When you start with poker, one of the first things you are taught is not to openlimp: always raise, be the aggressor, etc. And this concept is very important indeed, as it allows you to pick up pots when noone has a particularly strong hand.
However, as you get more experienced with the game, you learn that in some specific spots you do want to start the hand by limping all or most of your range. These are usually situations where it’s too easy for your opponent(s) to play back at you, therefore you want to be careful starting the hand by putting chips out there.
The most common example is playing from the small-blind: while against a weak player you can get away with steals, experienced players will make your life hell by flatting a lot preflop then being sticky and aggressive postflop, using their positional advantage.
A less-known spot to mainly openlimp is on the button, with shallow effective stack: if you openraise a wide range, the risk reward ratio will be very benefitial for the blinds to run resteals on you. Check how the GTO charts look like (yellow: openlimp, blue: minraise, red: openjam).
17bb effective, button:
20bb effective, button:
In the rest of this post I’m going to argue that you should do even more limps than these charts suggest.
Reason #1: Your opponents make fundamental preflop mistakes against openlimps
Here is how the BB should react to your openlimps:
Note: almost all the broadways are checked, many of the suited aces are checked and some of the offsuit aces are checked as well!
None of these ever happens in practice: your average opponent will be very happy to jam all the Ax and all the broadway combos, leaving them with a fully capped range when it comes to postflop play. Limp-folding many times in row may be annoying, but much less annoying than raise-folding: checking the ranges we can see that when you limp-fold, it is likely that you forced your opponent into a mistake. When you raise-fold, there is a chance your opponent ran an exploit on you.
On the other hand, middling suited gappers (T8s, T7s, 97s, J7s, 98s, 87s) are jammed (they do okay against the traps of the button and can fold out a ton of dominating combos) – average opponent will barely ever make these moves, they are genuinely happy to take a flop for free with a pretty hand.
And GTO strategy also includes non-allin isolations (some monsters + some suited connectors + some offsuit disconnected trash): in low and mid stakes most of your opponents will not have bluffs in their non-allin isolation range.
I doubt you can find any other frequent spot in today’s game where population is this far from GTO. Lead them to this node with any marginal combo!
Reason #2: Higher stack-to-pot ratio, more info, lower variance
Raised pots with 17-20bb often end preflop or on the flop. By limping, you can inflate the stack to pot ratio, making it a mainly 3-street game. As many of your opponents will arrive to this node with phucked up ranges + they will have very little clue about your actual range, you will have an easy time manipulating them.
Reason #3: ICM
Independent Chip Model says: the first chip you commit is less valuable than the last chip of your stack. Therefore whenever you can choose between two strategies with the similar EV, ICM prefers the one which on average risks smaller portion of your stack.
It’s easy to see that openlimping perfectly suits the high ICM spots: you don’t have to commit chips on the early streets, where range vs range equities run close, you have 2-3 streets of information in position before you may decide to go all-in.
A2o, 54s, 55: why limp?
If you take a look at the 20bb GTO chart, the openlimps with broadways are pretty easy to understand: first, you have a ton of them, so if you play them with openraise, your opponents can resteal the shit out of you. Second, by limping you leave a ton of dominated combos IN your opponents’ ranges, allowing you to play for stacks with most of your top pairs.
However, you will see some surprising combos at the bottom of the openlimp range:
A2o, 54s, 55: why limp? Well, first of all board coverage is an important factor in GTO. Also, minraising or jamming with these combos are marginally plusEV, but associated with the broadway-heavy limp range, they have a great chance to boost their equity realization (by running successful bluffs and by hitting unexpected textures).
When it comes to postflop play, the main difference you have to keep in mind is that your opponents hold a lot more trashy, offsuit, disconnected hands than in single raised pots.
On one hand this means you can expect a lot more folds on flop, turn and river, even if at first sight the board seems to be really coordinated.
E.g. in a single raised pot you have to be cautious barreling 6h after cbetting on a Kd7h5h. While 6h is not a dream card to bluff barrel in limped pots either, you have to be aware that your opponent has combos like 72o, 52o, hands which are usually not called vs a minraise and which really struggle against a second barrel. This is especially true if your opponents go with their general reflexes, not taking the different ranges into account.
On the other hand, you have to be aware that an innocent looking 2 or 3 is not really a blank in limped pots: your opponent now has all the suited and offsuit combinations of them. Thanks God they don’t really leverage this fact, most of their actions will be honest, but still you have to be somewhat cautious on boards like 22X or 33X.
Let’s scratch the surface a bit more!
Here is what i expect your avarage midstakes opponent to arrive to the flop against your button openlimp 20bb effective:
(all pairs, Ax combos and most of the broadway hands are raised)
And here is what i suggest you to openlimp 20bb effective from the button.
(depending on your opponents you can mix in a bit more/fewer traps, up to you).
Which flops should we autobet and which flops should we be cautious on?
Axx, Kxx and Qxx flops are easy: you can bet whole range and you will pick up the pot with extremely high frequency. In my experience they are extremely honest on these textures, if they happen to checkraise, i suggest herofolding a lot.
What about the other boards? I’ve checked 10 interesting textures, here is how the pure GTO strategy looks like:
You can see that you should bet the least on low connected and low paired textures (you don’t have the nut advantage). Also worth mentioning that you should mainly use big (2bb) cbets on mid-connected textures (you have the nut advantage, but there are many turn cards which help your opponent’s range –> you want to make turns expensive.
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you can probably guess that I don’t suggest blindly following GTO. After getting the results of a simulation, first step should always be checking how much value you give up by extremely simplified strategies.
In this case I checked how much value we lose against a perfectly adjusting opponent if we cbet our whole range with 1bb or if we check our whole range:
The pot is 260 chips, in the 2nd column you can see the EV of the big-blind if i apply pure GTO strategy. In the 3rd column you see the EV of the big-blind if i’m forced to cbet 1bb, and in the 4th column the EV of the big-blind if i check my whole range.
Forced cbet is only really problematic on 532 and 522 (borderline on Q66 and 875).
Range check hurts you on 854 monotone, 962, J62, JT8, T76.
The first simplification you can make is taking 2-size cbetting off the table: there is barely any EV for the big-blind to gain if you operate without big size (2bb) cbetting.
Also, keep in mind that these EV changes are based on the assumption that the big-blind knows what you are doing and adjusts perfectly (checkraising a lot / probing the turn cautiously).
Here is how the big-blind should checkraise if you cbet range with 1bb:
I doubt there is any spot where your average mid stakes opponent checkraises more than 25% of the times, so I believe you can be quite wide with cbetting on almost any texture. On 522 and similar textures you probably mislead them better by checking your range, but on almost any other flop type you can get away with a wide 1bb cbet strategy.
Summary: by consciously engineered openlimping you can drive most of your opponents into making huge mistakes preflop and postflop. In addition you can lower the variance by forcing them to play flops, turns and rivers out of position with ranges they are inexperienced with, committing your chips with much higher certainty.
Here is a pack of interesting limped hands, have fun practicing: