This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.
Facing a pot sized bet can be a difficult spot to play.
We are faced with a big decision, often in marginal situations, and have to
decide then and there whether or not to continue and potentially put our
entire stack on the line on consecutive streets, or give up right away and
relinquish our equity.
The problem becomes even more complicated when the bet we face comes from an
erratic and unpredictable opponent, aka the fish.
What the hell are they doing this with? Why are they donk betting? Do they
have the nuts or complete air?
You want to find out, but it’s expensive to do so. And it’s very difficult to
put them on the exact range, let alone narrow it down to a couple of hands.
Facing a Pot Sized Bet By a Fish
So what do we do in a situation like this? Unfortunately, the answer is all
too familiar: it depends.
But that’s not really helpful, so let’s break it down in this article.
But before providing some answers, let’s first define the questions and narrow
it down to make our lives easier.
This article will focus on facing a pot sized donk bets in single raised pots
and 3-bet pots from recreational players on the flop and turn, because:
A) it’s a spot in which players tend to struggle the most, and... B) because these situations are more common than facing a C-bet against
fish, as fish usually call more than they raise.
Also, when playing against fish, you should be the preflop aggressor most of
the time anyway.
The article was written with cash games in mind, but is applicable to other
formats to some extent as well.
Definition of a Recreational Poker Player (Fish)
For the purpose of this article, a fish is a recreational player that plays
too many hands (typically 40% or more). If you play online you can
use a HUD
to show you this right on your screen.
They also play fairly passively both preflop and postflop (with the exception
of aggro-fish, more on that below) and makes huge fundamental mistakes and all
kinds of crazy nonsense plays.
Or in other words, our most beloved customers.By the way, if you don't know the basic strategies to consistently beat these kinds of players, check out the brand new BlackRain79 video with the best 14 beginner poker tips:
A few more quick definitions, so that we are on the same page here:
A single raised pot (SRP) is a pot in which there was a raise preflop, and the
other player(s) just flat call instead of 3-betting.
A 3-bet pot is a pot in which a player re-raised the original raiser and other
player(s) call. A 3-bet pot will usually have a much more shallow stack-to-pot
ratio (usually 5 or less).
By the way, if you need a reminder on SPR and how it affects your preflop
strategy, BlackRain79 already has you covered in a
What is a Donk Bet?
In a broader sense, a donk bet is a bet made out of position against an
earlier street aggressor. For example, you raise preflop on the button,
villain calls in the small blind, and fires up a bet on the flop.
It isn’t necessarily a derogatory term, as there are situations where it might
be a correct play.
But as this article will hopefully demonstrate, when fish make a pot sized
donk bet, it’s rarely an optimal play.
We already said that our decision on what to do against a pot sized bet
depends on a lot of factors. So let’s break them down, starting with how
committed we are to the pot.
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SPR and Pot Commitment
The smaller the SPR, the more committed we are. If the stack-to-pot ratio is 3
or less, we are committed with a top pair hand or better.
This will happen often either in 3-bet pots, or when fish are playing
shortstacked (i.e. their effective stack size is significantly less than 100
bb, because they bought in for a minimum of 40 big blinds, for example).
So when we face a pot-sized bet against a fish on the flop with a made hand,
we should be inclined to get all our money in the middle, preferably as soon
Top pair hands go up in value in shallow SPR pots, as opposed to speculative
hands that perform better in deeper SPR pots.
The reasons we shouldn't try to slowplay in this situation are abundant.
First of all, implied odds are bigger on earlier streets than the later ones,
so fish are more likely to call us down with all kinds of crazy draws, like
gutshot draws, backdoor flush draws and so on.
They don’t care about the math, and the risk-reward concept is only vaguely
familiar to them.
Secondly, the board runout might scare them off. If they have a top pair or
second pair on the flop, they might end up with a third or fourth pair by the
river, and won’t be as willing to pay us off.
And lastly, fish have extremely wide preflop calling ranges. The wider the
range, the harder it is to connect with the flop.
