open limp poker strategy

Limps in Poker: The Ultimate Guide to Crushing Open Limpers

Think of limpers as your most valuable customers.

Every time you see a player limping you should see an opportunity to take their stack — or at least a big chunk of it — in a rather short span of time.

You’re about to learn how to absolutely destroy these players. Here’s what you will find in this article (click a section to skip to it):

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

This article has been updated (originally published July 20th, 2018).

Why Friends Don’t Let Friends Open-Limp

Never be the first player to limp into the pot. I repeat, never be the first player to limp into the pot.

Open-limping (just calling the price of the big blind as the first player in the pot) is basically never a good strategy. This is a topic we have discussed many, many times, but it’s worth revisiting.

Open-limping is a weak and passive play that leaves you few ways to win the pot. This is not to be confused with limping behind other limpers, which has its place, and can be profitable.

When you raise preflop, there are a few ways for you to win the pot:

  1. All of the other players at the table fold.
  2. You take the pot down on the flop, turn or river by c-betting and/or barreling against 1–2 opponents.
  3. Your hand hits the board and you are able to win at showdown.

Not only can you not win the pot preflop by limping, the play also makes it more challenging to steal the pot postflop. This is because there will likely be several 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 then 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. Raising preflop also serves another purpose. It forces players behind to make a more difficult decision about their hand.

Note: Want to upgrade your poker skills? Get free preflop charts and start playing like a pro before the flop.

Preflop Strategy vs Limpers

Not all limpers are created equal. This section of the guide will go into specifics on why that is.

First, it will cover the two approaches you can use when facing a limper. Then it will demonstrate a baseline strategy for playing against a limper when you have no reads on them.

Note: Want to boost your preflop game to new heights? Access high-level preflop charts that will boost your win-rate when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!

The Advanced Solver-Generated Preflop Ranges in the Upswing Lab

The Two Approaches to Countering Limps

The optimal strategy when facing a limper depends on a number of variables:

  • The skill level and tendencies of the limper
  • The aggressiveness of the players at your table
  • Your stack depth

That said, there are two major ways to approach open limps.

1. Play tighter

Playing tighter against limpers makes sense from a theoretical perspective.

When a player open limps they are saying something about their hand. They are saying, “I have a hand that is good enough to play from this position.”

Sure, some players will limp random and trashy hands, like 9 3, but nowadays players who do that are few and far between.

So, not only do you have a third player to worry about (in addition to the small and big blind), but that player also probably has a solid hand.

There are a few more specific variables to watch out for that should make you take this tighter approach when facing limpers:

  • The limper is a strong player who may have a somewhat balanced open-limp range (especially if they have a limp/3-bet range).
  • The players behind have a high 3-bet frequency.
  • You are playing with short effective stacks, limiting your skill and positional edge.

But if you play in games with a lot of weak and/or inexperienced players, more often than not, the better approach is to . . .

2. Loosen up

Playing looser against limpers is often the best play from a practical perspective.

This is because when a player does a lot of open-limping preflop, you can assume they are weak, passive, and worth targeting with aggression. A player who open-limps regularly likely makes mistakes. After all, they already made one when they limped preflop.

The mistakes they make postflop will allow you to over-realize your equity when you isolate them. Limpers will rarely put you in difficult spots postflop, allowing you to easily win pots you aren’t supposed to win, so to speak.

You want to look for opportunities to play pots with these passive players. Forcing a limper to call your raises preflop, out of position, and with their weak range, is one of the most profitable situations in poker.

There are several other variables that support loose play against limpers:

  • The open limper is unlikely to limp and 3-bet.
  • You are playing with deep effective stacks, which allows you to over-realize equity against a weak player.
  • The players behind are tight, and thus unlikely to 3-bet.

As far as sizing goes, find the perfect size to put the weakest hands in their range in the toughest possible spot. Of course, that’s pretty much what any bet in poker is all about. (We’ll get into sizing more in tip #1 at the end of this article.)

Don’t squander the opportunities against weak players who limp 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 might make a hand once in a while, but that shouldn’t faze you. You’ll already have stolen so many pots from them that you will be paying them with their own money — like Teddy KGB at the end of Rounders.

Teddy KGB

Baseline Strategy vs Limpers

You won’t always know how a player approaches limping, like when you first sit at a table. So, you’ll need a baseline vs limper strategy to use as a starting point, which you can then shift based on the variables that come into play.

This baseline range is based on the assumption that you are up against a thinking player who is limping thoughtfully. (That’s not to say he’s limping with a balanced range — very few players in the world pull off such a strategy.)

By “limping thoughtfully”, I mean that he is limping with borderline hands that he doesn’t deem strong enough to raise (hands like A4o in late position, K6s from mid-late position, 65s from early-mid position) and the occasional traps mixed in.

