Too Much Limping
Perhaps the most glaring difference you’ll see between low-stakes poker games and higher-stakes games is the amount of preflop limping that occurs. Low-stakes, no-limit games contain a lot of limping.
It’s very common to have a $1/$2 table where a large percentage of any given poker hand is limped to the flop. Conversely, in most $5/$10 games, you could go hours without seeing an unraised pot.
When you think about it, it's not too hard to decipher why this is the case. Low-stakes poker games are filled with lots of people who are playing strictly for entertainment. They are there to have fun, and this is most often seen in a comparable free poker game. To them, having fun means playing hands whether they have a straight flush or nothing at all.
And, ultimately, playing hands means seeing flops.
A Low-Stake Strategy
An average poker player in a low-stakes game has no strategy, other than:
- Seeing as many flops as possible, for as cheaply as possible, with all their remotely playable hands.
- Hope to make a good poker hand postflop.
- Hope to get paid off with said good hand and win real money.
What often happens is that there just aren’t enough good players in these games ewho are playing a properly aggressive preflop strategy. Therefore the limp-happy individuals who play poker this way can continue playing that style and never really get properly punished for it.
Applying a Strong Preflop Strategy
With good players in the game, who know when and how to apply appropriate preflop pressure (this could be you!), then you will see how quickly limping cost you real money gambling.
Now time for a quick note: We are not saying that you should never limp preflop. Very few things in stud poker are that black and white. There are plenty of times where limping preflop is fine, or even good. Plenty of high-level players have a limping strategy that they can profitably employ in even high-stakes poker games.
What we are talking about in this Lesson (and advising against), is a limping “strategy” that you see in many low-stakes poker games, which is characterized by limping too often, with too many hands, in an unbalanced way, and with no real plan or reason for doing so, other than “I want to see the flop”.
The most basic problem with frequent preflop limping is that it almost always correlates with someone who is simply playing too many hands. Even most beginners will raise their very strong hands, so players who are doing a lot of limping (coupled with some raising) are usually limping many trashy hands that should just be folded.
Using Novice Poker Players to Your Advantage
Simply put, if any novice player is looking to clean up their poker game and plug some leaks, a very solid starting piece of advice would be to take a bunch of the worst hands that they feel like limping in with, and just fold.
Most frequent limpers are doing so in a very unbalanced manner. Future Lessons will go into more detail on the importance of a balanced strategy, but it's a fairly straightforward discussion when it comes to preflop limping: If you are generally limping all your medium-strength poker hands (and some trashy ones), but raising all of your strong hands, then you become incredibly easy to play against.
Good players can continually raise in position against your limps if they know that your range of hands simply won’t be strong enough to proceed against aggression on most board runouts.
What is a Marginal Poker Hand?
Marginal poker hands are called “marginal” because they make strong postflop hands too infrequently. To play them profitably means taking an aggressive approach with them, which begins by raising preflop. If you just always limping them, waiting to make big hands, and hoping to get paid off, then you simply will be losing money long-term with this approach.
Likewise, if you are limping lots of hands and only raising with your very strongest hands, then you will not be able to get enough value out of the strong portion (which is where most of your profit in stud poker games should come from).
It will be too easy for opponents to play against you. They can accurately put you on a narrow range of raising hands. They can play accordingly, looking to flop huge hands or get out cheaply when they don’t want to risk the table stakes.
Some players may interject: “But I do balance my limps with strong hands. Just last week I limp-reraised with Aces!”. That’s fine, but that isn’t enough to offset limping lots of bad to marginal hands.
Frequent limping in order to see as many flops as possible, for as cheaply as possible, is not simply a viable or profitable strategy; not even in low-stakes games, and especially not at any higher table stakes.
It’s very hard to have a balanced limping strategy, or one that is not easily exploitable by better players.
If you do find yourself frequently limping, then the first thing to change is simply turn some of those worst limps into folds. In other words, you are probably playing too many poker hands.