A recent discussion with a friend who plays regularly poker at micro stakes ended up on a debate whether a donk bet, a call or a 3bet is actually the best option when we are out of position against an aggressive regular poker player. We have all been there: called preflop with mid pair from the blinds – something like 55 to 99 – and the flop is a 6 high board. What is out optimal strategy against aggressive players who will likely fire a continuation bet? How does that strategy change when facing two or more players and what happens when passive opponents are in the hand?
The hand in question involved a 35/24/0 (VPIP/PFR/AF) player who opened from Under-The-Gun position, a regular 23/10/1 (31 hands) calling from the Button and hero calling with 88’s from Small Blind. The flop came 2h4h5c giving hero an overpair but with limited information of villains’ range. He opted to check, the UTG checked but the player at Button bet about 65% of the pot. At that moment my friend wondered whether he should 3bet or – to my surprise – fold! He never thought of calling that bet for even one moment holding an overpair. He was afraid the regular player was either bluffing with air or they were really strong. Therefore hero wanted either to increase the pot and push him out of the hand (air obviously folds), or fold against their monster hand. He explained to me that if he was going to call and villain had air, he was in fact letting them see the turn for free and perhaps hit a hand. I myself don’t consider the turn a free card when villain has already bet but that’s not our point now.
My recommendation was a donk bet of 50% of the pot right from the street’s beginning. The flop was good for our hand having missed a set, which of course would have been the ideal one. If we are going to fold at such a low board, maybe we should begin folding mid-pairs out of position preflop. Calling middle pairs for set value as the sole purpose doesn’t sound a profitable poker strategy, at least for me. A donk bet would hopefully get value from worse hands like A2, A4, A5, 66, 77, 65, 43 or get calls from straight or draw chasers (many hands in that category). Since hero was against 2 opponents out of positions, his bet would be considered a strong bet and any raise would lead him to an easy decision – fold! If the donk bet would have been called, hero would evaluate the turn card and proceed from there.
How about 3-betting the regular player? I would strongly disagree with that action, since we drive away all worse hands and pay up all better hands. If villain had air, why not calling his bluff? If they were too aggressive, that’s another reason to call down 2 or even 3 streets! By 3-betting them we would actually force them to play correctly and we only make money when opponents make mistakes. Folding his air against hero’s 3bet would be the correct decision and calling or shoving with a set/made straight would obviously be the correct one as well. Even by shoving with the nut flush draw (plus overcards) they make money from us (50-50 chance and we might occasionally fold). Villain would never make a mistake there and hero won’t make any money by 3-betting.
What about if hero was against just the reg? Would the donk bet be the best option? Well, now villain would be the preflop raiser and we expect a continuation bet more often. Depending on the villain’s poker stats and specifically Continuation Bet Percentage we would either donk bet a relatively passive player or call the continuation bet of a relatively aggressive player. If hero has been active in that table, perhaps a 3-bet could be profitable when villain calls down with something like A5, but variance will increase substantially.
A final note about the donk bet. I never suggest a donk bet for information or to find out “where we stand”. I donk bet to get value from worse hands that may check behind or are willing to call with overcards (like KJ on this flop). Another reason to donk bet relatively low is to take down the pot’s dead money. Betting 50% of the pot, we need villains to fold more often than 35% to make a profit right there! Depending on whether you also donk bet a flush/straight draw, you should adjust your play accordingly in order to either get a fold when you are weak (donk bet as a bluff) or get a call when you are strong (donk bet as a value bet)!