If you’ve ever read a poker book, watched a training video, or spoken to the intimidating man wearing sunglasses and a hoodie at the poker table, you will have been told that it’s never okay to limp. Limping is the enemy of a winning poker player, and is an action only used by the biggest fish in the player pool.
But is that really the case? Is limping as bad as it seems, or are there situations when limping is okay? In this article, we’ll be taking a look at why limping is considered bad and when it’s ok to limp. After all, if Daniel Negreanu says “Limping is pimping,” it can’t be that bad, right?
Limping is one of three preflop actions available to you at the poker table. The first action is folding, where you surrender your hand without putting in any extra money. The second is raising, where you increase the bet by putting in at least 2x the chips of the big blind. The third and final action is limping, where you call the amount of the big blind. For example, in a $1/$2 cash game, players who call the $2 have “limped” into the pot.
Limping is considered to be bad for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is that it’s not an aggressive action. One of the keys to being a winning poker player is being aggressive, as it gives you two ways to win the pot - either your opponent folds, or you win the hand at showdown.
When you’re limping, you’re eliminating one of those options as you’re not giving your opponent in the big blind the opportunity to fold, making it much harder to win the hand. You’re also making it a more attractive option for the players behind you to raise, as there’s more perceived “dead money” for them to collect, making it even harder to win.
Plus, when you limp, you’re forcing yourself into seeing a flop. While this isn’t bad in a tournament, most cash games have a “no flop, no drop” rule which means that pots are only raked when you see a flop. So, by making sure you see the flop, you ensure that your pot will be raked, meaning that even if you win the hand, you’re not going to win the whole pot.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why limping is considered a big no-no amongst winning players. However, like everything in this crazy game, there’s a nuance that should be considered, and you shouldn’t completely eliminate limping from your repertoire.
There are some situations at the poker table where limping could be considered the superior option, so if you turn your nose up at it as “only something weaker players do,” you’ll be losing EV. Let’s take a look at what those situations are.
One of the most profitable ways that limping can be used at the poker table is by limping from the small blind if it folds to you in a poker tournament. In a poker tournament, stacks are often much shallower than in a cash game, further disincentivising bloating pots out of position, and there is often an ante in play. While keeping pots small out of position is a decent enough reason on its own, it’s the presence of the ante that makes limping attractive in tournaments.
When you play from the small blind, you only need to put in 0.5bb to continue in the hand. With just the big blind and small blind, you have to call 0.5b to win 1.5bb - a pretty good deal in its own right. But, say you add a big blind ante of 1bb; suddenly you have to call 0.5bb to win 2.5bb, meaning you have fantastic odds on a call, and making almost all hands in your range profitable calls.
Because of this, there are some tournament players that exclusively limp from the small blind in tournaments, as this protects their limping range and allows them to realise more equity with a larger percentage of their range.
If you’ve ever played a live cash game, you’ll know how often hands can go 3, 4, or even 5 ways to the flop. In these situations, some hands are extremely profitable if they hit, but are hard to play if they miss. Hands like small pocket pairs are the best example of this - if you hit your set, you’re likely going to win a huge pot against a recreational player with top pair, but if you miss, you’ll find it hard to bluff your way to victory.
So, by limping along with these hands, you get to keep your preflop investment to a minimum while still being able to see the flop. If you hit your set on the flop, you can start raising and increasing the size of the pot, but if you miss, you can just fold your hand knowing that you only invested 1bb to see the flop.
If you’ve spotted a particularly weak player at your table, you’ll want to play more hands against them to take advantage of their inexperience. One of the ways you can do that is by limping when they enter a pot, but it’s important that you don’t overdo it and start playing too many hands yourself.
We recommend only doing this with speculative hands from the small blind or the button; that way you either get in at a discount, or you have position postflop. If you have a strong hand in any other position, we recommend raising to try and isolate yourself against that player and build a pot with what’s likely to be the best hand.
While there are a number of reasons not to limp at the poker table, dismissing it outright is foolish, as there are a number of scenarios where limping at the poker table can be profitable. Hopefully after reading this article, we’ve opened your mind to the possibilities of limping at the poker table, and made you ready to use it to your advantage in your next game!
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