Fish are also notoriously impatient, and if they have little money left
behind, they’ll often just roll the dice and try to get lucky with their
suited junk, fourth pair, ridiculous draws and so on.
So with a top pair hand or better in a small SPR pot, your best bet is just
get all the money in as soon as possible and hope your hand holds up against
It won’t always be the case of course, but as long as you’re getting your
money in with a mathematical edge, you’re good. You did your job, and the rest
is up to the poker gods.
Effective stack sizes: 80BB.
You are dealt K♥Q♥ on the BU.
A loose passive fish min-raises to 2x in the CO.
You 3-bet to 7x. Blinds fold, fish calls.
Pot: 15.5 BB
Fish bets 16.5 BB
You should raise.
Let’s consider the previous action, the flop texture and villain’s potential
A fish min-raised in the CO, which means they probably like their hand
somewhat, but since they play north of 40% of all hands, we can’t narrow their
range too much.
We go for an isolation 3-bet and the fish calls. Their range is capped,
meaning we can probably eliminate AA, KK, and AK.
We flop top pair decent kicker and face a big bet. We need to make a decision
right then and there. Commit or quit.
Folding is out of the question, of course.
SPR is 4.7, i.e. on the smallish side of the spectrum. We aren’t necessarily
automatically committed, but in this spot against this particular opponent we
pretty much are, so we should play for their whole stack.
A number of hands that would give us action against which we’re ahead of is
through the roof. Any Kx hand, like KJ, KT, a bunch of drawing hands, like QT,
QJ, JT, J8, T8, T6, 86, 85, 65, maybe even 9x hands like Q9, J9, T9, 98 and so
Remember, we are playing against somebody that plays nearly half of all hands,
so they can have ALL of those hands in their range and then some.
Sure, there are some hands that have us beat, but those are just a small part
of their overall range.
We are quite comfortably ahead most of the time, and should get our money in
and let that edge play out.
We can call here as well, but a lot of turn cards can kill our action.
Remember, implied odds are bigger on the flop than on the turn, so we should
take advantage of that.
What About Drawing Hands?
Having a top pair hand against a fish and facing a pot sized bet in a shallow
SPR spot is pretty straightforward, and these hands basically play themselves.
There’s not much more to do than get the money in and hold your breath.
Here is a hand that BlackRain79 recently reviewed on YouTube that talks about this in more detail:
But as we know, most hands miss most flops.
We don’t have a made hand on the flop more often than we do. We usually either
miss or have some sort of a drawing hand. Also, effective stacks can be quite
deeper, particularly in cash games.
This is where it gets a little trickier, and we need to rely on math to make
an educated guess on how to proceed.
When we face any bet on the flop, it can be extremely useful to memorize certain pot odds in relation to the bet size. That way, you don’t need to
waste any brain power to calculate the pot odds in every single situation.
Poker is essentially an extremely complex math problem, so it’s useful to use
some shortcuts in order to make better in-game decisions.
One such shortcut is to remember that when you face any pot sized bet, you are
getting 2:1 pot odds on a call, which means you need to win the hand 33% of
the time on average for your call to be profitable.
So if your equity is 33% or more against your opponents range, you can
But how the hell can you know if your hand is good 33% of the time? You can’t.
In order to know that definitively, you’d have to know your opponent’s exact
range, which is virtually impossible.
What’s more, that’s only the part of the equation, because you also need to
take into consideration a number of other factors, such as implied odds,
action on future streets, board runout etc.
Too many unknown variables, too little time.
To avoid such paralysis by analysis, let’s try to simplify once again and
focus on what we actually know.
We can’t accurately predict the fish’s range, but we don't really need to. We
can rely on our intuition backed up with a little bit of math once more.
If we have a drawing hand, again, it might be worth memorizing how often we’ll
hit our outs.
The Rule of Four
We can use the rule of four to quickly guesstimate our equity, by simply
multiplying our number of outs by 4. This rule becomes less reliable the more
outs we have, but it’s accurate enough for most in-game situations.
Here are the chances of improving your draws from flop to river you should
A flush draw completes 35% of the time.
