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the weak lead play

This Poker “Cheat Code” Will Help You Win More Hands

You’re about to learn about a powerful play that was kept secret for years by elite poker pros.

It’s called “the weak lead”, and it entails leading on the turn into a player who just c-bet the flop. If you’re thinking “isn’t this called donk-betting?” the answer is yes!

A decade or so ago, donk-betting in any situation was seen as a novice play. As poker has continued to evolve, however, players have discovered that donk-betting in certain spots can help you win more pots and maximize profitability.

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

  • What is the weak lead?
  • Why does the weak lead work?
  • When should you not use the weak lead?
  • What’s the plan versus a raise?

Note: The weak lead can be a good play in both cash games and tournaments, but it’s more prevalent in tournaments. So, we’ll focus on tournament examples in this guide.

Let’s get to it.

What is the Weak Lead?

The weak lead is when you bet on the turn after check-calling out of position versus a c-bet on the flop in a heads-up, single-raised pot (usually after you defended your big blind preflop). It is very important to understand the context in which this play is appropriate — it probably won’t go well if you try this play in a multiway or 3-bet pot.

You should only consider using the weak lead when the middle or bottom card on the flop pairs on the turn. For example, if the flop is 964r and the turn is a 6 or a 4. When you get a turn like this, you can profitably lead with a large portion (sometimes all) of your range.

Side note: Leading can be a good play on other types of turns as well (depending on the specific board texture), but those spots are more complicated and beyond the scope of this guide.

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Why Does the Weak Lead Work?

The weak lead works because your opponent is incentivized to check back when the turn pairs one of the bottom two cards. This is because you, as the flop caller, will have significantly more bottom/middle pairs (now trips) in your range. Your opponent, on the other hand, will oftentimes check back with these hands on the flop. 

Additionally, this play allows you to capitalize on your nut advantage and deny equity.

Leading in this spot with most or all of your range may feel weird. But leading with a wide range allows you to profit as much as possible with your entire range. Some specific hands may feel awkward, but that’s a small price to pay considering the boost in EV to the rest of your hands.

The weak lead works so well that it may feel like a cheat code in a video game, especially if you have never developed a turn leading range previously. All but your strongest opponents simply won’t know how to react to it because they’ve never or rarely seen it before.

The lead size you should use and the range with which you should do it depend on the board texture, the flop c-bet size, and your opponent’s position/range.

The most common leading strategy (according to solvers) is to bet small (25% pot) with a wide range (75%+ frequency), but this is far from always the best strategy. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right lead size with the right range:

If the top pairs in your range don’t benefit much from denying equity, lead larger (75%-100% pot) with a stronger range (mainly with trips and semi-bluffs). This is usually on Q-high boards and higher.

When your opponent’s range contains a lot of draws, lead less frequently, mostly with made hands that will often be called by worse. You can also lead large (100% pot) with trips that don’t block your opponent’s calling range.

If your weakest made hands are vulnerable and your opponent has many easy folds in his range, lead more frequently (90%-100%). This usually happens versus opponents who raised in late position because their range is wide.

When Should You Avoid Using the Weak Lead

There are three primary factors to look out for which should make you avoid using this tactic:

1. If your opponent’s c-betting strategy contains many middle/bottom pairs that have turned trips.

A popular strategy among tournament players is to c-bet small with a wide, equity-driven range on the flop. If you suspect this is your opponent’s strategy, you should check your entire range on the turn because he will frequently have trips.

That said, if your opponent’s preflop range simply doesn’t have many combinations of turned trips, you can still use the weak lead. For example, say your opponent raised from UTG (9-handed) and the board ran out T944. There are very few combinations of 4x in a typical UTG raising range and, since you would defend a decent number of 4x from the big blind, you can fire a weak lead.

2. When your range contains very few offsuit hands that have turned trips. 

If almost all of your trips combinations are suited, you probably don’t have enough trips combinations to justify a leading range. Leading a narrow range is a decent play in theory, but it’s not worth it because it’s tough to balance and doesn’t add much EV.

3. If you think your opponent will still double barrel at a high frequency.

Your opponent shouldn’t bet the turn very often on cards that are good for your range, but that doesn’t mean he won’t! If he will bet too often, you can check and look to put in a raise with your superior range.

This happens most often against relentlessly aggressive players or very inexperienced players who won’t realize the turn is good for your range.

What’s the Plan Versus a Raise?

It is pretty uncommon to get raised after leading on a card that smacks your range, but it happens and will only become more likely as the player pool improves. Let’s break down a reasonable way to react to a raise on that same 9646 board:

  • Re-raise with your strongest trips and boats that don’t block your opponent’s value range (e.g. A6 or 44)
  • Call with your weakest trips and boats that block your opponent’s value range (e.g. 65 or 96)
  • Call with good pairs and hands that can improve (strong draws)
  • Fold ace high and the weakest hands in your range.

Final Thoughts and a Quick Quiz

A strong leading range is a valuable asset in today’s poker landscape. It is a concept that is “solver-approved” and it is utilized by many top players.

Keep in mind this isn’t just a prevalent strategy on board-pairing cards. There are other types of turn cards that smack the flop caller’s range and make leading a strong play.

For example, imagine you (the big blind) check-called on the flop versus a UTG c-bet on 8-7♣-2♠ and the turn is the 5. You now have significantly more combinations of two pairs and straights in your range (UTG does not have 64s, 96s, 87o, 75s/75o, etc.), which allows you to build a profitable leading range. 

If you’re experienced with solvers, I recommend using one to test different boards so you can identify spots that make sense to lead. There is no better way to get a handle on these complex spots than by using a solver.

Pop quiz: What other types of turn cards might make sense to lead on? Drop your answer in the comments below!

Take care!

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Read more from Upswing Poker:

Curtis Knight and Tim Jenkins contributed to this guide.

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About the Author

Mike Brady

I used to play a ton of poker. Now, I run the Upswing Poker strategy blog and help out our growing community of Upswing Lab members.

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