When to Limp and When not to: A Poker Guide


A limp is an act of placing the minimum bet that is required to stay in a hand. When a player calls preflop instead of folding or raising, that player is said to have limped in. This is true only if nobody has raised yet in front. Depending on how you see the game, a limp might be a good or bad move.

Many pros seem to think it’s a wrong move. Yet, there are still many limpers in modern-day poker. So, when is the right time to limp? You can consider this article an all you need to know about limping.

Is there a perfect time to limp? Yes, while limping is usually frowned upon by many pros, there are scenarios where it makes sense to limp. Limping can make sense in cases where you’re expecting action, but your hand is not good enough to call a big bet. Also, you’ll find lots of scenarios where it would make sense to limp with small pocket pairs.

limping in live games vs. limping online
Limping in online games is a big no-no. On the other hand it comes handy in live games often.

The best poker players always find ways to exploit peculiar scenarios. If you throw entirely off the idea of limping, you may just be missing out on a good opportunity. Important note to make is that in online games, you see almost no limping, while in live games limping is a lot more popular as games play a lot differently. Online you will be multiway postflop a lot less often than in full ring live games, where almost every pot is multiway.

When to Limp

Regardless of what some players may say, there’ll always be a place for limpers in poker. Below are some of the instances where it’s definitely worth limping.

Awkward Stack Size

Awkward stack sizes can give a genuine reason to limp. Let’s say you’re in a $2/$5 game, and you’re facing opponents with a stack size range of around $80 to as much as $1,500. Then some have stack size in $150 to $250 range, and yet others of about $1,000.

In this scenario, you might be open to playing hands like 8♥ 5♥ against a not so good player (let’s call him player B) who has an $800 stack. A problem arises when an opponent with a shorter stack size enters the pot causing your hand to lose its value. This is because although you can make money off player B with your 8♥ 5♥ and big stack size (160bb if we have at least $800), you can’t get much skill advantage if you’re forced to commit a large part of your stack preflop and on the flop.

The lower the stacks are, the more important the raw equity of your hand is. There is no maneuvering space for you to exploit opponents that are less skilled than you!

 So, let’s examine a scenario where an opponent limps, and player B limps in Mid position. Let’s say you’re holding 8♥ 5♥ in the cutoff position, the button has a $220 stack, and the small blind has an $80 stack.

If you make a raise in this scenario and either of the players in the aforementioned positions decides to play, there is a high chance you will be in trouble. The blind with a small stack size can decide to re-raise you with an all-in, or the button can call you, thereby forcing you to play your weak hand out of position with a significantly diminished stack size.

limping 8h5h
Could this be a good candidate to limp? Yes, but in right situations.

Therefore, it will be far better to limp in this scenario while hoping the player with the short stack either folds or limp along. If this short stack player decides to go all-in with his $80, you can simply fold the limp. But, if that’s not the case, you will almost certainly see the flop against player B.

Looking at your upside, limping, in this case, is as smart a choice as raising. Limping is, therefore, a good choice when you’re playing against a set of opponents with awkward stack sizes.

When Expecting Action

The excuse most players give for wanting to see the flop is that they believe if they miss, it is easy to find their way around, but if they hit, it could mean they receive a huge pot. Needless to say that this kind of ideology no longer holds water in the modern game.

Believing you can make a huge pot if you hit is pretty far from the truth. Opponents holding beaten hands aren’t exactly enthusiastic about calling big river bets. In many games, it can be quite difficult finding an opponent that’s willing to call $50 or $100 just to see your flush. If your opponents aren’t willing to pay river bets, limping would be a terrible idea.

However, you’re bound to find yourself in tables where you’ll see a good amount of river action. It is in such games that limping can come in handy.

Keep in mind that you should be more willing to see the flop on a cheap with your marginal hands in a game where the odds of claiming a big pot with a strong hand is high. In these games, it makes sense to play more marginal starting hands for a limp, many more than you would typically be willing to in a nittier game. It will also make sense to limp starting hands that you would usually raise in tighter games.

For example, 10♥ 8♥  could be a great hand to bluff with in a tight game. You could decide to raise this starting hand on the button to pave the way for a post-flop bluff. However, it wouldn’t make sense to raise the same hand preflop in a loose game that sees a flurry of action. In this scenario, limping is the more profitable option.

