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Don't Overdo Overlimping

Try raising instead

by Ed Miller |  Published: Dec 12, 2008


Overlimping is limping in preflop behind one or more limpers. In my opinion, most players overlimp more often than they should. If you love to sneak into pots behind limping opponents, reading this column could change your mind and improve your results.

You're sitting four off the button in a nine-handed live no-limit hold'em game. The blinds are $2-$5, and the stacks range from $200 to more than $1,000. Two players limp in front of you. Let's say you limp, also. What's likely to happen?

In many cases, it will go something like this: Two players will limp in behind you. The small blind will complete, and the big blind will check. That makes you one out of seven players seeing a flop. You have position on four of them, and two players are behind you. What's your plan?

With so many players seeing a flop, stealing won't play a large role in your strategy. You might steal some pots by flopping a big draw and semibluffing. And every once in a while, you might steal a pot that no one seems to want. But you aren't going to steal too many pots out from under six other opponents.

So, your strategy must rely mostly on making a hand and getting value for it. Unfortunately, that's the same strategy that your opponents will have. And that's the fundamental problem with overlimping; it creates situations in which you and your opponents are all playing roughly the same way. When everyone is playing the same way, no one has an edge.

Of course, I acknowledge that you can manufacture at least some edge for yourself in limped pots. Here are the ways you can do it:

1. You can start with stronger hands preflop than your opponents do.

2. You can bet your hands better. Many players are too timid with their good hands, and either miss bets with them or don't make their bets big enough. You can extract more value for your hands than your opponents can.

But, as edges in no-limit go, these are relatively small. Starting-hand strength isn't very important in a limped pot because the pot starts very small. That leaves plenty of time and money for a weaker hand to play catch-up. And your "better-betting" edge comes into play only when you make a good hand and someone else makes a second-best hand. That doesn't happen very often, and nearly as frequently, you'll be the one with the second-best hand.

The bottom line is that when you overlimp, you're mostly hoping to make a hand and win a big pot, and yet it's hard to stack someone or otherwise win a big pot when the hand starts out limped seven ways. And to top it off, your opponents are also hoping to make a hand and win a big pot, and they're almost as good at doing it as you are. So, you just don't have a whole lot of edge.

Raising preflop creates imbalances that good players can exploit for a larger edge. If you raise, typically one of three things will happen:

1. No one will call. This possibility obviously presents an edge for you. You're now stealing pots that you couldn't steal by limping.

2. One or two players will call. This situation benefits you, particularly if your opponents will cede you the post-flop initiative and play a fit-or-fold strategy after the flop. In games where there is typically a lot of limping, as I said before, most players' strategies revolve around trying to make a hand. They aren't trying to steal many pots. They are deciding whether to continue or not based on how strong their hands are. When your opponents are playing that way, folding unless they "fit" well with the boardcards, you can exploit them merely by playing aggressively.

When seven people see the flop in a limped pot, everyone is playing "make-a-hand" poker, and you don't have it much better than anyone else. But when you raise preflop and only one or two people call, often your opponents will be playing make-a-hand poker while you will be playing "I win if you don't make a hand." This scenario can offer you a much more significant edge over your opponents.

3. Nearly everyone will call. This situation is somewhat similar to playing the limped pot, except that the small edges you could exploit in a limped pot become larger edges in this scenario. Since the preflop pot is significantly larger, preflop hand strength takes on more importance. And you now make much more money from betting better than your opponents because the pot and bets will be much bigger. Whatever your edge was worth in a $30 limped pot, it will be worth significantly more in a $150 raised pot. The more money that's at risk, the more your potential edges are worth.

Of course, you don't get all of these potential advantages for free. Raising instead of overlimping exposes you to the risk of getting reraised off your hand. Many live games are fairly passive preflop, however, and you often won't have to worry much about getting reraised unless someone happens to pick up a hand like pocket aces or kings. These passive games are best for raising with hands you would normally overlimp.

Overlimping is not at all universally bad. It keeps you in the hand and gives you some chance to win a big pot. And in very aggressive games where people are raising and reraising like crazy, overlimping can often be your best play.

But when the game is passive and many pots are being played five-, six-, or seven-handed for the price of the big blind, overlimping often handicaps you. It forces you to play primarily make-a-hand poker, and therefore it deprives you of many of your potential edges. Try raising instead. Doing so can tilt many pots to your advantage and enable you to exploit much larger edges. The bigger your edges, the more money you'll make.

Ed is a featured coach at Also check out his online poker advice column, He has authored four books on poker, most recently, Professional No-Limit Hold'em: Volume 1.