WSOP 2016 Main Event
Stacks are 50,000. Blinds are 75-150
HJ raises to 350, SB calls, Hero calls in BB with A3hh
Flop (1050) Jd 9Thh
SB checks, Hero bets 650, HJ raises to 1500, SB folds, Hero calls
Turn (4050) Qh
Hero bets 2600, Villain raises to 7500, Hero calls
River (19,050) 5h
Hero checks, Villain bets 15,000, Hero folds
Let's Discuss Donking
In order to really discuss this hand, the reasons why donking can be best must be at the front of the brain. Donking ensures that a bet goes into the pot on the current street. When you check to the preflop raiser in position, you risk giving your opponents a free card. This may be a risk very much worth taking the majority of the time. The preflop raiser will often bet, and most hands in our range will very often have a marginal preference to whether or not a bet goes in on the current street, and our risk of getting blown off our equity will be a huge deterrent to donking on certain boards.
However, there are certain situations where it can be somewhat of a disaster to see the current street check through. Some combination of missing value, being frequently outdrawn, and losing fold equity are deterrents to giving a free card. This reasoning should be very familiar. These same justifications are often used for betting, although phrased slightly differently.
In general, a successful donking strategy will revolve around this question; will the hands against which I can get value, from which I need protection, or against which I will lose fold equity check back the current street at a high frequency? Basically, we have our reasons for betting in general. We want some combination of value, protection, and fold equity. If the hands we are targeting for these purposes are likely to check back, we should consider donking.
There are three situations in which this will often occur. The first situation this will be very common is in multiway pots. At the low-stakes, not donking in multiway pots is a huge leak by the field. If there are 4 limpers, the button raises, and the BB + all the limpers call, the button should not be c-betting at a high frequency. In a low-stakes game where people tend to always check to the preflop raiser, strongly consider donking your better value hands and bluffs.
The second situation is when a street comes that strongly favors your range comes. In these spots, if you check your entire range to the aggressor from the last street, they will have very little incentive to bet. Donking a polarized range, or even your entire range, is often best in these spots. Like any situation, exploits should be considered. Against a stationy opponent, donk a value heavy range. Against an opponent who barrels at a high frequency, donk a bluff heavy range unless your opponent will often fold to check-raise bluffs.
The final situation is when you block the nutted hands. On a 3-flush unpaired board, the nut-flush card is very powerful. There are plenty of hands your opponent will want to bet, but very few with which your opponent will want to put a lot of money into the pot. Often, donking with these types of hands will maximize the amount of money that can go into the pot which can be helpful in both getting value and getting folds.
Here's a final note on donking. Keep in mind that a key component of donking is the likelihood that your opponent will check back. It can be easy to get caught up in what cards help who and subtle range advantages to give you an excuse to try out some donks. Against opponents who bet too much when checked to, its normally right to just let them bet. Don't stop your opponent from making a mistake just because it is right to do so in theory. Against these opponents, I will only donk with hands that need protection and bluffs in low SPR situations where check-raising will have very low FE.
Why did Matt Donk?
With the major reasons for donking in mind, let's evaluate Matt's flop and turn donks. OTF, Matt is first to act with the nut flush draw on a board where everyone is pretty likely to have a piece. While the preflop raiser is the only player likely to have JJ, everyone has a large range of nutted hands.
With a drawing hand, Matt isn't ready to miss value. The main reason Matt would like to bet this flop is to maximize his fold equity against one-pair hands. On such a connected board, it is unlikely either player will bet a one-pair hand for value. There are too many strong hands and high-equity bluffs that the risk of getting check-raised off of their equity will dissuade these hands from betting. Of course, some players would bet these hands, but operating under the assumption that they would not is good practice. However, even if those hands do bet, check-raising is very risky since we will be 3-bet at a high frequency. In this early stage of the ME, a player like Matt should be looking for low variance lines that will be effective. Matt would much more happily call a raise, as he did, with the nut flush draw and high SPR than be forced to call a flop 3-bet with worse implied odds.
Building out Matt's full flop donking range is an interesting and worthwhile exercise that I will not be doing at the current moment. In softer games like the early stages of the ME, playing a line that suits your hand very well will rarely be a mistake. Against tougher players, its important to make sure you aren't, for example, donking exclusively your non-combo draw nut flush draws on this board. Any time you are unbalanced, and often when you have poor board coverage, tough opponents will eventually exploit you.
Donk that Turn
Let's begin this discussion with a visual of possible hands in HJ's flop raising range.
A few quick notes on this range. I don't think these hands are all equally likely or even likely at all. 76-54s are only heart combos. The main point here is that when we hold the Ah, what of these hands are really going to want to bet? There are obviously no nutted hands in this range other than KJhh and J8hh. It is probably best to assume our opponent will be checking back any hands worse than a straight unless he wants to turn those hands into a bluff. He will probably have a very limited raising range since he has only two true value combos. Given how many hands will call a bet and how few hands will actually bet, we stand to miss a lot of value when we check, especially since check-raising will often blow villain off his hand. This, therefore, is a case where we gain a lot of value by donking.
Things get gross
Getting raised on this turn is very strange. When we look at the HJ's possible turn holdings, there aren't any hands that are very clearly flop and turn raises. This isn't to say that KJhh and J8hh shouldn't be flop raises, but they both fit into the mold of pair + draw hands that are often most effective when played passively. That being said, if Matt's flop donking range looks a lot like nut flush draws and two-pair plus, raising with KJhh in position starts looking like a much more effective play, especially if he folds out equity from the SB.
So value hands are in play. There aren't any clear semibluffs to the amateur player. However, there are several nut-blocking hands. Jhx is a good hand to turn into a bluff here. It's not normally a great idea to try and get someone to fold the nut-flush, but if you were going to, having the Jh in your hand or K8hh would be the hand to do it. K8hh, however, seems a little too good to bluff raise here. It would be a hugely exploitative play.
Are there any other reasons why our opponent would raise? Maybe yes, maybe no. The good thing is that any other hand that raises is good for us. Worse hands could raise for value. Also, Matt mentioned that this guy could have easily been a main-event-maniac, apparently a not so uncommon player type. This type of player could show up with a lot here. Even if this guy is only a maniac 2% of the time (not so far-fetched given demographics and recent aggression + lack of clear value hands), if the maniac version bluff-raises 50 combos here, then we can add another bluff combo to the current range. With only two value combos, one bluff combo is significant.
On a heart river with the current action, the villain has very little incentive to put money into the pot without a flush unless he is bluffing. Donking three streets correctly is sort of a dream for players like myself who enjoy playing hands in an unusual but effective way. However, looking back at our reasons for donking, I'm not convinced that this is the right spot. We discussed four types of hands that were likely to raise the turn. Donking is very undesirable against a straight flush since we lose our bet and are faced with an extremely difficult decision when raised. Worse value hands that would call are somewhat sparse. There isn't much Kxhh we beat and worse flushes and straights that rivered a flush seem unlikely to call a bet. Finally, we have bluffs of various sorts. Donking, especially bet-folding, make these bluffs likely to play very well against us. They will either fold, not a great outcome for us, or will raise. If we fold to these bluff-raises, that is a disaster.
I think the river is a pretty clear crying check-call. We got a pretty poor price, especially for a tournament, but against such a narrow value range, I think we should definitely be calling. Against some opponents, this call prints money and we are lighting chips on fire very rarely. Enough opponents will turn hands into a bluff or just be extremely aggro such that we can't fold getting better than 2:1 in fear of two combos.
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