I was watching Casino Malaysia After Dark the other night (the best poker show around IMHO), and Phil Hellmuth was going on about how he and Daniel Negreanu recently ‘invented’ the sophisticated play of limping with a monster hand on the button. He went on to pontificate about how it was such a clever and advanced technique, that mere average players (like Doyle Brunson, Huck Seed, Chris Furgeson etc) wouldn’t understand it.
Funny thing is, a few days before Fox8 aired an old 1st season WPT episode and one of the players was T.J. Cloutier. Who was, you guessed it, limping hands like A K and pocket kings from the cut off and button. And it didn’t look like any ‘new invention’ to him, rather more like a tried and practiced technique honed over a lifetime of experience. I’ll have to re-read Mr Cloutiers book and see if he explains it there. When I first read it a few years ago I don’t think I had the knowledge to understand it anyway.
PH’s claim aside, pre flop limping with big hands from late position is worth some consideration. It seems to fit well into the MTS philosophy too.
Let’s look at A K first – apart from pocket jacks, probably the hand most people lose the most money with. Conventional wisdom says to raise and re-raise with this hand. So say we get a few limper’s around to the button and put in a 3-4 x BB raise. We will most likely get called by two types of hands, A x which we dominate, or small to medium pocket pairs, which are ahead of us slightly. If we get re-raise, it is not unlikely someone slow playing aces, kings or queens, but since that doesn’t happen very often, let’s leave that out for the sake of this argument.
If the call is from A x, we are in good shape. Unless of course the flop comes a Q, J or ‘x’, or is all one suit, or 2 of the same suit. But the odds are only about 18% that our opponent has hit, so we are probably still in good shape.
If the call is from pockets, and an A or K hits on the flop, then our hand has to be good. There is only about an 8% chance our opponent hit trips, since we have taken one flop cards to pair with.
The next thing that will happen is; if our opponent has hit a monster, say a flush, a flush draw or trips, they are almost certainly going to check. Only if they have hit a smaller pair with their ace kicker might they make a probe bet (in which case, we should probably fold). They will also check if they hit nothing. So we don’t get any information there and we need to make a continuation bet if we hit or not.
Our continuation bet goes in and it called. Hmmm, we could be in trouble. Whatever the turn comes, we could be drawing almost dead. If we have top pair by now and our opponent makes a half pot bet, what do we do? If they check, do we check and let another card come off? If we bet and they call, what does that mean? Whatever the case, it is a sticky situation.
Now let’s look a pocket aces or kings. Aces is easy, no overcard is a threat, but a paired board isn’t nice to see, nor is a three flush or three straight. Again if we are faced with check-calls, what does it mean? Kings is the same, with the added vulnerability of an ace hitting – always a joy to see.
And that is just with one caller. What if there are two or three callers to our pre-flop raise? Not at all uncommon is low buy-in or fields with weaker players.
While it is absolutely the right thing to to to play those hands aggressively in the infinite cash game, in a tournament that action can easily, and any number of ways, cripple our irreplaceable chips.
Now what happens if we limp with those hands? Well true, there will be two or three more players in the pot, but we are in position against all of them and we have completely disguised the strength of our hand. What’s more, we have committed very little to the pot, and should the flop and/or post flop betting prove unfavorable, it is easy to get away from.
On the other hand, if there is a raise pre-flop from an earlier position or the blinds, that raise will do a better job of thinning the field than our (steal on the button) raise will do. So we can just call that, keeping the strength of our hand still somewhat disguised (they put us on tens or jacks maybe), and if an ace or king hits on the flop, we are in a very good position to suck out big time.