An open-ended straight draw completes 32% of the time.
A gutshot straight draw completes 17% of the time.
So we see that calling a pot sized bet on the flop with a flush and open-ended
straight draw can be outright profitable.
Of course, we won’t always be drawing to the nuts, so even if we do improve,
it doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily win the hand, so these percentages are only
There are many other factors that determine whether or not our play is +EV or
not, but since a lot of those factors will be unknown, we can always fall back
on the fundamental math to try and make an informed decision.
But like we said, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. It still doesn’t answer the
cardinal question of poker: what the hell are they doing this with?
We need to have at least a vague idea of our opponent’s ranges in order to
apply our mathematical knowledge somewhat successfully.
To do so, we need to know what kind of opponent we are facing. Not all fish
are created equal, and it would be a huge mistake to apply a
one-style-fits-all strategy when playing against them.
While it’s true they might share certain traits, it doesn’t mean they all play
the same in all situations. Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in
First of all, the looser the villain, the wider you can call. The higher the
villain’s VPIP (voluntarily put money in the pot), the more junk they’ll have,
and it will be less likely they’ve hit the flop in any significant way.
Also, when it comes to recreational players, the higher the VPIP, the
worse player they tend to be. A 90% VPIP fish is certainly going to play worse
than a 40% VPIP fish.
Next, the more aggressive the fish, the wider you can call. As we’ve said
before, not all fish are of the passive variety.
Some of them like to spew chips around and make all kinds of wild bluffs,
betting and raising erratically, and what’s worse, getting away with it a
large chunk of the time.
While they can be frustrating to play against, these kinds of players can
actually be your biggest source of income.
But only if you remain patient and keep your ego in check.
Also, from time to time you might need to call them down with a hand you won’t
be quite comfortable calling with otherwise, like a second pair, or even an
Ace high in some situations.
Effective stack size: 100BB.
You are dealt A♣K♠ in MP.
A loose and aggressive fish limps UTG.
You iso-raise to 4x. Folds around, aggrofish calls.
Aggrofish raises to 9.5BB
You should call.
As opposed to the previous example, we have a much bigger SPR of about 10, so
we aren’t automatically committed to the pot, and we have a lot more
maneuverability post flop.
Folding is out of the question in this spot, as we are drawing to the nuts
with four Jacks, as well as a TPTK (top pair top kicker) with any Ace or a
If we hit any of our outs, we can be comfortably ahead of the villain's range,
which is extremely wide in this situation, considering their player
Like in the previous example, it can consist of any number of hands like top
pair weak kicker, second pair, third pair, gutshot draws, backdoor flush draws
and so on and so forth.
Too many to even consider counting here.
We aren’t necessarily ahead with our Ace high hand, but we have a large chunk
of equity we aren’t willing to give up. We can consider raising, but if we do,
we might only get action from hands that have us crushed. And what if the
villain comes over the top with a shove?
Certainly not an optimal spot for us.
By flatting, we allow them to keep barrelling on future streets with all their
crazy bluffs, while also controlling the size of the pot.
Then we can assess the best course of action on future streets. We have
position and a skill edge in the hand, so we should utilize it.
Answering blind aggression with aggression of our own should be done only if
we can conclude with some certainty that we are comfortably ahead with our
hand and that we can get action from weaker hands.
What Should You Do Versus a Turn Pot Sized Bet?
Here’s where things get a little trickier, because there’s more information to
If you encounter a turn pot sized bet, you should consider all the info
mentioned before, as well as previous action, but you should bear in mind that
turn ranges tend to be stronger, and there’s a lot less junk in their range at
They will still rarely have the absolute nuts, and practically never have
complete air. What this usually means is they probably picked up some equity
on the turn.
You should tread carefully, but if you’re already pot committed, this
shouldn’t change your plans too much. That’s why it’s important that you
decide on the flop whether or not you want to take your hand to the felt.
