I play a lot of lower-stakes cash games and tournaments which attract a wide variety of players. Some are very experienced and challenging to play against, while others are either inexperienced or lack a lot of knowledge about tournament strategy, the importance of stack sizes and position, and other basics.
Every now and then in these games I’ll find myself at a table where not just one but several of my opponents show an inclination to limp before the flop rather than raise. While there are certainly times when limping preflop can be reasonable to do, generally speaking it’s not a recommended play, and in higher-stakes games with skilled players you almost never see it happening.
Like I say, though, a lot of limping not that uncommon to see in the games I play — and the ones I imagine most of you play, too.
If there’s just one player limping, that tends to be a not-so-difficult situation to handle. When acting after such a player who has limped, I’ll generally raise and either take the pot preflop or (if the player calls) carry the initiative into postflop. In a sense I’ll play my hand almost as though the player didn’t limp at all, only perhaps making my raise a little larger than I would have if I were the one opening the pot (adding a big blind or so vs. a single limper is usually my choice).
But when there are several players limping on a semi-frequent basis, that poses a different problem. What’s the best approach to take against this sort of line-up?
Let’s imagine a scenario where you’re in a tournament, are in middle or late position, and a couple or more players have limped in ahead of you.
1. Raise (larger) with premium hands, look to isolate
If you look down at , , , or , these are hands with which you’ll obviously want to raise after others have limped. Even with or — hands you certainly want to play — you’ll want to raise after a bunch of limps.
The formula most suggest is to add one big blind per limper to your standard open, although in lower-stakes games (especially online) I’ll often add a little more. Say the blinds are 50/100 and two players have limped. I might have raised to around 225 if I were opening, but with the two limpers I might make it 500 or so.
My goal is to reduce the number of opponents I’ll be facing to one, if possible — to “isolate” a single opponent against whom my strong starting hand plays well. Sometimes this can be hard to accomplish with “sticky” calling stations who after limping in tend to call no matter what the raise amount is. If you do get multiple callers with your pocket aces that’s not the end of the world; just play carefully postflop and be mindful of the increased possibilities to improve among the multiple hands you’re facing.
2. Raise occasionally with medium-strength hands, too
Depending on the situation, I’ll also mix in raising against limpers with non-premium hands, especially when I have position. Often I’ll pick a similar bet size (raising 2-2.25x plus 1 BB per limper), but in this case I’m actually not as concerned about isolating as I don’t necessarily have a hand that’s is going to be best preflop, but rather needs to improve in order to win at showdown.
With speculative hands like and other suited connectors or medium-to-small pairs, I’ll raise and either win a pot preflop (a good outcome) or get called and face one or more opponents postflop.
Raising preflop against a field of limpers often seems like a more aggressive move than it really is (especially to the weak players who limp a lot). A lot of times your opponent(s) will check to you after the flop, letting you decide whether to continuation bet or take a free turn card. You might flop a backdoor straight or flush draw with your suited connectors, then pick up genuine equity after the turn, putting yourself in a good spot to semi-bluff with a delayed c-bet and/or win a nice-sized pot should your draw get completed.
3. Limp behind with speculative hands
Also available as an option is to join the crowd and limp behind with those suited connectors, small pairs, ace-rag suited hands, and the like. You’re getting nice pot odds (actual and implied), and versus multiple opponents if you do flop a set or turn a straight or flush, your chances of winning a big pot increase. It’s a great risk-a-little win-a-lot situation.
If you happen to hit a big hand in such a spot, don’t miss opportunities to bet or raise for value. Limpers are often passive and sometimes loose, tending to check and call a lot more than bet and raise themselves. Make a big hand? Get in there and start building a pot.
One caveat, though — don’t get carried away limping behind too often, and don’t widen your definition of “speculative hands” to include three- and four-gappers and anything “sooted.” You should still mostly be playing the same starting hands you would against non-limping opponents. Don’t get lulled into becoming one of the zombie-limpers yourself.
A final thought
Whenever I do encounter a table of limpers, I make a conscious effort to compare such preflop passivity to how each of these players tends to play after the flop. Oftentimes the passive play carries over, although some players will be more loose and keep calling after the flop while others are going to be tight and unwilling to put more in the middle without being very strong.
Limping is kind of a non-committal or “wishy-washy” way to play before the flop, an action often performed by players caught in between folding and raising who view limping in as a sort of compromise between the two. Players who limp in preflop also often do so without much of a plan for what to do next when someone raises or the flop comes to give the player second or third pair or whatever else subsequently happens.
Be more mindful with your actions, always having an idea why you are betting or raising — or checking or calling or folding, too, for that matter — and a plan for what your next action will be given the possible responses. That more than anything will give you an edge versus the limpers.