Playing Straddle Poker

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Many players that are newer to live games, or very active home games, may be thrown off by the simple question “do you straddle?”  In poker, a straddle is a blind raise preflop (before the cards are even dealt) that essentially acts as a third blind in the pot.  There are different kinds of straddles but the overall premise and approach is very similar.  This article is going to explain how straddling works, whether or not you should do it, and how to adjust in games with an active straddle.

Straddle In Poker

There are 3 major kinds of straddles:

  • UTG Straddle: This is the classic straddle where the UTG player puts out double the big blind BEFORE getting dealt cards.  UTG then acts last preflop.
  • Mississippi Straddle: This straddle gives the button the opportunity to straddle first (for 2x the big blind), and if he defers the option rotates counter-clockwise.  Again, all done BEFORE getting dealt cards.
  • Un-capped Straddle: This removes the “double the big blind” limit on the straddle size.

Not all poker rooms allow straddling, so it’s best to check with the floor to ensure it’s acceptable.  And most online rooms don’t offer the option to straddle, so this is really more of a live poker phenomena.  In Vegas many rooms allow UTG straddles and Mississippi’s are allowed in certain rooms…though it’s pretty rare to see un-capped straddles for $1/$2 and $2/$5 games.  Knowing what a straddle is helps, but how do you answer the question:

“Should I Straddle This Pot?”

First let’s understand the mechanics of what this blind raise does.  If we look at a normal $2/$5 game, the blinds are $2 and $5 and say the average stack at the table is $500.  This means the effective stacks in each hand are 100bb.  This is pretty common-place and an effective stack range that most online players are familiar with.  But how does a straddle influence things?  Well if we take the same $2/$5 table and put an UTG $10 straddle into the mix, the effective BB is now $10, making each $500 stack essentially 50bb to start the hand.  By adding a straddle the effective stack sizes have dropped in half before the cards are even dealt!

This can be a beautiful thing if you are a great midstack poker player, or if the average stack size were $1,000 (200bb) and you want to straddle and get the game back to effective 100bb play.  But most players don’t actively practice 50bb play and not all players are bankroll prepared to effectively jump up to $5/$10 (what a straddle at $2/$5 essentially does).  Another thing to consider is that when you straddle UTG you are putting in more money from one of the worst positions at the table.  And because a straddle is done BEFORE the cards are dealt there is a huge chance that you will be dealt total junk.

Weak Poker Hands

So as a pure default I wouldn’t suggest straddling the pot.  Why put in extra money, halve the effective stacks, and all from the worst non-blind position at the table?  That being said, and like everything in poker, there are select situations where straddling could be best:

“When Is Straddling Best?”

1. When it’s socially acceptable: There are some live tables where straddling is the norm and it’s drilled into the game.  Rather than defer your option to straddle and make everyone hate you, why not just straddle as well and sacrifice the bit of EV for keeping the table jovial and gamblery?  If the table ever offers up the option to do a round of straddles I always accept it.  It gets people in the right mood and also keeps them there.  Now I can hear my mom in my ear saying “James, if all of your friends were jumping off a bridge would you jump too?”…well I wouldn’t jump off a bridge but if everyone were straddling I would happily straddle as well!

2. When you can go for straddle/bang often: The added benefit of straddling is that you act last preflop.  You straddle, things happen, and then it’s your option if the pot hasn’t been opened.  If it’s the kind of game where you straddle, a bunch of players call the straddle and then you can raise them when it comes back to you…it can be a great spot.  If you take a $2/$5 example where you straddle for $10 and 4 people call, that means there is ~$55 in the middle that you can try and attack with a nice big raise.  This isn’t a super common dynamic because most players loosen up their standards more in straddle pots and thus won’t fold as much…but there are select games where this can be a super profitable setup.

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3. On the button with good players in the blinds: When you straddle on the button you force the blinds to act first.  By making this button straddle I force them to act first which will almost certainly induce a ton of folds at a full table.  This essentially takes them out of the hand and of course puts us on the button giving us postflop position if we go there.  Still consider the rest of the table and also the fact that button straddling isn’t always the most common allowance in casino poker rooms.

“How To Play When It’s Straddled?”

Even if we aren’t actively straddling at a table we’ll still have to deal with pots where another player did, and having at least a basic game plan is great.  Since we know that straddling cuts the effective stacks in half (or lower if the straddle is uncapped) we need to adjust accordingly.  This means our preflop decisions become super important as won’t have very deep SPRs postflop which makes playing drawing hands too tough.  This is where having a short-mid stack strategy is particularly useful and understanding how to leverage your stack size when being aggressive preflop.  It would take an entire book to write good strategy on this subject, but here are some quick pointers that can help:

1. Small pairs & suited connectors: Wave goodbye to these hands!  Given the smaller stack sizes (especially in games where players started with 100bb and now have 50bb effective with the straddle on) it becomes too tough to play these hands.  We aren’t getting a good price on our stack and calling raises is pretty much out of the question when you consider the 25x rule.  If the straddle didn’t totally nuke the effective stacks under 50bb then just play normal poker with these hand types.

2. Stop calling raises: With effective stacks of 50bb or lower it’s usually not profitable to call preflop raises.  These preflop raises represent too much of our starting stack and calling just puts us in a -EV situation.  Even in multi-way pots you are trading multiple sources of implied odds for an even smaller SPR pot and it will be -EV most of the time.  Rather than call consider using your stack leverage and 3betting and pressuring your opponents rather than constantly calling and praying that you smash the flop.  And remember, folding is totally acceptable!

Stop calling preflop raises

3. Know thy straddler: Understand who the straddler is and how they are likely to react if you open-raise, if you open-limp, or if you limp behind.  For instance, there are some straddlers that will always protect their straddle and will call tons of preflop raises.  There are others that will raise anytime it’s limped to their straddle.  And of course many that will just treat it like any normal pot.  Look for situations where you can limp in with big hands to induce sizable raises by the straddler.  These spots may not be super common but they are a nice adjustment that will allow you to exploit an aggrotard with ease.  In games where the entire table isn’t straddling constantly I tend to assume a one-off straddle is done by more of a gambler and thus will take lines that exploit them accordingly.

splitter

Overall, I don’t suggest straddling in most situations.  It’s generally a -EV play that will do nothing but burn money and increase the cost of each orbit.  There are select situations, usually when the straddle retains a gambler’s environment, where it’s OK, but don’t make it your standard.  When facing straddlers remember that the effective stacks are halved and thus you are usually a bit more card-dependent.  Pick your spots, know how the straddler is likely to react, and adjust accordingly.  Straddles can be a lot of fun, especially in home games, just make sure you fully understand the play and the appropriate ways to choose +EV lines!

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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