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Playing vs. Limpers

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Feb 22, 2012


Gavin GriffinI live in the Los Angeles area, which is the only place in the country and probably the whole world where limit hold ‘em is still alive and thriving. As a result, many of my columns will be devoted to these games. Any given night at the Commerce, there are three to five $8-$16 games going which gives me plenty of opportunities to scout better games and better seats.

When you ask any professional limit hold ‘em player for a piece of advice, one of the first things they tell you will be “don’t come into the pot unless you’re raising.” Coupled with the other big piece of advice “play tighter,” this makes for a powerful starting strategy. There are several reasons for this:

First, you should be playing very good hands that will usually be better than your opponent or opponents’ hands and as a result, you want the opportunity to get as much money into the pot as possible with those superior hands. In limit hold ‘em you can’t bet all your chips at one time so you need to treat betting and raising like Chicagoans treat voting; do it early and often.

Second, if you come in for a limp, you would entice opponents to come in with a wider range of hands because it’s cheaper for them to play. When you raise, you force them into making a bigger mistake if they want to play that bad hand and you cause them to continue compounding that mistake as the pot gets farther and farther along.

Third, and most important for advancing in stakes, you make it easier on yourself to balance your range. When you have to balance not only the hands you are starting with, but also whether or not you have raised, you’re making it much more difficult to be balanced.

So, when we add all of these factors up, it seems clear that it’s best to be raising first in (we’ll talk about three-betting and cold calling in a later column). This is, however, the biggest difference between playing mid to high-level limit hold ‘em and mid to low-level limit hold ‘em. In games as low as $3-$6 or $5-$10 online, most players’ fundamentals are sound. They come into the pot for a raise almost always and three-bet quite frequently. Playing in a live setting, this is not the case. These players love to limp with all kinds of hands and get involved with speculative holdings from all positions. Since it’s the most common mistake I see people making, we should discuss some examples of hands I played or witnessed where there were one or more limpers.

Learning to beat these players and beat them soundly is going to add a lot to your bottom line.

Hand 1: The player five off the button limps, I raise next to act with QHeart Suit JClub Suit which I sometimes fold and sometimes raise from this position, depending on the situation. This time, I raised because I wanted to isolate the limper, and I spied a couple people to my left in the fold position. The big blind and limper call. Flop is 8-4-2 with two clubs. They check to me and I bet, both call. There are quite a few flops that I will check as the preflop aggressor in a multiway pot with position, but here I have two overcards, a backdoor-flush draw, and a backdoor-straight draw. Also, this isn’t a flop that really smashes anybody in the face, ever, so I’d like to get it heads up or win the pot right now if I can.

The turn is the 10Club Suit. Both players check to me and I have an interesting decision. This card is unlikely to have made anyone a pair, so, barring a flush, if I had the best hand on the flop, I still do most likely, which is an argument for betting.

However, most of the flushes that anyone would have made so far, considering there has been no aggression shown, would tend to be small ones. I have the JClub Suit to go with my gutshot and overcards. Again, I might actually still have the best hand since we’re dealing with one player who limped into the pot and the big blind who can have a very wide range. I decided to take the free card because I really dislike getting check-raised here and putting in two bets in a rather dubious spot.

I didn’t record the river in this hand because it was neither a queen, jack, 9, or club and because I probably got involved in another hand while recording this one, but it’s not really that important. Both opponents checked to me on the end, and again, I have an interesting decision. Do I try to bluff? I have the nut queen-high. If I bet, I’m most likely getting called by ace-high and any pair. There are literally no hands that call me that I beat, and of the hands that beat me, only king-high will fold. There are enough hands that I beat by the end, such as 6-5, 7-5, 7-6, 9-7, 5-3, etcetera, that I feel my hand is good enough of the time to just get a showdown and possibly win. I didn’t record the results of this hand and often don’t because it’s really not important most of the time. The only time where it’s important is when something can be learned from how my opponents played their hands.

Hand 2: Player five off the button limps, as does the four off and the hijack. I raise in the cutoff with AHeart Suit QHeart Suit and the big blind calls along with everyone else. The flop is Q-6-3 rainbow. Everyone checks to me and I bet with top pair, top kicker. Everyone calls. This is what I mean by forcing players to compound their mistakes. Not only have they limped, showing the weakness of their range, but now they are calling in, most likely, bad situations. True, the pot is already quite big, meaning they are possibly getting the right price with whatever hand they have, but they are probably throwing good money after bad.

Turn is the 2Diamond Suit, putting a flush draw on board. This is a somewhat worrisome card because the only good draw on the flop got there. Everyone checks to me and I bet again. The big blind and one of the limpers call. I clearly have the best hand at this point and both of my opponents have essentially the same range. They have hands like Q-x, a pair and a gutshot, a gutshot with an ace, or a pair and an overcard.

The river is another deuce and they both check to me. I bet, but now the big blind raises and the third player folds. Hmm, let’s think about what our opponent could have. He could have a slowplayed set, but that seems unlikely given all of the players that saw the flop. He could have 5-2 or 4-2. He could have a slowplayed 5-4, or he could be bluffing. I think he’s bluffing quite a bit in this situation, just because the river line is so weird. Since we’re getting 13.5-to-1, we only have to be right 7.5 percent of the time to show a profit. This is a clear call.

Remember that it’s important to realize what your opponent or opponents’ range is at all times and what your perceived range is at all times. In both of these instances, my decisions could have changed based on a few tweaks in my range or theirs. One way to adjust your own perceived range is to always try your best to be balanced and remember to take advantage of those limpers, because there are going to be plenty of them. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG