To Raise or Not to Raise – Why This Isn’t a Question

A leak shared by most beginners I’ve coached is to limp instead of raise whenever they’re the first to enter the pot.

When questioned many of my students would tell me that they limp because they want to see a lot of cheap pots. They want to get in cheap, flop big and stack their opponents. Each hand has the potential to do that.

I understand the thought process. I used to have it. However, having been coached and playing profitably for a couple of years now, I know that limping in preflop is a costly leak. There are some cases where it might be ok, but they’re more the exception than the rule. I first want to show you why limping in preflop is so bad, then I’ll show you what those exceptions are.

5+ Downsides to Open Limping

Are you thinking about open limping? Think again; there are many downsides to this weak-passive action. Here are my top 5.

1. You spew chips. Say the level is 10/20. Limping at this level doesn’t sound like it costs much, right? But hold on – if you limp every hand, 10 hands will cost you 200 chips. In a typical sit and go where starting stacks are 1500, that means you spewed more than 10% of your stack. That doesn’t include the times where you limp, someone re-raises you to 80, and you call for an additional 60 chips either (only to fold post flop).

2. Play in multi-way pots. Playing in family pots is great for when you’re playing hands like pocket 4s or 98 suited. When you flop a big hand like a set, straight, flush or combo-draw, your chances of being paid off increase.

However, when you play hands like pocket aces or kings, the value of your hand in a family pot goes way down. There are just so many more hand combinations that can beat you, your equity goes down. Many players don’t realize this, continue to play their premium pair like it’s the nuts and spend too much finding out it isn’t.

The point? When you have a premium hand you want to play against one player, two players tops. Your hand is more likely to be good in that situation.

3. You earn no value. When you have a hand like pocket aces or jacks, what is your goal? To stack the other player, right?

Well, you’re going to have a hard time doing that if your play is to limp in for 20 chips. Assuming you get 1 caller, that would make the pot on the flop 70 chips. If you have stacks of 1500 chips, there’s no way you can bet enough on the flop and turn to get your stack in on the river.

More than that, though, you want to raise up your premium hands to charge other hands an incorrect price to play. When you limp in you (often) give them the correct (implied) odds to come along with their baby pocket pair or one-gaper.

The argument I’m often presented with is that limping in with aces is good because, if you raise, you might not get any action.


But what would you rather accomplish? Pick up a small pot with a solid hand, or be put in an awkward spot where you’re probably not ahead (by much) and lose a lot of chips? Trust me – the former is a lot better, not to mention that you’ll have many, many opportunities to get action on your premium hands in the future.

4. You have no initiative. When you raise preflop and are called, you can continuation bet the flop to let your opponents know you still like your hand. Since you miss the flop 2/3 times, a continuation bet will often win it for you. However, if you don’t raise preflop you won’t have this initiative. Your opponents won’t give you credit for any sort of hand.

5. You can’t steal or resteal. If you don’t raise you won’t be able to steal the blinds. In passing up these opportunities you make it much harder to build your stack, forcing yourself to get lucky more often with your (un)made hands.

The bottom line is that when you open-limp you’re putting yourself at risk to lose big pots, even with seemingly strong hands, all the while passing on opportunities to pick up tiny pots that are instrumental in being a winning poker player. It’s a lose/lose situation.

Should You Ever (Open) Limp?

That depends on who you ask.

My opinion? I think so. That said, the situations where it makes sense to open limp are few and far between.

Here are two examples of when I think it’s ok to open limp.

1. When you have a short stack and premium hand (in a tournament). When you’re short in a tournament you have to resort to push/fold poker. However, in doing so you maximize the fold equity you have and will often miss out on getting action on your premium hands.

So what I like to do here is open limp hoping that someone thinks I’m weak and/or just want to see a cheap flop, and either raise or shove over me. Then you hope to hold and double up.

2. When you have pocket pairs in low stakes games. From my experience in lower stakes sngs, players don’t fold to your raises. Often times you end up in multi-way pots post flop, making it impossible to continuation bet profitably. This makes it much harder to play baby pairs.

So what I like to do is limp in with them. You’re going to get callers behind you anyway, and if any one of them catches a piece when you flop a set, you’re almost always going to get paid off.

The best part is that if you miss, you’re only out a big blind. Your decision on the flop is easy to make, too.

However, I only use this play for the first couple of levels of a tournament. Up to the 15/30 or 25/50 mark, depending on stack sizes. After that it’s too expensive to limp in with every baby pair, not to mention that your implied odds go way down.

Those are the only times I can see open limping as an ok play. They’re creative solutions to common problems I’ve faced in the games I play. Outside of these situations, I recommend raising nearly 100% of the time. If you follow my advice I’m sure that you’ll see that it’s a more profitable way of playing.