There are different ways to be a winning poker player as there are many different strategies that you can successfully use at the tables. Likewise, there are certain plays that are almost never a good idea and limping happens to be one of them.
Limping means entering a pot by just calling the big blind amount when the action gets to you instead of raising. It’s rarely a winning play because it accomplishes none of the main goals you should aspire to. It doesn’t thin the field, it doesn’t help you define your opponents’ holdings, and it can put you in tricky spots.
Many novice players love to limp, especially in live games. They feel this approach will allow them to see more flops for cheap and potentially get lucky. However, in the long run, limping in poker is almost always a losing play, and this article will underline some of the main reasons why.
Limping isn’t a good poker strategy because it doesn’t give you a chance to take control of the pot, allows your opponents to see flops for cheap, and doesn’t help you gauge much information about the kind of hands you’re up against. It takes away almost all advantages of raising while creating very little, if any, upside.
Limping Won’t Help You Win More Pots
The usual logic that players who like to limp use is: if I limp, they (aggressive players) will make a smaller raise, so I will be able to call and see the flop.
To some degree, this logic makes sense. If you just limp in for $2 instead of making it $6 to go, the player who decides to raise will likely make a smaller raise that seems more affordable. However, this is the wrong way to think about poker.
If your whole game-plan is to see as many flops as you can and hope to get lucky, you’re almost destined to fail.
First of all, the amount of money you lose by chasing a favourable flop might be so big that you just won’t be able to make up for it when you eventually hit the gin. Even if you flop the immortal nuts, your opponent will still need to have a pretty decent hand to pay you off. And, if you always play fit or fold, once you come out firing, they might figure out something isn’t right and get out of dodge.
You Can’t Take Control of the Pot by Limping
Poker is not just about the cards you’re dealt. It’s nice to have a great session where you get hit hard by the deck, but this isn’t a common occurrence. Good players know that they need to win a few pots every session that don’t “belong” to them to keep their head above the water.
To win pots, you need to take control over them, and you won’t achieve that by passive play, i.e. limping and calling raises.
When you raise instead of limping, you achieve a couple of goals:
First of all, you are signalling a strong(er) hand, which means that your opponents will be less likely to look you up or attack you with weak holdings.
You’ll “thin the field” and often earn yourself the position for the remainder of the hand, which is a huge advantage regardless of your hole cards.
You might just take the pot down preflop. No matter what hand you have (yes, even Aces), winning the small and big blind is not a bad result.
Finally, raising often gives you an aggressive image which can earn you profits down the line when people are more likely to make folds earlier in the hand to avoid bets on later streets.
If you watch any serious tournament or a high stakes cash game, you’ll notice that there is very little limping going on. This isn’t because professional players “love” to raise, but rather because they know that raising is usually the much better option that gives them higher chances of winning.
Poker Is the Game of Information
Every time you sit down to play, your number one goal in every hand should be to acquire as much information as possible. You want to know what kind of a hand you’re likely up against and the best way to achieve this is by using your chips.
For example, when you raise from the first position (UTG) and the button re-raises (3-bets), they’re signalling a strong hand. Sure, they might be bluffing, that’s always a possibility, but your UTG raise represents a strong range, so raising on a pure bluff isn’t very common here.
So, now you have some information about your opponent’s holdings and you can combine that information with any knowledge you have of their general tendencies to make your decision.
When you limp in, you don’t get any of these benefits. If someone raises you, you have no idea if they’re just attacking your weak play, have a solid hand that merits a raise over a limp (but not strong enough to 3-bet with), or a very strong hand.
You’re willingly putting yourself in an unfavourable position right from the get-go. That’s not something you’d ever want to do in life, so why would you do it at the poker table?
And if no one raises and a bunch of people just limps behind, you’re basically playing blind. Any flop texture can be dangerous. While someone likely won’t call your raise with Q-3 suited, they might decide to limp with it on the cutoff or button when they see a few limps in front of them. So, when the flop comes Q 5 3 and you lose a big pot with KQ, you only have yourself to blame.
Limping Is Especially Bad Against Good Players
Maybe you can get away with a lot of limping in soft games filled with recreational players, but you will never get away with it against solid regs.
First of all, you’re probably not limping with all of your hands. You’re still raising with the strongest ones and tossing away the weakest ones. So, when you limp in, you’ll have what’s known as the “capped” range.
You might think this is just a fancy phrase, but good players know how to take advantage of this.
For example, you limp in and the flop comes A K 6. A good player knows that you can’t have very many strong hands on this texture. You’re raising your Aces, Kings, and Ace-King. This knowledge alone can be enough for them to blow you off the pot.
If they know that the best you can have here is a weak ace, they can apply a lot of pressure and force you to fold even if they have missed the flop entirely. Are you really going to call off your entire stack on this texture with a hand like A-4?
