Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Using the weak lead with a monster

What do you do when you flop a monster? It’s always a nice problem to have in a no limit holdem tournament! With blinds constantly rising, opportunities don’t come along often, so when you’ve flopped a big hand, you should always think about how you can extract the maximum value from it.

The weak lead is a play you can add to your repertoire and use as an extra way to get chips from your opponents.

What is the weak lead?

The weak lead (often called a ‘donk bet’ on many websites and online forums), is a small opening bet from out of position on the flop. It’s generally anywhere between 1/5th and 1/3rd of the pot. It is almost always a bet into a pre-flop raiser, when you are first to act, against one or maybe two opponents.

Why use the weak lead?

The weak lead is a great alternative to the check raise when you flop a big hand out of position. By firing out a small bet on the flop, an opponent may come over the top of you with a moderate hand, a draw or even a stone cold bluff.

The reason it works so well is that despite the wealth of poker literature advising players on bet sizing, for many online players, a weak looking bet still means that they’ve got a weak hand. By using this information that has been drummed into your opponents over many online tournaments, you can turn it to your advantage.

Which opponent should you target?

When you’ve got a monster, the weak lead is a play you want to use against a loose-aggressive player, who is capable of making moves with any two cards. Such a player will be looking for any sign of weakness and if they have a pair, any draw or even nothing at all, they may decide to raise your weak lead bet to try and take the pot.

As I mentioned above – a small bet is still often made with a weak hand and if you can give an aggressive opponent any reason to get involved in a hand, they often will. In response to the weak lead, your opponent may raise you for information, as an outright bluff, or they might even think they are raising for value. This is of course exactly what you want!

In contrast, against many loose and inexperienced players who call too much – simply betting your big hands strongly will often bring greater rewards than making any tricky or advanced plays.

The right flop and the wrong flop

Now, let’s look at the best time to use the weak lead. In both of these examples it’s in the reasonably early stages of a tournament - you’ve got two black tens in the big blind and are heads up on the flop after calling a three times the big blind raise from an aggressive early position player (we’ll leave the discussion of whether the flat call here was the right play for another day).

The first flop is 10-6-2 with no flush draws, this gives you top set (the nuts) on a very dry board. This instance is an excellent opportunity to use a weak lead. In this spot you want to get value from someone with top pair and if your opponent has an overpair, the weak lead could be your best option of taking his whole stack. If your opponent simply has overcards or even another random hand, then the weak lead could induce him to come over the top and try to take the hand away from you, or at least ‘float’ to see if they can do this on a later street.

The check raise is such a strong play that is often stops an experienced opponent in their tracks and make them consider if they want to continue in the hand, even if they have caught something on the flop themselves. On such a dry board, a good opponent facing a check raise may sniff out your set and be able to get away from his hand, either right here on the flop or on a later street.

The other advantage of using a weak lead rather than a check raise is that inducing an opponent to put the second bet in on a street, rather than opening it, he will almost always be putting a larger proportion of his chips into play. The weak lead gives you more of an opportunity to get your opponent embroiled in a big pot – And with the nuts this is exactly what you want to do!

Again though, as mentioned earlier, if you see your opponent as a weak or passive player (or both!) then a better play may well be just to bet out for value with your set.

The second flop is J-10-7 with two diamonds. In this example you only have the third nuts, but more importantly, the board is very dangerous with flush and straight draws out there. In my view, this not the right spot for a weak lead because an opponent could call your small bet with a wide range of hands (AK, AQ, KQ, A9, A8, Q9 or two diamonds) and take a very cheap shot at hitting their draw – you’ve essentially priced them in to do this.

A far better play would be to come right out with a pot sized bet, this way you are making your opponent pay a big price if he’s got a draw and wants to hit it. Of course, another play you could use here is a big check raise. This is probably more of a standard play against someone you are expecting to continuation bet, but again you risk your opponent taking the free card.

What to do next?

When an opponent raises your weak lead, if they have committed a large proportion of their chips or you think they are the kind of player to stack off with top pair, then now would be the time to fire a third bet to put them all in.

However, against a good, aggressive and tricky player, with a big stack, now could just be beginning of something beautiful! Rather than three betting, it might be the time to flat call their raise and give them a chance to hang themselves on a later street. If an opponent thinks you are weak on the flop then it may take a lot for them to change this opinion and they could be looking for a chance on a further street to try and take down the pot.

Finally, don’t get too down heartened if your opponent chooses not to take the bait of your weak lead. Your opponent folded on the flop, so probably was unlikely to get too heavily involved, whichever way you chose to play it. You are unlikely to have cost yourself much value through your unorthodox play.

Chorny’s weak lead in Monaco

The final table at the recent EPT event in Monte Carlo saw a great example of the weak lead from eventual winner Glen Chorny.

Four-handed, the super-aggressive and renowned online player Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron raised with AQ and Chorny smooth called in the small blind with pocket aces. Heads up on a flop of 267, Chorny then led out with a half sized pot bet into Baron. Holding just overcards and a back door spade flush draw, Baron pondered, eventually making the decision to shove all in, where he was snap called by a delighted Chorny. Despite picking up a flush draw on the turn, Baron got no help on the river and found himself on the rail after falling for Glen Chorny’s ‘donk bet’.

Chorny’s play worked out perfectly because he had the right opponent and the right flop. The loose-aggressive Baron would be looking for any sign of weakness and chance to take the pot away from him. The deceptive smooth call by Chorny pre-flop and the weak lead on a flop of three undercards induced Baron to commit all his chips when he was virtually drawing dead. Whilst smooth calling pre-flop with aces is sometimes a dangerous play, Chorny took the risk with the chance of busting his most feared remaining opponent at the final table and it paid off.

To conclude

When you flop a monster hand in a tournament, particularly out of position, the weak lead is a play that you definitely need to have in your poker arsenal. In the right spot and against the right opponent it can be used as an excellent alternative to a check raise and enable you to play a big pot with a very big hand, which is always the ideal tournament scenario! Remember, when observant opponents have seen you use a weak lead when you’ve flopped a big hand, it opens a whole range of options to you. You can then make a weak bet to price yourself into a draw, or even as an outright bluff – Opponents will remember your earlier move and you’ve added a whole new level to your post flop play.

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