Do you ever play live poker?
Then you’ve probably faced players who open limp weird and surprising hands preflop. Showdown after showdown they leave you scratching your head and asking yourself “How could he limp that hand there?”
A player who limps is almost always making one of two possible mistakes:
- Limping with a hand that is not strong enough to play in that position.
- Choosing to limp with a hand that is strong enough to raise.
There are two reasonable approaches you can take to combat limpers:
- Play tighter because you’ll be forcing fewer preflop folds.
- Play looser because you will over realize your hand’s equity in the pot.
How do you know which approach to choose? It depends on the limper, the players behind and your stack depth.
We’ll go over those approaches more in depth in a moment, but first let’s clear up why open limping is something you should be avoiding.
Prefer watching to reading? Scroll to the bottom of this page for the video version of this article.
Friends Don’t Let Friends Open Limp
Open limping, that is, just calling the price of the big blind as the first person into the pot, is basically never a good strategy. This is a topic we have discussed many, many, many times, but it’s worth repeating.
There are some situations where it might be profitable, but for all intents and purposes it’s something you should never do.
Open limping is a weak and passive play that leaves you few ways win the pot.
When you raise preflop there are several situations that end with the dealer pushing you a pile of chips:
- You win the pot preflop when all of the other players at the table fold.
- You take the pot down on the flop, turn or river by cbetting and/or barreling against 1-2 opponents.
- Your hand hits the board and you are able to win at showdown.
If you enter the pot for a limp, it’s going to be challenging to steal the pot on the flop because there will likely be a lot of other players in the pot.
Limping also prevents you from representing a strong hand on certain board textures. You aren’t telling a very credible story about having a big hand on that A-J-T flop if you limped preflop and go H-A-M postflop.
Your most likely avenue to win the pot when you limp is to hit your hand and win at showdown.
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Raising preflop also serves another purpose. It forces players behind to make a more difficult decision about their hand.
How To Approach Open Limpers
There’s no master key answer for facing limpers. It depends on a variety of variables, mostly the tendencies of the players at your table and your stack depth. That said, there are two ways approach open limps.
When facing an open limp, play tighter.
Playing tighter against limpers makes sense from a theoretical perspective.
When somebody open limps into the pot they are saying something about their hand. They are saying:
“I have a hand that is good enough to play from this position.”
A player who limps is going to have a stronger range than a random player who hasn’t seen their cards. Sure, some players will randomly limp the , but nowadays players like that are few and far between.
Open limpers typically aren’t going to have any hands in the bottom 40-50th percentile, but they also usually won’t have hands in the top ~10% either (range demonstrated below.)
Players who limp hands in this range are unlikely to fold to raises preflop given because they have already invested 1 big blind, giving them better pot odds to call.
A player who open limps has also shown a willingness to play their hand and a few more big blinds is usually not enough to shake them.
There are a few things that should make you want to err on the side of caution when facing limpers:
- The limper is a strong player who may have a somewhat well thought out open limp range (especially bad for us if they have a limp/3-bet range).
- The players behind have a high 3-bet frequency.
- You are playing with short effective stacks, which limits your skill edge.
Let’s illustrate this by comparing a reasonable Cutoff range in an unopened pot compared to one with a single limper.
If it folded to me in the Cutoff I would open something like this range:
Now my range in the Cutoff against a UTG2 limper would be something like this:
I end up playing about 80% as many hands as I would have in an unopened pot. That makes sense considering there’s a player who’s already told me he has a hand worth seeing a flop.
Loosen up when facing an open limper.
Playing looser and isolating more often against limpers is often the best play from a practical perspective.
When a player constantly open limps preflop we can usually assume a couple of things are true about them.
We can assume a player who open limps is weak.
Most good players opt for the more aggressive and straight forward approach of raising preflop with a 0% limping range.
A player who open limps is likely a player who regularly makes mistakes. After all, they almost certainly already made one by limping preflop.
The mistakes they make postflop will allow you to over-realize your equity when you isolate them. You will over-realize because limpers will often play very face up postflop, allowing you to easily “win pots you aren’t supposed to” so to speak.
We can assume a player who open limps is passive.
Other than the occasionally trap with Aces, most players who limp are quite passive.
You want to be on the look-out for opportunities to play pots with these passive players. Forcing the limper to call our raises preflop, out of position with their weak and wide range is one of the most profitable situations in poker.
There are several other variables that should make you want to play looser against a limper:
- The open limper unlikely to limp/3-bet.
- You are playing with deep effective stacks which allows you over-realize even more equity against a weak player.
- The players behind are tight and unlikely to 3-bet.
Let’s look at a specific example and go over the calculations to better illustrate exactly how devastating it is for the player to open limp/call (and how profitable it is for us.)
We’re playing $1/$2 at a local casino with no rake (for simplicity, and because it’s nice to imagine). It folds to UTG2 who open limps.
We raise to $10 with in the Cutoff.
It folds back to UTG2 and he calls. We’ve played with UTG2 for a while now and we guesstimate his range as:
Let’s plug in our hand and check the equity:
Now let’s pull out our calculator and figure out how much money our raise is making.
There’s $23 in the pot and we have 55% equity.
.55 x $23 = $12.65
Subtract our $10 raise and we find out that our hand expects to make $2.65 in this situation.
The larger you can get away with raising without them folding, the more your hand will make.
You essentially want to raise to the largest size possible that still allows them to continue with an inferior range.
You don’t want to isolate too large though. Raising to say, $100 would allow your opponent to exploit you by only continuing when they have really good hands.
You want to find the perfect size that puts the weakest hands in their range in the toughest possible spot. That’s pretty much what any bet in poker is all about.
Don’t squander the opportunity when you find a weak open limper at your table. Continue to isolate them and put them in tough spots until they give you a good reason to stop.
Some players will allow you to pound on them limp after limp, never putting up any resistance. They may make a hand and get you once in a while, but you won’t care because you will have stolen so many pots off them already that you will be paying them with their own money like Teddy KGB at the end of Rounders.
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