Strategy in Action is a monthly feature written by a ‘recreational grinder’ who’s studying our training material in order to consistently beat $1/$2 and build a bankroll. You can read the introduction here.
I am convinced some $1/$2 players could have ‘Never Limp’ tattooed on their knuckles and still limp four hands per orbit.
Intelligent, thinking poker players who dabble in $1/$2 at the casino have tried to argue to me that limping can be profitable.
In my experience, limping is THE fundamental mistake happening at live $1/$2 NLHE. When I stopped limping cold turkey three sessions ago, my results improved. But more importantly, my fearlessness grew at the table. Knowing you have a solid leg up on all the players that are mindlessly limping is a huge advantage and confidence-booster. It’s something that pains me to publicize because I don’t want anyone else at the table to realize it. I can directly attribute most of my profits right now to never limping. It’s where the money is coming from, and where the money isn’t being leaked.
Doug Hull’s Poker Plays You Can Use advocates this approach as one of many “Missions” in the back of the book. Doing these missions is what converted me into a ravenous consumer of Red Chip Poker strategy content.
“Never limp” is a blunt instrument. I know one day I will limp again. For now, I have yet to see a reason to limp because I just see limpers get punished all day. I am now one of the people who punishes them. All the novice poker players I know start their losing hand stories off with limping.
One thing I notice while not limping is the psychology behind limping. When you fold 5♥4♣ and the flop comes 4♦ 4♥ 5♣, there’s a little, irrational voice in your subconscious, identifying a reason to limp crap hands. I have never been superstitious or much of a gambler, and now I can see that those who limp with crap as a habit are quite happy to limp and sometimes call your open raise. Even if you sat them down and explained why they should not limp, they’d probably go on doing it anyway. Whether they’re bored, they’re blissfully ignorant, or just fans of losing money, limpers are now an untouchable caste that I want no part of.
This for me was the simple key to understanding why not to limp: More often than not, limping puts you in a tough spot with a not-so-great hand. If you do your homework and look at the implied odds of getting paid off, it may well be worth your while. But the vast majority of the time, you are setting yourself up for a fall.
For this session, I would continue never limping. Raising preflop limp fest pots takes beefy open raises and chunky C-bets, so that’s what I would cook up.
Don’t Pay People Off
There is a reason the name Ed Miller carries a lot of prestige in the poker community. He is one of the top thought leaders in poker strategy, constantly inventing new ways to teach others how to be among the best players at the live card room.
His video series The Course (a companion to the book of the same name) has been invaluable to my game. It plots the way from $1/$2 to $2/$5 and eventually $5/$10. So far I’ve listened to all the $1/$2 material and there are so many gems, I’ll surely be re-watching everything.
The biggest takeaway was the chapter “Don’t Pay People Off”, something Miller has been preaching for a while now.
At its simplest, the idea is that players who are betting aggressively at $1/$2 have what they believe to be the best hand. In spots where they are shoving or making a sustained, multi-street betting attack, they almost certainly have it. There is no way they are bluffing more than a single-digit percentage of the time. Miller describes the nuances around this idea and more specifically how to exploit it.
With such a small bankroll ($1610), I want to be minimizing my opportunities to go broke. This should compliment my no limping strategy. Yes, it may be a bit nitty, and I do plan on working on aggression down the line, but for now I’d rather make small, conservative gains, if only for morale.
Hitting the FeltI buy in for $250, with a $250 bullet in my pocket. I’m thinking that my confidence is getting to the point where a max buy in should be automatic, but I’m nitting it up for a little more padding on the bankroll.
I sit down at the table and almost immediately get to exercise the “Don’t Pay People Off” move. This was the only hand of the session that disturbed me enough to go to the forums and get the expert advice of the Red Chip community. The hand is explained an analyzed so well in the forums, I encourage you to read why I folded a royal flush draw on the turn to a shove and then come back here.