Limping Behind: Small Pocket Pairs

There are many situations where small pocket pairs prove to be excellent for limping behind. If two opponents are limping in from early position while you sit with 55 in the hijack, your best move will be to limp along, especially when you have a deep stack (you can play this hand with a short stack in a tournament).

Your other options in this scenario include a standard-sized raise. If you opt for that, you’re merely bloating a pot with a hand that doesn’t represent much value. If you’re in a table where players limp often and hardly fold to raises, making a standard size raise with the hope that your opponent folds is simply unrealistic.

limp behind with small pocket pair
Limping behind with a small pocket pair could very well be the best play preflop in live games, where nobody likes to fold. Is that really the case?

Also, if you raise a limper with your small pocket pairs, you’re practically asking for your opponent to 3-bet you from later positions. If that’s the case, you’re going to fold more often than not. Therefore, limping in looks like your best bet.

When not to Limp

While there might be good use cases to limp, there are also compelling cases why and when not to limp. Some of them are:

  • When opening preflop
  • When trying to build the pot
  • If you are playing online poker

When Opening Preflop

 If you’re the first to act preflop, limping shouldn’t be an option, to be honest. Whether you’re a professional or a beginner, this is one strategy that almost every poker player agrees on. If you’re opening a hand, you should ways look to raise preflop. Not only does this signal that you’re an aggressive player, but it also allows you to go on the offensive early on.

Many scenarios can play out when you raise preflop. One such scene sees everyone fold, and you win the blinds. Another sees your raise getting called while a few other opponents fold. The latter scenario sees you reduce the number of players who will go on to see the flop with you.

Now, while it’s always better to raise preflop when you’re opening, you may also fold if you don’t think your hand is worth the hassle. Basically, you have two other viable options instead of just limping. You can either raise if your hand permits or fold if it doesn’t. Either way, you’ll be making a far better decision than limping preflop.

When You’re Trying to Build a pot

As earlier stated, open limping preflop is not a great strategy. But this is poker, and there are no absolutes. Great players can think their way out of awkward situations. So, if you do decide to open limp preflop, at least don’t do it when you’re trying to build the pot. Once you limp in, you’re making building big pots harder than necessary. I’ll explain it.

Now, let’s say you’re deep stacked with pocket fives in your hands. It’s a well-known fact that many beginner poker players like to open limp with pocket fives. If you do that, here’s what’s going to happen: If the table is 9 handed and you are in a tournament, the antes and blinds will be about 2.5 big blind, with the limp, the pot becomes 3.5 bb.

 If an opponent limps behind you, the pot should grow to become 4.5bb. Now, you flop a set, bet 2bb on the flop, and get raised 6bb. The pot should be 12.5bb at about this time.

Now, let’s compare with a scenario where you raised preflop and got called. If you raise preflop to 2bb at least, the pot should be 4.5bb by the time it’s the caller’s turn to act. When he eventually calls, the pot should be 6.5bb. Your flop bet would then be 3bb instead of the 2bb in the previous scenario. Your flop bet is then raised to 9bb.

At this point, the pot is already 18.5 bb compared to 12.5bb in the scenario where you open limped. It’s clear to see that a raise gives you a better opportunity to build a bigger pot than you’d get when you limp.

Online Poker

Remember when you read that book where the author mentioned that you should never limp? That’s because many of those guys are majorly online players who have seen first hand that limping does no good in online poker.

If you’re playing online, it’s best to abandon any hopes of open limping or limping behind. The reason is quite simple: Online players are extremely aggressive, and it just turns out that aggressive play is the best way to punish limpers.

The goal of an open limp is to see the flop cheaply, but if you’re raised, you’re forced to make a raise or fold, your limp becomes worthless. With the eagerness to attack limpers being heightened in online poker, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Now that you know that raising in online games is a far better move than limping, you might wonder how big should your raise be preflop? Then this detailed article will explain everything to you.

Can you Limp from Small Blind?

The small blind is one position where it’s completely fine to limp along. Obviously, it’s not the best position to be in after the flop, but you can live with that being that you’d often get good pot odds in multiway limped pots.

Therefore, it would be a no-brainer to try and see the flop with your decent hand. Yet, you should avoid completing garbage hands like J6. Playing hands like A4, and Q8 should do the trick.

However, before you limp from the small blind, you should first determine the kind of player sitting on the big blind. Is he a guy who’s likely to raise limpers? If the big blind is super aggressive, then it’s best to avoid limping from the small blind because you’re likely to be punished.

