The No Limping Experiment

Experiments are cool.

THE SUSHI EXPERIMENT

My first sushi experience was in the early 80s. I’d just moved to the San Francisco area; a new friend, Jack, said, “Hey, we’re going into San Francisco for sushi, you should go with us.” I told him I’d certainly heard of sushi but had never had it. “All the more reason for you to come with us.”

I figured it would be a new and different experience, and I’d get to meet some of his friends. They started me out with the “newbie” fish (maguro and hamachi). I tasted them and thought, “It’s fine, but I don’t see what all the excitement is about.” At the same meal was a woman in whom Jack was interested. She took one bite, made a face, and spit it out. I, however, became addicted to sushi within a few months.

Fast forward 30-odd years; I’ve eaten a lot of raw fish in the intervening years, and to my knowledge, the woman hasn’t had another bite of sushi since, but she has been married to Jack for over 25 years. Experiments can take you interesting places.

Which brings me to today’s topic—no limping. That is, the idea you never just call the big blind when coming into a pot. You either raise or fold. The rule doesn’t count if there’s already been a raise in front of you (that’s a different experiment).

First, why would you do this experiment? There are some good reasons to have a “raise or fold” policy. Raising forces players behind you to invest more if they wish to continue. It tends to reduce field sizes, which is always to your benefit when playing out of position. As you get to later position, raising has more potential to fold out everybody between you and the button, snagging the strategic high ground for the rest of the hand. It’s difficult to overstate the value of accomplishing this.

And presuming you’re playing high-quality hands, raising puts more money in the pot when your hand strength is, on average, higher than your opponents’.

Perhaps the single most compelling argument for a no-limping policy is it closes one of the biggest leaks many poker players have: a tendency to limp into pots with marginal/trashy hands for a small amount of money, hoping to smash a flop.

That presents two problems:

Often that small amount of money gets bigger when somebody decides to take advantage of a bunch of limpers and drops a big raise on them. Now you have the option to forfeit your original investment or pay more money with a marginal/trashy holding. Neither choice is attractive.

Trying to cheaply smash a flop with a trashy hand doesn’t work, simply because you don’t smash flops any better than anybody else does. Your strategy is no better than that of anybody else who’s just hoping to accidentally flop a monster with a bad hand.

Here is the correct approach to all forms of poker: play fewer hands, play strong hands, and force your opponents to invest more in hands inferior to yours. This is a summary, and there are nuances and exceptions, but it’s the basis for winning at poker.

Having a raise/fold policy forces you to draw a line between “hands good enough to raise” and “hands not good enough to play at all,” eliminating the gray in between.

I’m not going to say where I think you should draw the line; it’s a discussion among your brain, your heart, and your conscience. I suggest, for the period of this experiment, you discard the “limp in” range from your starting hand range. That means redistributing everything in the “limp in” range between the “fold” and “raise” ranges; the details of that are, again, up to you.

But…“What about <circumstance X> against <opponent Y> and <context Z>?”

I am sure you can imagine a scenario for which many poker players, perhaps including me, would say, “Sure, that’s a fine time to limp.” The problem, of course, is the first exception is a slippery slope down which you can slide to limping all kinds of garbage hands.

Remember, this is just an experiment. You can try it for an hour, or a session, or a month. But for whatever time period you pick, go cold turkey on limping; that will give you the best understanding of what it’s like and how it works for you.

DO I DO IT?

Yes, in most circumstances (noting the slippery slope). I have a small well-defined set of hands I open limp under the right conditions. I’m not discussing either the set of hands or the conditions here. Suffice it to say if I were forced to do a pure no-limp strategy, my results wouldn’t change much.

Most of all, remember this is an experiment. You’re not making a 30-year commitment to seafood or a marriage. Try it for a session, or two weeks, and let me know.

Who knows, you might find you like not limping as much as I like hamachi.


Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.