As a rule of thumb, if you call one street, you should usually call the
consecutive one as well. So if you call a flop bet, you should be prepared to
call the turn bet as well, otherwise you’re better off folding right there on
Bear in mind that the higher their VPIP, the more ridiculous hands you can
expect in their range.
These are all just guidelines of course. No two players are completely alike.
So take all this advice with a grain of salt.
So What is Their Actual Range?
Finally, let’s answer the cardinal question, what are they doing this with? As
we’ve seen, it depends on a lot of factors, and most of the time we shouldn’t
overthink it and play it straightforwardly, especially in shallow SPR
But if we’re playing in deeper SPR pots, we should take more factors in
consideration, including our opponent’s range.
Here’s the bottom line:
When you encounter a pot sized donk bet from a fish, they usually have a
mediocre or a drawing hand. They probably don’t know what to do with it.
They don’t want to fold it, but they aren’t particularly stoked about it
either. So they try to “buy” the pot right there on the flop, hoping a big bet
size would scare off their opponents.
They will almost certainly never have the nuts, and they will never have
complete air either.
Why? Well, it all comes down to fish psychology. Fish have a strong propensity
to be deceptive.
They like to slowplay their huge hands in order to trap their opponents, or
make huge bluffs, because that’s what poker is all about, right?
Outplaying people and owning souls. It certainly isn’t about odds and
percentages and all that boring stuff.
So if they have a really strong made hand on the flop, like two pair or
better, they will often slowplay it, because they don’t want to scare you
And if they missed the flop completely, they’ll just give up a lot of the
time, because that’s about as far as their technical game knowledge
They see their hand, they have some rudimentary understanding of the flop
texture (i.e. they can see if they hit or miss), and that’s about it.
So when they fire off a bet, you can narrow down their range to something like
top pair weak kicker, second pair etc. And if they have a drawing hand, they
will rarely be drawing to the nuts.
They will usually have a gutshot draw, backdoor straight and flush draws and
all other kinds of nonsense.
Facing a pot sized bet from a fish can be a difficult spot to play. We are
often faced with a big decision with a limited amount of information, and
their range is outright impossible to predict.
Now, you don't necessarily need to study a bunch of advanced poker strategy to beat these kinds of players. But in these situations it pays to have a default plan and stick with the
First thing we should consider is the effective stack size and size of the pot
to determine our commitment to the pot. If we have a made hand (like top pair
or better) in the small SPR pot we should aim to get the rest of our stack in
the middle as soon as possible.
Getting involved in shallow SPR pots with fish and trying to take their whole
stack is something we should aim to do often anyway.
If we have a drawing hand, we should memorize how often our draws complete in
order to assess whether or not we can continue playing profitably. Counting
our outs and using the “rule of four” will work in a pinch.
Some factors to keep in mind are our draw strength, the number of outs,
implied odds, our opponent type and so on. The more factors work in our
favour, the faster we can play our hand.
As far as our recreational players’ actual range is concerned, it varies
wildly. A lot of the time even they don’t know what they are doing. But when
they fire off a pot sized donk bet, we can usually narrow it down to some kind
of mediocre hand.
They will almost never have the absolute nuts, but they won’t be bluffing with
absolute air, either. The reason for this is that fish love to be deceptive,
so they’ll often slowplay their huge hands lest they don’t scare off their
So you can narrow down their range to something like: top pair weak kicker,
second or third pair, weak straight and flush draws and so on.
Also, the bigger their VPIP, the weaker their overall range, so you can call
them down more widely.
If they fire off a pot sized bet on the turn, we should be more careful, but
hopefully we’ve put the majority of our stack in by now. All the general rules
When playing against recreational players in general, the best approach is
always to keep it simple and stick with the fundamentals. Play your hands as
straightforwardly as possible, and don’t worry about being too predictable.
Save your fancy plays for players that actually pay attention.
Keep in mind that most of your money in poker won’t come from your superior
skills, but from your opponent’s mistakes, so act accordingly.
Lastly, if you want to learn the complete BlackRain79 strategy for crushing
small stakes games, make sure you grab a copy of his
free poker cheat sheet.
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