Having read Phil Gordon’s “Little Green Book,” memorized David Sklansky’s “The Theory of Poker”, and watched Daniel Negreanu’s Masterclass, I have been able to develop my poker game and be a better player by exposing myself to so many different ideas on poker strategy.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a single piece of advice that they all agree on: You must never limp in poker, especially if you are the first to act or if everyone has limped to you. You should either fold or raise. In fact, everyone seems to agree on this concept that it has almost established itself as one of many unofficial poker rules.
As a result, you can imagine my surprise when a poker pro, who also happens to be a dear friend, recommended that I put limping in poker back into my arsenal. My initial reaction was disbelief: How could a seasoned player say something like that? However, when I heard him out, he made a valid point that got me thinking.
So, this is me trying to breakdown what he said and to see how applicable it is to my game. But, first, let’s start from the very beginning:
What Does It Mean To Limp In Poker?
When you limp in poker, you are putting the absolute minimum amount of money in the pot pre-flop just so you can stay in a hand. For example, let’s say you’re sitting in early position, under the gun plus one, and you have a small pocket pair in your hand, threes for argument’s sake. In this scenario, you might think that it would be a good idea to just limp in and see the flop, hoping to hit a set and get paid big.
Seeing as the under the gun is the first person to enter a pot, they would be the first one to bet. On the other hand, if a hand has been folded to the small blind, the small blind could elect to just limp in (call the big blind) as they have already put in half a big blind and their pot odds are better than all of the players preceding them.
What Are The Problems with Just a Limp In Poker?
People who limp in poker are seen as very passive, and their limp is liable to put them in more trouble than it will get them out of.
For starters, let’s go back to the above example where you had a small pocket pair and were in early position. What would you do if everybody decides to limp in whereas the big blind decides to raise the pot? It becomes very difficult for you to play this hand because odds are some other player has you crushed, especially since you’re playing multi-way.
Since the raise came from the big blind, you’re the first one to make a decision, and you have no idea how all the other players on the table will react to the big blind’s raise. It just puts you in a tough spot, and folding means forfeiting the big blind call you limped in with earlier.
On the other hand, let’s say that everyone does limp in, and you’re still holding your threes. Now, the flop comes Ace, king, and ten, all of which are overcards to your pocket pair. What’s worse, someone else could have easily made a higher pair than you, not to mention a straight, making your pair worthless. Again, if someone decides to raise on this board, you will probably have no choice but to fold, throwing away the money you put in pre-flop.
To sum up, what any pro will tell you is that with enough poker games under your belt, you will find that a limp in poker is a losing poker strategy that will cost you way more money than it will ever bring you. Moreover, you will have a very hard time winning any poker tournaments if you keep losing chips like that.
So Is Raising Pre-Flop The Answer?
There is a saying among poker players: If your poker hand is good enough for a call, it is good enough for a raise; otherwise, just throw away your hand.
When you raise your hand pre-flop, you achieve several things simultaneously. To begin with, you limit your opponents’ ranges. In other words, while an opponent may have been willing to call the big blind and limp in with a hand like suited king-three, they won’t be so amenable to calling a raise that is three times the big blind with the same hand. As a result, you prevent your opponents from sucking out on you.
Another effect of pre-flop raising pertains to value. You see, when you have a premium hand, you want to get paid as much as possible for your hand. Well, raising the pot is one way to ensure that.
Over and above, when you raise frequently pre-flop, you protect your ranges. What do I mean by that, you say?
Alright, so as you learn more about poker, you’ll understand the concept of poker ranges, which basically means how strong of a hand you’re willing to play at any given moment. Now, your range will always differ according to many things, including stack size, position, table dynamics, and much more.
However, if an opponent can define your range, you become exploitable. Therefore, you want to protect your range, and one way to do so is to bluff and semi-bluff frequently, making it difficult for your opponents to know whether a raise is because you have a premium hand or because you’re just trying to steal the blinds.
The bottom line is raise whenever you have a good hand; otherwise, fold.
Alright, So What Was Your Friend’s Argument for a Limp In Poker?
So far, I’ve shown you the standard thinking with regards to pre-flop play. With that in mind, let’s examine what my friend had to say and see if it holds any water.
He began by explaining that people perceive a limp in poker as the same as playing passive poker, but those are two very different things. Granted passive players tend to limp into most pots, but they also never raise post-flop, and, to make matters worse, calling stations, which are passive players that just call any and all raises made to them, are known to hemorrhage money.