Now, let’s get to the range. Here are the hands that I would always raise vs a limper If I had no information and I was sitting in the hijack position or earlier (you can play looser from the cutoff and button):

baseline vs limp range

Red = Raise, Blue = Fold

You may be thinking that this range is tight, and it is, but let me explain why it’s a great baseline strategy for raising over an unknown limper:

  1. This strong range will do a good job hitting hands and extracting value, which is the main way to make money from a limper.
  2. There are still several players behind that can 3-bet or cold-call, reducing your equity in the pot.
  3. You don’t know if the player limp-folds a lot or plays weak postflop, so you can’t know for sure if weaker hands will profit as raises.

When you lack information about all of these variables, it’s best to stay safe and play tight.

You can start adding more hands depending on these factors:

versus limp at passive tables

Note that while some of these rules allude to playing tighter, I don’t recommend removing any hands from the baseline range above. In other words, the baseline range is the absolute tightest you should play vs. a limper.

Let’s wrap up this section with one more example range for your reference. Here is the recommended Button vs Limp range from the Upswing Lab (note that this assumes exactly one limper — from any position):

vs open limp poker strategy

Button vs Limper range recommended in the Upswing Lab.

The looser/weaker the limper is, the more light blue hands you can profitably raise with. Get “Vs Limp” charts for all 8 positions when you join the Upswing Lab.

Note: Want to upgrade your poker skills? Get free preflop charts and start playing like a pro before the flop.

Postflop Strategy vs Limpers

Now that you have a good idea of the hands with which you should raise over a limper, let’s talk about playing postflop, specifically the flop.

The two following example flops will serve as representatives for similar types of flops. In both hands, you will be on the button playing against a hijack limper.

Assume that your opponent is a thinking player that will limp-call with somewhat justifiable hands such as:

  • Weak to medium strength Ax hands (both suited and offsuit)
  • Offsuit broadways
  • Offsuit connectors (like T9, 98)
  • Suited connectors and 1-gappers (like 76s, 75s, 64s)
  • Random high card suited hands (K7, Q8, J7, etc.)

Example #1

Online $2/$5. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $500.

Hero is dealt two cards on the button
UTG folds. Hijack calls $5. Cut-Off folds. Hero raises to $20. 2 folds. Hijack calls.

Flop ($47): 8♠ 5 4♠
Hijack checks. Hero…

Let’s break down your range into 2 parts: value bets and potential bluffs.

Value bets: Against weaker players on these types of low boards, you will want to play your value range very straight-forward and fast. Widen your value range and go for a big bets (anywhere from 66% to 105% pot) and double barrels very often to extract value immediately.

If the limper seems like an unaware player — and most limpers are — you should look to size your bets based on the strength of your hand. With a very strong hand like QQ, for example, an 80%+ pot-sized bet is good, but with a marginal value hand like 77, you can bet smaller, say 66% pot.

Bluffs: If the limper seems to play fit or fold postflop — and most limpers do — you can exploitatively widen your bluffing range to more than just the “natural” bluffs (such as gutshots, open-enders and flush draws).

What hands should you add to your bluffing range? Hands such as 2 plain overcards make sense, which will find themselves in effective barrel spots on many of the overcard turns. Plus, having 6 outs to turn top pair isn’t so bad.

There’s another exploit you can use vs. unaware limpers — something you should absolutely never do against a solid thinking player: reduce your bet size when bluffing. Betting a smaller amount, somewhere between 50% and 60% pot, gives you better pot odds and takes advantage of the often inelastic ranges of weak players.

Even if the limper does adjust correctly to your small bet size (by calling more often), you still benefit because the limper’s range on the turn becomes weaker than usual, rendering your double barrels more effective.

Now, let’s take another type of board on which you should play slightly differently.

Example #2

Online $2/$5. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $500.

Hero is dealt two cards on the button
UTG folds. Hijack calls $5. Cutoff folds. Hero raises to $20. 2 folds. Hijack calls.

Flop ($47): A♠ 9 3♣
Hijack checks. Hero…

Value bets: you can use the same concept as in the first hand. Namely, the stronger the absolute value of your hand, the bigger you can bet.

Bluffing is a bit different on this board because there aren’t any overcards that can come, which makes betting on the bigger side a less attractive option. When your opponent misses this board, it doesn’t matter if you bet $15 or $30. He will likely fold almost every hand that missed the flop because none of them have 2 overcards.

This is in stark contrast to the last example, a board on which he is very likely to have at least 2 overcards (if not a gutshot or better). Since most hands will miss this flop, you can attack your opponent by betting with every missed hand in your range for a $15 (roughly 30% of the pot).

7 Bonus Tips That Have Helped Me Win Countless Stacks from Limpers

To round out this guide, we will go over seven bonus tips to help you win as much as possible when facing a limp.

