Playing Limped Pots in Tournament Play
Limped pots seem to be a favorite of tournament players, but you can't really blame them. Tournaments are such that everyone wants to see a flop and hope for a big hand, but no one wants to risk any more than is absolutely necessary. Limped pots are particularly common in the early stages of tournaments, because there's a lot less worth fighting for in the pot. As an event progresses, however, raises will take precedence once the blinds become more and more valuable. Seeing a lot of flops is one of the best things that you can do in tournament poker provided that you have sound post-flop skills. If you frequently find yourself in uncomfortable post-flop situations, however, you may try to dwindle down the field a bit more when you have the opportunity pre-flop.
There's a big difference between playing a pot just because it's limped and playing a pot that might be limped. Since this might be a bit confusing, here's an explanation of what this means. If you are in late position with a total junk hand and there are five limpers involved, it doesn't necessarily mean that you should be calling. There are plenty of situations where your hand is going to be useless no matter what you do.
If you play enough tournaments (or even cash games), you'll pick up on those players who are action junkies and will try to see every flop that they possibly can, but you don't want to be that person. Now, playing a pot that might be limped means that you have a mediocre hand, but would still be comfortable with calling a raise. Say you are in middle position with a suited 8 9. You don't want to raise, you don't want to fold, but if you limp and face one moderate raise, you would be happy to call.
These are the exact hands that make the most sense to limp with. Limping with super strong hands will mean that you are selling yourself short. Limping with super weak hands is a waste of time and money. Limping with hands that want to see a flop at a fair price is practical.
Tournaments are often times seen as a playground of contradictions. Limping into a lot of pots is widely regarded as one of the worst strategies for online cash game players. This type of play is punished by more aggressive players. When you shift into the tournament scene, however, it's all but required. This brief section was added in so as to alleviate the concerns that a number of players inevitably have. Don't be misled into thinking that limping all the time is great, because it's not; it just so happens that sometimes tournaments cater to limped pots.
It should go without saying that if you totally miss the flop in a limped pot, there isn't much that you need to worry about in the way of post-flop strategy. Since there's so little money in the hand and you have a small chance of winning at showdown, placing any bets or making any calls would just be wasteful. You might be able to push some people off of their hands, but for what? The risk vs. reward in this spot just doesn't make sense. If you miss in a limped pot, move on.
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make in a limped pot is to slow play. What this means is that if you manage to hit the board, you should be betting out right away almost always. First, the pot is already small, so anything that you hope to win is going to require some extra work on your part. Second, slow playing in a limped pot is going to make your hand strength glaringly obvious. You don't want to be making massive check raises on dry boards when you managed to flop two pair. Either you are going to be in a cooler situation or you'll be scaring others out of the pot.
Think of all the reasons why checking a good hand on the flop while in a limped pot is bad. Your ultimate goal is to make as much money as possible. The first thing that you need to do is weed out the field and get value from anyone who wants to continue. In order to do this, you'll need to be betting out so as to make money from anyone chasing. Checking is going to do nothing more than allow a free card, which in turn sacrifices the value in your own hand. Bet out and build the pot, unless of course you are content with winning nothing more than the blinds.
Not only is betting out going to be much more deceptive than check raising, but it's also going to give you a better feel for where you stand in the hand. If you flop a hand like bottom two pair, you'll know that you are strong, but you should still give some consideration to the possibility that you aren't ahead. If you make a bet with this hand and face a re-raise, you'll be able to reevaluate where you stand and how you plan to move forward. Imagine that you had check raised instead. You would be much more likely to go all in right then and there. If you think that slowing down and controlling the pot size is in your best interest, a lead bet is going to give you this opportunity, whereas a check raise will make it quite difficult.
The fact is that most limped pots aren't going to end up being raise wars post-flop. You are really going to be aiming for a chance to win a decent pot much more often than you'll ever be stacking someone. With this information in mind, you should know that value betting is absolutely crucial. You are essentially trying to create the most profit possible out of what was once nothing. You need to be able to string your opponents along. Proper bet sizing is what will allow you to turn a limped pot into a respectable win.
If you are trying to get fancy against an opponent who only has a mild interest in the hand to begin with, you are only hurting your chances of making any money at all. In other words, keep your play in line with the context of the hand. You should be trying to coerce your opponents into forgetting that the pot was even limped in the first place by extracting one sizable bet at a time while not throwing up any red flags. Limped pots are what allow players to compile moderate wins while they wait for those rare massive wins, and they can and will make a big difference in your bottom line when all is said and done.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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