Guiding Principles

OK, just a few short, easy posts, trying to list some key ideas for players at a few different levels.

Top 10 for beginners:

  1. Avoid limping pre flop. Yes, there are spots where limping is the best play, but as a beginner, you’ll stay out of a lot of trouble by never limping.
  2. Pick some really strong hands for each seat (picking fewer if you are first to act pre flop, and more as you get closer to the button), and raise with them. Decide on what these will be before you sit down to play, and try to mostly stick to that.
  3. Pick a smaller list of really strong hands for each seat for if you have a raise in front of you, and 3 bet (raise again) those, and fold the rest.
  4. Don’t make min raises. You’ll normally want your raise to be 3 to 5 times the size of the bet already made. Min raises are kind of like limps: there are spots where they are great plays, but the vast majority of the time a normal sized raise will serve you better.
  5. When you have a lot of opponents, you need a much stronger hand to be ahead.
  6. Generally avoid making small bets with hands that are close to the best possible. Your goal in general should be to try and get all of your chips into the middle of the pot by the river (though be sure to remember #8).
  7. Be tighter about calling if there are players still to act behind you.
  8. Remember to re-evaluate how strong your hand is after every street. Many hands can start out feeling very strong, and switch to being behind to most of your opponent’s range by the river.
  9. Avoid making big bets with slightly strong hands. You mostly want to make your biggest bets with your best hands and your weakest hands. Doing the same with a more marginal hand largely means you are turning your hand into a bluff: weaker hands you would have been able to get money from will now mostly just fold, and the hands that will call will largely shift to the hands better than yours.
  10. Bluff sometimes, but try to keep it under control. Bluffing too much tends to be more disastrous than not bluffing enough. Straight draws and flush draws are often good candidates to bluff with, but you generally don’t want to do this with these hands every time, or you will probably be bluffing too much.
  1. Plan ahead. Have some idea how you will proceed on different runouts and when facing raises and so on. Imagine the perfect ending, then work backwards to plot a course to get you there.

I have cut out limping altogether (it is not a good strategy for me), but I appreciate that “never limping” is perhaps an old school strategy. That said, I would maintain that open-limping (especially in early position) is almost never the best play and over-limping in middle position is sub-optimal. This leads to the discussion question: When is limping the best play?

I can understand over-limping from the BN with a speculative hand (e.g., small pairs and small connected cards) when 3+ other players have limped and you don’t expect the blinds to raise, but other than that, I don’t know. When I enter a hand, the first question I ask myself is how to play the flop, which relates to SPG’s tip #11. Of course, this question is more difficult to answer in multiway pots. Basically, when limping into a multiway pot, what is the plan?

This is another concept that could benefit from further explanation – i.e., making your biggest bets with your weakest hands. Are you not also turning your hand into a bluff here?

Doesn’t the same logic apply to big bets with the best hands?

I’ll probably just create another thread, “When is limping the best play?”, to discuss this. As you mention, open limping is generally a larger mistake than other limps, especially when you have no discount on entering the pot.

You’ve obviously already described some of the spots where limping can be +EV.

I think the general plan here is “I hope I flop a monster”. LOL (I’m even mostly being serious about this).

Yes, any time you make bigger bets, you are decreasing the number of combinations of hands that will usually call. The main question: if I bet twice as much, do I get half as many calls? In general, doubling your bet size will not cut the calling combinations in half (especially if you are known to make similar bets with bluffs), but you’d better have a stronger hand for the value part of your range, as the hands that are still calling are now in general much stronger.

What’s the actual ratio that increasing bet size decreases calling range? Well, MDF (minimum defense frequency) probably provides a nice theoretical framework for how that should work, but the reality is that this is incredibly board and opponent dependent, and so you’ll really have only the most general of guesses most of the time. Such is poker…

I’d also note that I don’t usually start with MDF as my main consideration when making calls… but this might make another really nice thread at some point, so I’ll just leave it as a teaser for now.

Open limping sometimes can let you see more flops with hands that play well but would have to fold to a 3! preflop. Limping, especially when first to act, looks strong, so you are less likely to get raised and can give yourself more opportunities to win pots.

In a Dec. 2019 CardPlayer article, Ryan Laplante wrote…

“Open limping, especially off of shorter stack depths, has become a very common tool used by most pro players despite being considered a major leak by top pros as early as a decade ago.”

Source: Poker Strategy With Ryan Laplante: The New Poker Metagame


I think strong AI programs and solvers are overturning some overly general ideas on poker that were still mostly correct, and so I think most of the recent ideas legitimizing limping are just emerging as we see computers that play at a super-human level including some limping in their play.