Tip #1: Raise to 3bb+1bb per limper when playing online, and 4bb+1bb per limper when playing live

These sizings have proven over time to be the best. They are big enough to discourage players behind from cold calling, given bad pot odds, but small enough for the limper to call happily.

You should, however, be prepared to make adjustments that will maximize value against the weaker players.

For example, if you are playing a live game and the limpers seem to snap-call your 5bb raise, you should try 6bb, then 7bb, etc., until those players start folding. At that point, you should revert to the previous size.

This adjustment allows you to see the flop with the stronger range in the biggest pot possible.

Tip #2: When the limper has 40 big blinds or less, don’t iso-raise with small pocket pairs

Iso-raising with small pocket pairs is usually the right play, given the small investment made to potentially win an entire stack against a recreational player.

Things change when you isolate a short stack player.

Instead of playing a pot with a stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) of around 8–12, where you can basically win your preflop investment 15–30 times over, you will be involved in a pot with an SPR of 5 or less. This type of investment is very good if you hold hands that can make strong top pairs often. But is a very unlucrative spot with hands that need good implied odds, like small pocket pairs, which will very often become middle pairs at best on the flop.

You can usually just limp behind with these small pocket pairs, but consider folding when there are many aggressive players behind.

Tip #3: Iso-raise with a tighter range from the blinds

Playing out of position (OOP) is never easy. Even the GTO solutions are made up of very mixed frequencies, which are unattainable for mere humans. For this reason it is best to keep your range tighter when playing from OOP.

There are a lot of hands with marginal EV that can only be realized when playing perfectly against your opponent.

This is also true of iso-raising. You are usually up against a very unpredictable, calling station type of player. Bluffing is thus profitable less often, and so you will want to use hands that flop either strong draws or strong top pairs.

Remember: When OOP, tight is right.

Tip #4: When your opponent limp-3-bets, assume they have a strong range

If you’ve played live poker long enough, then I’m sure you’ve seen players who try to limp-3-bet while holding the Aces/Kings/Queens.

This also happens online. When players limp, it’s usually either because they think their hand is not strong enough to raise, or they are trying to trap with a premium hand such as AQ+, JJ+. You will occasionally find a rando-bluff in there, but most of the time it’s a very strong hand, and you should adjust your play accordingly.

The hands that play best against this type of range are strong suited broadway hands, AQ offsuit, and pocket pairs. Be careful, though, when the board comes Axx or Qxx, your opponent triple barrels, and you hold top pair––players don’t normally bluff enough in those spots.

Tip #5: Value bet thinner, especially on the flop and turn

Since recreational players who limp are also usually calling stations, they will be willing to pay a lot more than a solid player would to try to hit a draw.

They lack the fundamental concept of pot odds and overvalue their implied odds, which makes them likely to call big bets with very weak hands hoping to catch a straight, a flush, a set, or some random two-pair.

Going for much thinner value than you normally would is thus a very profitable adjustment to make on the flop and turn.

Tip #6: Play a one-and-done strategy with your bluffs on the flop

As a stated previously, recreational players tend to have inelastic calling ranges on the flop. The same is true for the turn. The only difference is they tend to have many more folds on the flop than on the turn.

triple barrel shotgun with chips poker tips

Lean towards using just one of these barrels vs limpers.

This happens because they go to the flop with a wide and weak range, which misses much of the time; while the range they will go to the turn with is a much more pair- or draw-based, and very infrequent includes air type hands.

For this reason you should usually be wary of bluffing on the turn, and instead try a ‘one-and-done’ strategy on the flop. You should, however, make sure you capitalize on the fact that recreational players fold more than they should on scare cards.

Tip #7: Fold more against raises after you c-bet

Players who limp preflop will tend to play passively in general, and they love calling with their draws. Even when the board is dry and disconnected, remember that these players play a lot more hands than you would––even random offsuit ones.

This means they can have more random two pairs than you might expect. For this reason, you should play tighter than normal when they raise your c-bet.

Wrapping Up

Like with every situation in poker, there are a lot of nuances that come into play when trying to decide on the best line of action vs. a limper. You will need to really apply your logic to each situation and try to be as realistic as possible in determining how your opponent will react to different bet sizes and then calculate what is your best course of action.

Remember, the very exploitative advice in this article — particularly about tailoring your bet sizes — is meant to be used against weak, unaware players. Using such strategies against decent opponents may lead to you getting exploited if/when they figure out what you’re doing.

Hopefully you feel more comfortable playing against limpers after reading this article. If you have any questions or feedback please leave a comment section down below!

Want more? Here’s the article I recommend reading next: How to Adjust Your Strategy in Splashy Live Games.

Til’ next time, good luck, grinders!

Note: Want to upgrade your poker skills? Get free preflop charts and start playing like a pro before the flop.



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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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