However, he wasn’t recommending any of that. Instead, you can limp pre-flop and still play aggressively post-flop; one does not preclude the other.
Another thing to take into consideration is that whenever you raise pre-flop, you are signaling to everyone else on the table that you have a premium poker hand, which inadvertently defines your range. But, when you limp, you can conceal your premium hands while incorporating a much wider range into your game. Ergo, limping can be a tool in your arsenal.
When Is a Limp In Poker ok?
However, like life, everything in poker is contextual. And, while a certain circumstance can be ideal for limping, a very similar scenario with a few tweaks can prove to be disastrous to a limper.
So, first of all, you should only limp in poker if you know that you are a strong post-flop player. Obviously, being a strong player at anything is only relative, so let me amend that sentence:
You can consider limping as a legitimate tactic if you believe you can outplay your opponent post-flop.
That being said, there are some spots where limping in poker can come in handy.
For instance, let’s say that an aggressive player has position on you, meaning that they’re on your left and will almost always play after you. Moreover, they keep three-betting you every time you raise, putting you in tough positions. In this case, you can either tighten your range and four-bet this opponent or limp in and let your opponent make the first raise.
If you elect to limp rather than tighten your range, you give yourself so many options: Not only do you control the size of the pot, preventing you from being pot-committed, but you also can trap him later on by representing a weak hand.
Over and above, your opponent’s first raise range will be wider than their three-bet range, and assuming that your limp range is stronger than theirs, you can easily beat them by betting aggressively on flops that favor you.
Another case where poker limping can be advantageous to you, and one you may encounter in many beginner poker games, is when you’re playing against an extremely loose table that never folds to any pre-flop raise.
Put differently, if you can’t get the players on your table to fold, regardless of how bad their hands actually are, then you might be better off limping just to save yourself some money. Ideally, people who play like that may be exploitable in their game, and you can take them to value town post-flop.
Can Limping In Poker Be Incorporated Into a Player’s Poker Strategy?
In both of the above scenarios, you can use limping as a weapon. On the one hand, you were able to exploit an overly aggressive player and use their aggression against them. On the other hand, you saved yourself some money because one of the main advantages of pre-flop raising, thinning the field, was no longer in play.
However, what was also prevalent in both scenarios was the importance of post-flop play. In addition to being aggressive post-flop and attacking wet boards that played to your range, you must know when to check-call, when to check-raise, when to fold, and when to bluff. Moreover, you have to always keep mixing it up so that your opponents are never able to put you on a specific range.
Keeping all this in mind, what it all boils down to is this: You have to be able to discern when to raise and when to limp pre-flop. There will always be a myriad of variables you should take into consideration, but, when it’s all said and done, there are no hard and fast rules. You have to read the situation and ask yourself the following questions:
• Given the table I’m playing at, is raising pre-flop still advantageous or would it be better to change my play?
• Can I limp to gain extra value from opponents?
The idea of limping has always been such an anathema to me that I instinctively feel confused when a good player does it. But, listening to my friend sermonize the benefits of limping pre-flop, I couldn’t help but admit that he had a point. Furthermore, poker strategy is always evolving, and Texas Hold’em poker can be a game of infinite complexity, especially if you’re willing to play deep stacked poker.
Consequently, if you want to be a profitable player you have to always stay ahead of the curve, which means being open to trying new ideas, even ideas that the rest of the poker community shuns. More importantly, you need to be able to distinguish between the official poker rules and the ones that can be challenged. Otherwise, how can you expect to have spectacular results? See you at the WSOP!
Limp in Poker – FAQ
What does limp mean in poker?
Limp, or limping in, means you're just calling pre-flop. When you're limping-in, you're matching the amount of the big blind.
Should you ever limp in poker?
Yes. You usually want to fold or raise, which is strong play, but there are situations where you want to limp in order to see a cheap flop. You also want to mix up your play (imperative).
What is a limp re-raise in poker?
This is usually done in a loose game from early position. If you're dealt a premium hand, you limp with the expectation that someone will raise. If someone raises, you then raise them back because you know you have a stronger hand. It's a form of trapping.
Should you always raise pre-flop?
Always shouldn't be in your vocabulary for poker. You should usually fold or raise, but there are times where you should just limp in.