So what conditions can make limping a good idea?

  • Solvers limp more in low or no rake settings, and reduce limping as rakes get larger. Rake on Replay tends to be relatively low, allowing for a bit of limping to be fairly solid.
  • If you really do have a big post flop edge on opponents, you get a lot of value from seeing the flop. The main problem here is obviously that it is very easy to delude ourselves about how much stronger we are than everyone else.
  • Limping behind one or more prior limps provides a degree of protection from raisers, as a raiser will usually expect one or more calls, and so will tend not to raise as broadly as the would if first to enter the pot). It also means that even if you do face a race, you’ll often get a call in front of you, which then provides you with better implied odds for your small pair, or suited, connected cards.
  • Solvers usually have limping ranges for the small blind against the big blind, when everyone else has folded, and for the button in heads up play.
  • You can find exploitative reasons to limp: if I have a player at the table that raises well over 50% of the time from a given position, I will often limp with some premium hands, attacking dead money from others that call in front of me.

Oh well… they overturned my new thread idea, and moved it back here.


As you no doubt know, I am a tournament player. Except at the start, I am rarely very deep, so different dynamics apply. From about mid point on, if I have 35 BBs, I do the Snoopy dance.

I limp far less than most of the players I face, but there are benefits to limping sometimes with some types of hands. Smallish to midling suited connectors are a good example. Since I am usually relatively short stacked, I want more people in the pot because I have to think more about direct odds and less about implied odds.

I don’t limp hoping to flop a monster, though that’s nice when it happens. I’m more looking to flop a good draw, and having more people in the pot means I’ll often be getting a good enough price to continue. This is especially true in the min bet happy, check crazy environment in which I usually play.

I can’t really afford to play strictly raise or fold, it just leaves too many chips on the table, too many missed opportunities. Limping now and then also gives me more chances to bluff, so there’s more than one way to win. I need to play every hand that has a reasonable chance of winning me a pot because the blinds won’t be going down any time soon.

But yeah, there are times a fella can limp, but you have to know when and why.


A little late to make an edit here. I limp here with the person that raises still to act behind me. In an ideal setting, this player is on the button, and raises 75% of hands or more. I’m in high jack, and two players in front of me limp, and I limp behind with AA, KK, AKs, or something else that I think is suitably strong for the play, and some occasional weak hands like A5s, 87s, or ATo. The button raises to 6bb over everyone, one of the blinds behind cold calls, and the two limpers in front of me also then cold call. I then raise to around 30 big blinds.

Top 10 for Improving Donkeys:

  1. Bank Roll Management: you might play pretty well, but if you bring a significant fraction of your chips to the tables at any one time, the most likely outcome is that the natural variance of the game will destroy your bank roll.
  2. Assess Your Leaks: if you want to improve, you have to take some steps to identify where you can improve. You can read a book; ask a stronger player what the biggest things are in your game they think you should improve; watch some of the great content on the internet; discuss poker with some friends and see how each of you would handle the same situation and why.
  3. Fold more hands pre-flop. You don’t need to see every flop. With 6 to 9 players, you really never need to play off suit junk, or even suited junk. T2 suited? Muck it. That limp with trash that only costs a meager 1 big blind, when repeated 10,000 times, is probably costing you thousands of big blinds (and it may well be much worse than that).
  4. Learn about pot odds and implied odds. When you call with an open ended straight draw, don’t think your implied odds are measured by your opponent’s remaining stack plus the pot, relative to the size of the bet you are facing. Your opponent is not going to call off for their entire stack when you hit 100% of the time. You need to think in terms of some normalized value that will reflect something close to the long term average.
  5. Pay attention to effective stack depth, especially relative to pot size. If you are short stacked, or your opponent is, speculative hands just won’t have the implied odds they need to be profitable, and pure high card strength becomes the dominant factor.
  6. Pay attention to your own bet sizes, and don’t fall into patterns where your bluffs are always one size, your super premium value always another, and your marginal value yet another.
  7. Don’t try to put your opponent on a single hand. Imagine they are some kind of quantum entity, simultaneously having all possible hands at varying frequencies that reflect how likely they would be to play a given hand the way they have so far.
  8. You will lose poker hands. You will do that a lot. You will make the best possible plays sometimes, and still lose all of your chips. Get used to it.
  9. Played the hand great, but lost all your chips. Congratulate yourself. Celebrate a little. Win a big pot but played it poorly. Let yourself feel a little embarrassed. You failed the quiz. Try to tie your psychological rewards to the quality of your decisions, and just ignore the results. This will really help in building habits that will reward you over the long haul.
  10. Pay attention to your own emotional state. Poker can really get your heart rate up, and engage your fight or flight response, and you cannot really think while experiencing that. Take a short break on the next hand or two, get up, walk around, and breathe. You want to be engaged in a cerebral exercise at the table, not fleeing from a T-Rex.

