Limping is, by and large, a fairly poor strategy. It is generally considered the hallmark of weaker players. In fact, it is considered such a weak play that often professionals will consider a player weak if they see a player limp just once.
What is limping?
Limping is “open-calling”, or being the first person to enter a pot, and calling the big blind, instead of raising. Generally, a strong player will never do this. They will always try to enter a pot by making an aggressive play, namely, raising or re-raising. When you are the first person to act, this is especially important, because it allows you the opportunity to steal the blinds, which can be very profitable.
Why not limp?
On the surface, limping might seem like it is not a bad idea. You get to see the flop without investing very much money and decide whether you hand is strong enough to put more money into the pot. If you are raising, it costs more money to enter the pot. This will largely be offset by the times that you win the blinds outright without seeing a flop when all your opponents fold. It also gives you something called ‘initiative’, that is, people will quite often check to you after the flop, as you showed aggression before the flop, allowing you to bet often and take the pot when your opponent or opponents fold.
Another reason not to limp is that you give your opponents left to act the opportunity to do the same thing you are trying to do. Namely, they can now limp behind you and try to see a cheap flop as well. By raising, you make it cost more for them to enter the pot and therefore make it less profitable or unprofitable for them to play a large selection of hands. This forces them to often fold and forfeit their chance at winning the blinds and any other money that enters the pot. The less players, the more often you will win the pot.
Also, limping allows your opponents the option of raising your limp. Now, you are forced to play against a raise, and your opponent has the initiative if you call and see a flop. If you fold, they have just won an extra big blind that could be in your stack if you had’ve just folded you hand, plus the blinds, which could’ve been in your stack if you had’ve raised.
Some people will employ a strategy of limp-reraising. This is when you limp, and when raised, re-raise, in order to attempt to get a large amount of money into the pot by feigning having a weak hand. There are multiple problems with this. If you want to limp-reraise, you will have to limp some of your strong hands. Often, your opponents will just call as well and you have lost money that you could’ve added to the pot by raising. Also, allowing someone to see a flop relatively cheaply against your hand when you have a big pair can be very expensive. When they flop a big hand, or a big draw and hit on a later street, it can cost you a lot of money. Also, when you do limp-reraise, it is usually perceived as a very strong play, and people will fold very often. If you had raised normally, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so certain of the strength of your hand and called or re-raised, allowing you to play your strong hand against your opponent’s wider selection of hands.
So, if they often fold, why not limp-reraise as a bluff? Well, the problem with this is that while often you will get them to fold, when they do call, you will have a bluffing hand and are playing against a hand that is likely very, very strong. This can cause you to get into some very expensive situations.
Limping can be a good strategy, it is just very rare. It can be a valid strategy when taken as part of a group of strategic decisions, usually by a good player in a very aggressive game with lots of raising and re-raising. However, that situation is too advanced for this article. Limping can be a good strategy if you are playing against a particularly aggressive and poor player who raises and re-raises many hands, using large sizings and large bets. If you want to play more hands against this player, it’s possible that limping and calling their raise, will allow you to play more hands. If you were to raise and often get re-raised by this player, the pot would be larger and you would not be able to profitably play as many hands as you will likely be expecting your opponent to bet often on the flop.
While limping may be a strategy that some players may be able to profit from, a beginner who does it should consider cutting it out of their game entirely. By taking a more aggressive strategy preflop, you are likely to create a more profitable overall game and put yourself in fewer difficult situations. Focusing on a simple, aggressive approach should be the first step for a beginner on the road to profitability.