For some years there has been a heated debate in the poker community – including the top names – about whether it is good to limp in an unopened pot or if it is better to put in a raise.
A couple of years ago the poker community was probably split in half with strong advocates on both sides. But the last year I believe there is more and more consensus that raising is better than limping.
One of the last big names advocating limping unopened pots was Dan Harrington who as late as 2008 advocated it in: Cash Games (How to Win at No-Limit Hold’em Money Games) Vol. 1.
In his last book however, he is not recommending limping unopened pots (not mentioning he was all for it just a year or so ago;-): Harrington on Online Cash Games; 6-Max No-Limit Hold ’em.
I personally stopped limping a couple of years ago after analyzing how the greatest winners in a massive database with many millions of hands played by hundreds of thousands of players played. They pretty much didn’t limp in unopened pots at all – so I stopped doing it to.
In 2010 it is even rarer to see a winning player limping first in.
So why is it not a good thing then? I believe limping in unopened pots is bad for the following reasons:
- It signals the strength of your hand (not so strong – normally)
- It makes it easy for people to play against you – their decisions are made easier which is the complete opposite of what you want
- It invites people to limp behind or raise you – in both cases often with position on you – so you will end up playing pots out of position with a mediocre hand against opponents who will know more about your hand than you do about theirs!
- You give away the initiative to someone else
- It makes it extremely difficult to play in an unexploitable way
Sure, some super expert players might be capable of limping unopened pots with a balanced range of hands so they are difficult to exploit by limping behind or raising. But this is extremely difficult, because how you play will have to be very strongly adapted to how the table and the players play. The balance of strong hands versus not so strong will have to be adapted to likelihood of players limping behind, likelihood of raises, implied odds and such. And I believe very few players are capable of doing this in a way that makes it more profitable than just simply raising or folding.
That being said, it is understandable why there was many advocates for limping a couple of years ago when the average poker player was much, much weaker than they are today and much less likely to raise the limpers and much more likely to pay a lot of money with a top-pair against a flush then they are today. If you are lucky to find a table with that bad players at decent stakes today, please let me know!
One or several players have called the big blind (limped).
If your hand is good enough so that you would have opened according to Preflop Strategy, you should normally raise. Raise to 3-3,5 times the big blind plus one big blind for each limper. For example, if there are two limpers and you normally raise to 3 times the big blind, you should raise to 5 times the big blind. A couple of years ago it was a good strategy to raise with a wider range of hands than you would open with since you would often win the hand immediately, or be likely to get heads-up with position on a poor player. However, in today’s poker most other players at the table will be very much aware of what range you are raising with and might take advantage of you if you overdo it.
If your hand is not good enough to open with you should almost always fold.
If your hand is good enough to open but plays well in in multiway pots (pair or suited connectors) you can consider calling (limping behind) instead of raising sometimes. Most of the time it is better to raise, but you should consider the circumstances:
It is usually better to raise if:
- A raise is likely to win the pot immediately
- A raise will likely isolate (play heads up) a poor player who either is likely to fold to a continuation bet or who is likely to stack off with a semi-strong hand like top-pair or overpair.
It is sometimes better to call behind if:
- You are in late position (button or cut-off) or in the small blind and there is a reasonable chance you win a big pot if you hit a strong hand
- There are several limpers and raising will likely chase some of them away but is unlikely to win the pot immediately
- Is is somewhat likely that one or several of the limpers actually have a strong hand, for example someone limping in early position who seems to be positionally aware or someone who is normally raising unopened pots or someone who loves to limp with aces
- It is likely to be a multiway pot or
- You will have good implied odds if someone decides to raise (it is usually not profitable to 4-Bet when you have first limped behind someone)
The reason to only do this in late position is that you otherwise have an increased risk that someone will raise with a good hand and that you invite players to limp behind with similar hands as your – in which case they will have position on you.
It is likely to become a multiway pot if it is unlikely that someone will raise (uncommon situation in most online games today) or that if someone raise one or several of the limpers will call the raise.
You might get good enough implied odds against a raiser if he/she is likely to be willing to pay a lot with a semi-strong hand like top-pair or overpair. Read Preflop Implied Odds for guidance on how to judge if the implied odds are good enough.
In summary, you should raise or fold most of the time when there are limpers in the pot unless the conditions are unfavorable for raising but favorable for an overlimp. Also keep in mind that you give away more information about your hand when you are overlimping, since you raise with your strong hands most of the time (same balancing issues as for limping in unopened pots).