To be honest, they really shouldn’t do that.

The forum acts like a funnel, capturing people doing specific searches in the hopes of directing them to the poker site, where some of them will buy chips. Having a separate thread with “limping” in the title means people searching for that term have a chance of coming here. Rolling it into a “Guiding Principals” thread means they will not find it… it’s counter-productive.

Morover, the authors have specific ideas of how they want to organize their work. They might have plans to develop an idea further, and should be allowed to do it in the way they see fit. Since they are donating their time and effort, why make it harder on them?

1 Like

We’re on the same page here. I’m guessing maybe they don’t want a proliferation of different threads on the same topic, but I don’t really see that there is a whole lot of harm in that, and that this then makes it harder to find all of the discussions related to a particular theme.

1 Like

Top 10 for Aspiring Grinders

  1. When you bet for value, think of what worse hands you think will call the bet and sizing you are offering
  2. When you bluff, ask yourself what better hands you think will fold to your bet, and if you’ll get enough folds to make the play profitable
  3. Work on more precisely defining the hands you will raise from each seat, and and what conditions will prompt you to make modifications to those ranges
  4. Decide what kinds of boards you will mostly fire continuation bets on, and those where you will not bet most of the time
  5. Actively look for frequency leaks in your own game, and in the play of others
  6. Don’t be afraid to make calls you will lose most of the time if you have the right pot odds relative to your estimated chance of being ahead
  7. You don’t need to be truly balanced in every spot, but as your opponents improve, you do start to want most of your plays to be made at least some of the time by hands of very different strengths
  8. Try out different styles from time to time… becoming a different player every now and then makes it harder for your opponents if you play against the same people frequently, and is also a good way to stretch your skills
  9. Don’t evaluate hands by the result, or what your opponent actually had, but think of what plays will generate the most value against the full range or ranges you are facing
  10. Take a mix of aggressive lines and defensive lines, leaning towards aggressive when you have position, and somewhat more defensive when you are out of position
1 Like

When do you actually Play Sun power ??? I mean, you preach like you’re some poker God but you NEVER Play ??
Just Curious :slight_smile:

1 Like

I have no need to actually play. I wave my hands, speak the WORD, and others play for me.

You should be more specific. Where, exactly, have I ever been “preachy?”

Mom buys me 3 million chips a month, but says I’m not old enough to play yet. She says maybe when I turn 15 in a few years, (if I haven’t discovered girls yet) she will let me play. When she told me that, I got so excited that I peed myself a little. True story!

I’m a little curious too… what would motivate someone to write that as their first post? Can I come over and look inside your head? Thanks in advance!


Top 10 for me (stuff I’m trying to work on)

  1. Try to get better at evaluating who’s range a board favors, particularly in terms of polarization
  2. Get better at thinking about my whole range, and deciding what hands are best to check, raise, call or fold, not just from the incentives for the hands themselves, but in order to serve the whole range
  3. Try to better understand when I should be making polarizing bets, and how to decide to bet 1.2 times pot versus 1.8, or some other larger size
  4. When I want to be balanced, and I still don’t have #2 quite down, how can I better optimize my mix of bluffs and value?
  5. Someone throw me a life-vest when it comes to multi-way pots on wet boards please
  6. Really, can’t I count combos in light of blockers better than this after all this time?
  7. How do I pick bluffing candidates from the bottom of my range, where I have no draw of any kind?
  8. How can I keep my bet sizing balanced, so that every bet size has an optimal mix of bluffs and value, across all streets?
  9. When do I mostly want to play based on the incentives of my actual holding, and when based on the incentives of my range?
  10. How can I better find and exploit frequency leaks in other’s play?

I think this is a good spot to bluff more, with whatever sizing you would use with the nuts. Everyone is thinking that the board must have hit someone, might as well make them think it was you. This can work BECAUSE it’s so counter-intuative… nobody would bluff there. Amen.

1 Like

I don’t find bluffing hard here, especially with a hand with little showdown value, or one with a lot of outs. But that is still a long ways from feeling confident what the best lines are, and in general it seems harder to find the right lines when there are more players, as theory is less developed in those spots, and it is also somehow more difficult to evaluate your equity on really wet boards, as there are so many more combinations of high equity hands available.

1 Like