This hand continued to bug me, and when a hand bugs me, it’s usually a sign I did something wrong. While the forum was supportive of most of my thinking, they did suggest looking closer at the concept of SPR, or stack-to-pot ratio, and suggested more aggressive lines as potentially better alternatives. I made it my post-session mission to learn more about SPR (I only had a vague notion) and how to play more aggressively.
Settling back into “Never Limp”, I quickly get to work when dealt some premium hands:
Hero ($200) has A♠K♠ in the cutoff, raises 3 limpers to $20, gets 2 calls, flop Q♦ 7♣ 4♣, checks to Hero who bets $45, everyone folds.
Hero ($240) has A♣J♠ on button, raises 2 limpers to $12, gets 1 call. Flop 9♥ 5♥ 4♣, checks to Hero who bets $20, opponent folds.
Hero ($270) has Q♥Q♣ on button, raises 3 limpers to $20, gets 2 calls. Flop J♦ 9♣ 7♣, checks to hero who bets $45, 1 call. Turn is 5♦. Checks to Hero who puts opponent all in for about $100, they tank-fold.
Hero ($340) has A♦Q♠ on button, calls an EP raise to $10 from a short stack after called by the hijack. Big blind (we cover) calls too. Flop A♠ 9♣ 2♥, EP raiser shoves $75, hijack folds, Hero moves all in, big blind folds, opponent flips A♣3♥ and doesn’t get there.
I am not saying I played any of the above hands perfectly. I’m certain there’s room for improvement, and I’d love to hear why not in the comments so I can get better.
But I do feel like I did a good job of applying the “Never Limp” strategy and then following through with dutiful C-bets. Looking back, I wonder if I perhaps missed some value here and there during my session by playing too straightforward and TAGgy, and I’ll note this next to my intention to study aggression for the next session.
After just over two hours of play I cash out for $149 and decide to enter a $75 tournament that my friend bought into. For now I’m resigned to play tournaments as pure entertainment, so I won’t be intermingling my cash bankroll and my tournament bankroll. I’ll probably play 4 tournaments all year.
Don’t get me wrong, I love tournaments, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to playing them and studying them like I did pre Black Friday. This tournament at the Sands becomes a shove-fest by the end of hour two. I manage to run hot for a while (I get shoved on and hold up with QQ, TT, KK and 99 respectively), but my AK eventually loses to one of the chipleaders’ AQ when a queen hits the turn. I’m out in 35th place out of 105, 20 off the money.
I manage to squeeze in another session a few weeks later, and have many more straightforward, non-showdown hands like I did above. I walk out after 3 hours up $178, bringing my bankroll up to $1,937. I’m not feeling cocky, because I know variance is hiding around the corner. Still, being a 1/3rd of the way from my $6,000 20-month goal feels pretty good for now, so I’m going to revel in it and then study hard for a longer session next time. Then I realize I’m only really up $437 and I’m going to Vegas in just over four months!
Strategizing for Next Time
Now it’s time to identify study material to focus specifically on (1) SPR and (2) aggression. Here’s the study buffet I’ve cooked up for next session:
- Learn SPR in 9 Minutes – video & quiz by SplitSuit
- SPR Strategy and Concept in Poker – article by SplitSuit
- How to Play Small SPR Pots – video series by SplitSuit
- Preflop Raise Sizing – PRO video by Christian Soto
- 5 Questions to Answer Before Playing a Hand – podcast by SplitSuit
- How to Be a More Aggressive Player – podcast by Splitsuit, Hull, Soto, Gano, Little, Haynie, Cardner and James
- Aggression in Live Games – PRO video by Christian Soto and SplitSuit
- Optimizing TAG: More Suited Gappers – PRO video by SplitSuit
- Optimizing TAG: Suited Connectors – PRO video by SplitSuit
- Optimizing TAG: AX – PRO video by SplitSuit
- Three-Bet Ranges – PRO video by Andrew Brokos
- 100% Poker Aggression – PRO video by SplitSuit
Thanks for coming with me on this journey through applying real poker strategy to a live $1/$2 game. See how everything worked out in Episode #2 – Plan Ahead Poker.