If you would, good players will adjust to that quickly as well and only bet big when they have hands that are ahead of your range. For example, they can proceed to barrel with a hand like A-J and get you to commit your entire stack drawing very thin.
Can Limping in Poker Save You Money?
Another reason why inexperienced players like to limp is because they feel like it’s saving them money. It is cheaper to limp in and maybe call a raise if you find it acceptable than to raise yourself and face a 3-bet, as you’ll have to pay more to see the flop.
But, this is just an illusion. Perhaps you’re saving some money on individual hands, but you’ll definitely be losing more in the long run because you aren’t making as much money when you do actually make a big hand.
Because of all the reasons mentioned thus far, you just can’t expect to win many pots when you limp. Unless you smash the flop, you’re giving other players full control of the pot and they’ll keep on dragging chips their way.
These may be seemingly small pots as you give up every time you don’t connect, but it still adds up. If you lose five or six blinds almost every time you limp in, it won’t be long before you lose half of your stack without ever having even a shot at a decent pot.
The next time you look at your dwindling stack and start wondering where are your chips, think about this. If you’re limping too much and adhere to a very passive, fit-or-fold style, you’ll have a very few winning sessions.
Is Limping Sometimes the Correct Play?
Up to this point, we’ve only emphasized bad sides of limping in poker, but, like every play, it does have its application in certain spots. For a limp to be profitable, though, certain table conditions need to be met.
Limping First In With a Strong Hand
As already explained, you don’t really want to be open-limping (limping first in). One exception to this rule might be when you’re dealt a very strong hand in an early position. Your goal with this approach is to have someone else raise so that you can come over the top when the action comes back to you.
From my experience, this play only really works in soft live games. Live players at lower stakes might be oblivious of what you’re doing or simply not care about the strength of your hand. They’ll happily commit one-third of their stack before the flop to try and hit a set or flop a straight.
In games with more competent players, it’s really hard to implement this strategy. You’ll need to balance your “limping range” with some weak hands as well. Otherwise, they’ll know exactly what you have when you limp-raise and you’ll be super-easy to play against.
It all comes back to the fact that you’re better of raising if you’re going to play the hand. People may not be as keen to come over the top of your raise, but when they do, you’ll be in a position to win a much bigger pot. You’ll also garner some information about the strength of their holdings.
The only situation where limping might be perfectly fine is when there are already a couple of limps in front of you and you have a flop-worthy hand.
For example, you are dealt pocket fives in the cutoff, and there are two limps in front of you.
You definitely want to see the flop with this hand and the best way to achieve this goal is by limping along yourself. You’d achieve nothing by raising as that would open the betting action and give someone a chance to push you out by re-raising.
However, you need to be aware of the players still to act behind you. If there is an aggressive player to your right, who’s likely to attack the limpers, you might be better of mucking your hand or raising yourself to stop them from making a move.
Limping on the Button in Tournaments
Unlike cash games, where you always play fairly deep, tournaments will force you to find your way around at different stack sizes. You’ll often have to play a stack of 10, 20, or 30 big blinds.
As the stack size change, so do the strategies available to you.
One trend that’s become somewhat popular with modern players is occasionally limping the button when the action folds to them instead of raising.
You’ll usually want to do this when you have a stack of 10 to 20 big blinds, but you need to have a good balance between some strong hands and weaker hands that you’d like to see the flop with.
By limping instead of raising, you’re making it harder for the players in the blinds to shut you out of the pot. Since you can still have some big hands when you do this, they’ll have to be careful. If they take an overly aggressive line with a weak hand, they run a risk of running into a concealed monster.
Completing a Small Blind
One final instance where limping can also be a fine play is when you are in the small blind and there is no raise in front of you.
Since you only need to pay half of the big blind for a good chance to see the flop, you have mathematical odds to do so with a wide variety of hands. There is only the big blind player left to act after you, and given the price you’re getting, you don’t mind too much even if they occasionally squeeze and force you to fold.
In fact, if you don’t have a very strong hand, limping along or folding should be your preferred options in the small blind. You’re not closing the action and you’re in the worst possible position should your raise get called, so there is very little incentive to take very aggressive lines with marginal hands.
Limping in Poker: Summary
As you can see, limping in poker is almost always a bad idea and if you do it too much, you’ll struggle to post good results. No matter how much experience you have at the tables, open limping puts you in tough spots and misses an opportunity to take control of the pot, which is one of the main goals you should strive to achieve in a hand.
Sometimes, though, limping can be a viable option. These situations are exceptions that confirm the rule, and you need to recognize them as such.
All in all, if you still have your doubts, you should simply stop limping for a few sessions altogether and try to only raise or fold when you do decide to play a hand. Stick with this approach for a little while and keep track of your results. When you draw the line after a couple of months, you’ll likely see that you’re doing much better!