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Poker Strategy | Tournaments Strategy

Raising Pre-Flop Limpers

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When there are multiple limpers in a pot, there are three options you have as a poker player. You can fold, limp as well, or raise. Limping in is always a viable option, especially when the stacks are deep, because the implied odds in an unraised multi-way pot are usually excellent. A common play that is often made is to “punish the limpers” by putting in a big raise. The option that you choose will depend on several factors.

#1 – who the limpers are. This is the most important factor because every player limps in for a different reason and having an understanding of a particular player’s motives for limping in a given hand will help you make the correct decision. If the players that have limped in are the type of players that are looking to see a cheap flop, then it's often a good assumption that their hands would not be able to withstand a raise and that raising is an excellent option. However, let's say that the table has been ultra-aggressive with significant pre-flop raising and two people, who you know to be smart and savvy players, have limped in. What are the chances that they did this with a big hand in hopes of getting someone to come over the top of them? In this case, limping (or folding for that matter) are better options because you can potentially win a big pot if you hit it. Know who is in the hand before deciding which option to pursue.

#2 – what the blinds are. The earlier in the tournament, the less likely a raise will induce all the limpers to fold. The reason being is that a call is usually a smaller percentage of their stack. Later in the tournament, the opposite is true.

#3 – what the stack sizes of the involved parties are. If a player has limped in with only 5-6 big blinds left, there is a good chance that they will not fold and a raise will not work. The best time to “punish the limpers” is when you can make a raise that is large enough to put a serious dent in the limpers stack sizes but at the same time is small enough that it will not cripple you if you are called.

#4 – your position. A lot of people like to punish limpers out of the blinds, but there is an inherent problem with this. What do you do if you are called? At least if you are punishing from the cutoff or button and get called pre-flop, you will have the advantage of acting last post-flop.
One last note on punishing the limpers with a raise. A common mistake that players make in these instances is to raise too little or too much. There is no need to move all in for 50 big blinds and a raise of 3 big blinds will seldom get the job done. A good starting point is to take the number of limpers and add +1 big blinds to your standard raise for every limper there is. For example, if your standard raise is three times the big blind and there are three limpers, you would want to make your raise six times the big blind.

When you have decided to raise a bunch of limpers pre-flop, more often than not you are hoping to take the pot down right then. As with most things in poker, however, no play is guaranteed to work 100% of the time and you will often find yourself facing a post-flop decision. The automatic school of thought that nearly every poker player has been told time and time again is to fire out a continuation bet. However, blindly betting just because you were the pre-flop aggressor is a huge mistake. You need to know what the tendencies of your opponents are first and foremost. What kind of hands do they limp in with and call a large re-raise with? Did the board help this range of hands? If it did, then you might want to err on the side of caution and check and see what they do on the turn. If they check again on the turn, then you could fire a delayed continuation bet, a play that has a higher probability of success because you have more information available to you by your opponent checking twice. If you don't think the board helped their range of hands, then a continuation bet is the correct play to make.

Another important factor is the size of the pot. Too often, players will end up over committing themselves in bad spots because they feel they have to follow through on their bluff. For example, let's say there were four limpers and you decided to make it eight big blinds to go with 9-7 suited. You get two callers. The flop comes Q-8-5 with one of your suit. The two callers check to you. There are approximately 25 big blinds in the pot. A standard continuation bet is going to be between 12-20 big blinds. If you're playing in a typical tournament, this could be 25% or more of your stack. Is this really a place you want to be risking a quarter of your stack?

This doesn't mean that just because you were called that you need to be scared to fire out a bet. Your opponents are the ones that have shown fear and you should take advantage of that most of the time. If there is a high probability that your opponent will fold if you bet, despite the fact that they might have the best hand, then you should do just that.

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