In our first installment we learned how to open the pot for a raise for the primary purposes of thinning the field, building a pot, and of course to sustain ourselves by taking down the blinds. By raising, we sought to create an small field where we could win the pot in one of two ways: either by our good hands holding up or by our opponents folding. When someone limps into the pot before the action reaches us, they are threatening to create quite the opposite environment from the one we are usually trying to set up. Limpers attract more limpers, and before we know, it the pot is fourhanded. This threatens our EV by diminishing our chances of both winning at showdown and making the field fold. We shall be defining how to react to limpers by splitting our hands into three categories:
The first question we should ask ourselves when encountering limping before us is whether our hand will benefit the most by making an iso-raise. In my book, The Grinder’s Manual, I stipulated three key attributes that make a situation a good one in which to iso. Here they are:
(A) Frequent Strength: This factor is all about how frequently our hand will make something strong on the flop. By ‘frequently’ we mean hands that are easy enough to flop such as top pair decent kicker or a flush draw. Powerhouse hands such as sets are very nice, but they do not come around often enough to be called ‘frequent’. Consequently, we should think of starting hands such as AA, QQ and AQs as having a great deal of frequent strength; hands like KJo and A5s as having a fair amount of it; and hands like 44, 54s and A6o as having relatively little.
(B) Fold Equity: This concept is central to the EV of so many of the decisions we make as poker players. A good interpretation of ‘fold equity’ is simply the percentage of the time that our opponents fold, thereby increasing our EV (Expected Value). While we cannot know the exact numerical value of our fold equity, we can estimate whether it is likely to be higher or lower based on how many people have limped, the player types who have limped, and how many loose players there are left to act behind us. The better the fold equity appears to be for us, the weaker the required frequent strength of our hand for isolating.
Example 1: Let’s imagine that two very loose reckless players limp in UTG and the HJ and the action reaches us in the CO. We also know that the BB is very call-happy and is likely to be easily tempted by a multi-way pot. This is clearly a situation in which we need greater frequent strength to isolate. Here, hands that flop good one pair a lot like AJo or QJs are still worth trying to thin the field with as they crave a heads-up, or at worst, a three-way pot. However, in this situation we will not be able to raise too many worse hands than these due to the likelihood of being called by multiple opponents.
Example 2: This time the action reaches us on the BU. CO has limped, but he is a very passive and fit-or-fold player, likely to give up either now or when he does not connect too well with the flop. The blinds are tight and not looking to get involved in pots lightly. This is an enormously different spot to the example above. Now we should gladly isolate with hands as speculative as 85s and K8o. All of the conditions are right for it. In other words, we have a great deal of fold equity so we need very little frequent strength.
(C) Position: Being in position (acting last post-flop) is a very powerful advantage indeed. The power of information and heightened control over when money goes into the pot vastly increases EV in almost every situation where stacks are relatively deep. Therefore, being in position increases the EV of any poker investment, especially making an iso-raise. While this factor is not quite as impactful as the two preceding ones, it can tip the balance very easily in favour of deciding to iso. In Example 2 above, we might not be so eager to isolate as wide as 85s if we were in the SB and had to act first on every subsequent street. The weakest hand I would raise with in that instance might be something like 87s, 76s or JTo. Position can be a real deal-breaker when it comes to isolating.
Note that the requirement for these three factors is inversely proportionate. The more of A we have the less of B and C need. The more of B we have the less of A and C we need and so on and so forth.
The limper has created extra incentive for other players to join in the fun. This means that we should take extra measures to dissuade them when we have a hand with which we desire to thin the field. A good rule here is:
Raise to 3BB plus one extra BB for each limper and each very loose player left to act behind. Add a further BB if limpers have position on us.
This creates a preemptive disincentive for our opponents to create a multi-way environment that our hand cannot tolerate. For example, if we are on the BU, two players limp, and one calling station waits in the blinds, we might want to size right up to 6BB (3+1+1+1).
It is almost never okay to open-limp (limp as the first player into the pot) in 6-max cash because open-raising is almost always a better play. Limping behind other limpers however, is a different beast altogether and something we might often consider. There exists a type of hand that actually prefers the multi-way climate caused by the limper. These are hands with low frequent strength, but high implied odds.
Hands with high implied odds are ones that are currently experiencing a favourable ratio of investment to average payout if they connect in a huge way. It follows that high implied odds hands are hands that are capable of connecting in a huge way some meaningful amount of the time. We shall take ‘huge’ here to mean better than one pair. The natural candidates for limping behind then are small pocket pairs like [22-66] and suited connecters that do not make large pairs EG. 87s. By getting in cheaply with these hands after a limp, where fold equity is already shrinking, we keep our investment down the times we miss and are forced to give up on the pot, while still giving ourselves the chance to flop a huge hand. The more opponents that enter the pot, the better our implied odds become as the chances of being paid of increase. We can see that the limpers create an environment that these hands are actually happy to see.
Remember that capitalising on fold equity to steal blinds was one of the primary reasons for open-raising. When someone limps before us, our fold equity decreases so it is only natural that the bottom of our stealing range from late position becomes a fold when others have already entered the pot. Try not to view these limps as an insult for interfering with your default raising strategy, but as a kind warning that certain hands are no longer profitable to play. For example, we would happily open-raise K9o on the BU, but when two players limp before us, such a poor holding turns into garbage. We do not have the fold equity plus frequent strength to iso here and neither do we have the implied odds and multi-way playability to limp behind. Our hand becomes a clear fold.
Encountering limpers is very common when you first begin your poker journey in the micro-stakes. However, as poor a strategy as open-limping generally is in 6-max cash, fear not – many opponents will continue to make this mistake even as you move up through the stakes. Having a solid grasp on when to isolate, when to limp along, and when to fold is an invaluable and eternal poker skill to master.