What is limping in poker?
In a situation where no one has raised preflop, and you have a playable hand, you have the choice to call or raise. Merely calling the big blind is also known as limping, and when you are the first limper, it is called open-limping.
Aggressive poker approach dictates raising, not limping. However, in some situations, limping has its merits. Let’s study both options to understand better when and how you can use limping in poker.
Let’s first analyze some of the reasons that favor raising.
Picking up the blinds
Probably the most significant advantage of raising versus limping is the added equity of winning the blinds when everyone folds. The value of picking up the blinds can vary, depending on the situation. If the players that are sitting after you are loose, and call often, or aggressive, and reraise to defend their blinds, the probability of winning the blinds decreases. On the other hand, if they are tight, winning or even “stealing” the blinds becomes very profitable. The extra presence of antes, like in the later stages of a tournament, also favors raising.
Narrowing the field
Another reason why you want to raise rather than limp is to narrow the field. Strong hands, like big pocket pairs or high-rank cards, tend to do well against a few opponents but can get you in trouble in multiplayer pots!
Giving less information
Some hands can play well against many opponents. This is the case with strong drawing hands, like suited or connectors, or even small pairs that can flop a set. With these types of starting hands, you have big implied odds against many opponents. If you make a strong hand on the flop, you can potentially extract a lot of money.
However, if you limp in every time the situation demands it, your opponents will catch up on your betting pattern. When they do, they will start raising you more when you limp, forcing you to fold your speculative hands. They will also be folding when you raise, as they will be able to put you on strong hands, and you will not be able to get much action with your premium hands. Mixing it up, and raising also with speculative hands, will keep your opponents guessing!
Extracting information and taking control of the hand
When you limp, many players, including the blinds, may limp behind you as the price is low. Hence, they will be calling with a wide range of hands, and you will have a hard time evaluating their strength after the flop. More importantly, by being the on to raise before the flop, you show strength and take control of the hand. By establishing this position, your opponents will often check to you after the flop. You will then have the option to make a continuation bet and try to win the pot.
Even if raising has many advantages, limping can be a valuable tool in your arsenal. Let’s take a look at some reasons why you should sometimes limp.
Keeping your opponents off balance
As for any betting pattern, raising every time you have a premium hand equals giving away information to your opponents! By limping in occasionally with monster hands, you put a doubt in your opponent’s heads and protect your weakest hands. This is a good defense against players that use their position to try to steal too often. If you feel that someone behind you tries to push you around by raising when you call, then limping with monsters is a good response. You do not have to overdo it. By having a powerful hand, strong enough to reraise a late position raise, about 25% of the times that you limp, your opponents, theoretically at least, lose interest in attempting to steal. Even more importantly, you create the impression that you are unpredictable, dangerous, and can not be pushed around.
Creating a favorable situation
If you are in a weak and passive table, limping in may induce many callers behind you and allow you to play a multiplayer pot post-flop. In such cases, if you limp with good drawing hands, like suited connectors or even small pairs, you may be able to induce many callers and play post-flop with a hand that can hit the flop hard.
Allowing someone to go crazy
Sometimes on the table, you have a read that if you limp, someone will make a move and raise or even go all-in. This is the case, for example, in the late stages of tournaments where antes kick-in, making preflop play more aggressive, and short stacks become desperate to make some move to stay afloat. In such cases, you can eventually try limping in with a premium hand. When the short stack goes all-in, you have the option of reraising to force out any other callers and isolate the small stack.
Luring someone in
At a table where your opponents are tight and weak, and you find yourself in late position with a monster hand, like AA, raising and winning the blinds may not be the best outcome for you. By limping, you allow the blinds to remain in the hand and possibly make mistakes post-flop.
What if other players have already limped in front of you?
When other players have already limped in front of you, most of the arguments presented above still apply. You now also have the choice to raise to make everyone fold or isolate one or two limpers that have demonstrated weakness. Raising in position several limpers is a powerful move many professional players deploy. There is a lot of money accumulated in the pot, and no one has demonstrated any real strength. However, you should not overdo this move with weak hands. Prefer to do it with your strong hands that can perform well against few opponents. With your drawing hands, you also have the option to limp and play your hand for a low price to try to hit your draw.
And from the small blind?
When you are in the small blind, the circumstances are quite different. Firstly, you will be playing out of position, even against the big blind. Secondly, it only costs you half a big blind to call, so you are getting great pot odds to see the flop. For example, if there are two more limpers, there are 3.5 big blinds already in the pot, so you are getting 7 to 1 to see a flop! Unless you know that the big blind is aggressive and will be raising too much, you can call with the majority of your cards. Even in this situation, avoid playing trash hands, like J5… Limp with playable hands and raise with your strongest hands to win the pot.
- You are in middle position in a weak, passive table. In front of you, two players have already limped in. In this spot, you can limp with some speculative hands, like suited aces, suited connectors and small pairs, like A5s, 98s, or 66. However, with strong pairs or high cards like JJ or AQ, it is better to raise to limit the field. Keep in mind that, if there are aggressive players behind you left to act, you must protect your limping hands by occasionally limping with strong hands. Bellow is a range of 10% raising and 20% limping that can be appropriate in this situation.
- You are on the button in a weak, passive table. In front of you, three players have already limped in. In this spot, you can limp with many speculative hands, like suited aces or kings, suited or unsuited connectors, one-gappers, and small pairs, like A3s, K6s, 98, 86s, or 55. However, with strong pairs or high cards like JJ or KQ, it is better to raise to limit the field. Bellow is a range of 10% raising and 35% limping that can be appropriate in this situation.
In a nutshell
When you are first in the pot, you generally want to be raising. However, selectively limping in can add value to your game. Occasionally limping with good drawing hands that profit from seeing cheap flops against multiple players can be profitable. In poker, you must mix your game to keep your opponents guessing. So consider also limping with some of your strong hands to keep your opponents off-balance!