Also, you’ll need to apply caution to your flop strategy. You’re faced with a scenario where you don’t have much info on your opponent’s next move, so it’s best to play conservatively with rubbish hands unless you flop big.

Why Most Players Condemn Limping

As earlier stated, many poker players avoid limping like a plague. While some only live by the ”thou shall not open-limp preflop” rule, many others avoid limping all together. As this article has proven, limping can come in handy in several scenarios. If that’s the case, why do many players still condemn it? Below are a few explanations as to why.

Weak Passive Players

Depending on how they play, poker players can be grouped accordingly. Some players are loose-aggressive, while others are tight aggressive. Weak passive is probably one of the worst playing styles in poker.

These are players who aren’t known for playing aggressively. Open limping preflop is one of the traits of weak, passive players, and they’re generally seen as weak opponents. The poker rule of thumb states that players who play aggressively are likely to win more pots than passive players. 

If you adopt a weak, passive playing style on a table where your opponents are stronger, you most likely will be targeted and bullied out of many pots.

Inability to Represent Premium Hands

The general perception of players who open limp is that they have a medium or weak hand. Usually, you’d expect a player is opening with a strong hand to go all guns blazing with a raise. So, a limp would indicate that your hand is not so strong and that you’re trying to enter the pot on a cheap.

If they guess correctly, good players should be able to isolate your limp and continually take pots from you. It’s not possible to represent premium hands legitimately if you limp. It also complicates your postflop strategy.

The odds are Stacked Against you

Limping can put you in an unfavorable position where the odds are against you. When trying to capture a pot, certain factors will determine how strong your chances are. This includes:

  • position
  • hand strength
  • your poker skills
  • preflop aggression.

Imagine a scenario where you limp with As 6s. In this scenario, you’re not in the position, you’re not the raiser so no preflop aggression, you may not have the stronger hand, and judging by your open limp, your poker skills are most likely not great. You can now see that the odds of claiming the pot are not in your favor.

Playing ace rag hands as A6 suited and worse can be intimidating to inexperienced poker players. Many players bleed money with such hands. That is why I have a detailed guide on how to play ace rag properly.

So Should you Abandon Limping?

From what has been said so far, you would agree that limping has its moments and shouldn’t be completely tagged as a bad move. Yet, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact the situations were limping is good are few and far between.

More often than not, aggressive play is what will land you the goods. Most coaches will tell their poker students always to be ready to play aggressively. This is the hallmark of players like Antonio Esfandiari, who have enjoyed considerable success by playing aggressively.

Read this article if you would like to read more about how Antonio and other famous poker pros started in poker.

So, while you should exploit situations where it’s profitable to limp in, you should build your overall strategy around an aggressive style. When in doubt, you can simply follow the guide above to determine when you should or should not limp.

Final Thoughts

In poker, there are no absolutes. What’s obtainable today might see a revamp as the game evolves. This is why it’s never right to say that you should ”never” limp in poker. As we can see from this guide, there are a few scenarios where it would be profitable to limp.

 That said, we can all agree that you should always look to play aggressively if you’re hoping to enjoy much success. It’s best for players who are still very much beginners to avoid limping until you’re experienced enough to exploit situations where it’s fine limp. 

How you play the handHow can you win the hand
Open limpingPot is multiway, so you will need to have the best hand to win
Limp behindMultiway pot, need to have the best hand
Make a raise1. Bluff and get credit as you were the preflop aggressor 2. Have the best hand
You are more likely to win the hand if you raise preflop than limp.

Whether you open limp or limp behind, you mostly have one way to win, and that’s making the best hand. Bluffing multiway is a recipe for disaster, so in reality, we can only win by having the best hand. On the other hand, you can have two ways to win when you make a raise. You can either get your opponents to fold or make the best hand. With a preflop raise, you indicate you have a strong hand. Continuing this aggression on the flop is often enough for others to believe you have a strong hand. If they don’t believe you, they can start hero calling you, and you will actually have a decent hand more often than not. This is why it’s better off to play aggressively often and limp occasionally.

Related Questions

  • What is Overlimping? Overlimping is basically the same thing as limping behind. A player is told to overlimp when he or she limps after another player has limped ahead of him.
  • Do all Limpers have Mediocre Hands? More often than not, players who open limp usually have mediocre hands. However, limping from behind might be a different story altogether.

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Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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