4 Reasons to Straddle and 4 Reasons not to


Straddling is one of the actions that divides opinions in poker. To do or not to do? Depending on how you see the game, your opinion on straddling could be different from the next guy, but as always, the best players are always looking to make the best decisions during a hand. Hence, I’ll be sharing reasons why straddling could be a good idea and reasons why it may not.

When should you straddle in poker and when not to?

A player straddles when he or she places a blind bet without seeing the hole cards. Straddling comes after the blinds; hence many people refer to it as the 3rd blind. The most apparent reason why players straddle is to initiate action preflop.

Although some players believe this is a potentially disastrous move as you’re betting before seeing the hole cards, others think it is an action that could yield a result if played well.

Before going into the reasons why you should or should not straddle, it is essential to understand how players straddle and how the action affects a game.

The Anatomy of Straddling

As earlier stated, a poker straddle is an optional (blind) bet that is placed preflop in a bid to initiate action. There are different variants of straddling. However, the house rules will determine the options that are allowed.

Recall that there are two forced bets preflop, which are named the big blind and small blind. When you imagine straddling, think of it as the third blind of some sort. The only difference is that while the big and small blinds are compulsory, a straddle is optional.

straddle in poker
An example of a UTG straddle in 2/5 live 6max game.

Think of a $2/$5 game at your local casino, the small blind posts $2 while the big blind posts $5. Just before the dealer deals the hole cards, UTG decides to poker straddle by placing a $10 blind payment in the pot. We call this a blind bet because it is an action that takes place before the hole cards are seen. The straddle automatically changes the dynamics of the game as any player who wishes to stay in the hand must call preflop by $10.

The minimum amount that is required to straddle is double the big blind. In Texas no-limit, it could be larger. In fact, there is no cap on how large a straddle could be. Will other players mind that you straddle? Well, that’s not really your problem.

Obviously, a straddle means it becomes more expensive to stay in a hand, but that is precisely the idea behind the straddle. Also, there are certain tables where everyone goes on a straddling merry go round. In this case, your action will only be following the trend on your table.

  • Straddles are mainly permitted in ”flop” poker games where players use community cards to make their hands. This happens mostly in Omaha and Texas Hold’em.
  • The player who sits on the left of the big blind reserves the right to straddle. In some variants, straddling is allowed from all positions although, this would depend on the house rules.
  • If a player wishes to place a straddle bet, he/she will need to indicate verbally before the hole cards are dealt. However, some casinos may allow players to indicate their decision to straddle after the cards have been dealt, but they must do so before looking at their cards.
  • A straddler will be given a chance to act last since he placed his straddle bet without first looking at the hole cards. His options are the same as the blinds. He is allowed to check, raise, or fold.
  • The effect of the straddle ends in preflop. Normal play will resume in the following rounds.

4 Types of Straddling

There are various types of straddling, but for the sake of this article, we’ll be looking at the most common variations. Basically, these variations of straddling determine who can straddle in a game of poker. They are:

  1. UTG Straddle: The Under the Gun straddle has already been explained above. This type of straddling is made by the player who is the UTG position.
    When UTG straddles, action will start with the player sitting on the left of UTG while the last player to act preflop becomes UTG instead of the big blind. UTG is allowed to bet double the blind.
  2. Mississippi Straddle: Mississippi straddle allows players from any position to straddle. Once a player takes up the option to straddle, he/she can place a bet that is at least double the big blind.
    The player must indicate that he/she wants to straddle before the cards are dealt. The player who has straddled will have the opportunity to act last in a hand while action starts from the player sitting on his left.
  3. Button Straddle: The button straddle allows the player on the button position the opportunity to straddle. When he/she does this, it means the first player to act preflop will be UTG. However, this could cause a bit of a structural mess. Hence, various casinos have carved out different strategies to make up for this.
    Some casinos have the action start from UTG, move clockwise, skip the button and move to the blinds before returning to the button as the last act. In other casinos, a button straddle could completely rearrange the other of play. In this scenario, the action starts from the SB, moves to the BB, and then clockwise till it reaches the button who then acts last.
  4. Classic Double Straddle: If you ever wondered what is a double straddle in poker then read the following; This type of straddling occurs when another player on the table re-straddles after a first straddle has already been made. The double straddle in poker happens after the player in the UTG position makes a classic straddle, and the player on the left of UTG makes a larger straddle ( at least double the size of the first straddle). In this case, it would seem there are 4 blinds with the first and second straddle making for the 3rd and 4th blind.
button straddle
Button straddle.

4 Reasons to Straddle

You might not see an awful lot of straddling in a game of poker, but it isn’t exactly an anomaly. So why do players straddle?

  •  Opportunity to Act Last: One of the benefits of straddling is that it gives you the opportunity to act last preflop. This means, if the rest of your opponents calls your straddle, you have the chance to make a big raise when the action gets back to you. Imagine a $2/$5 game where 4 people call your $10 straddle.
    At that point, there are about 55 dollars up begging to be snatched with a big raise. This might not always work as some players loosen their strategy when playing against a straddle, but it is still an excellent strategy that can win you a decent pot when you suspect your opponents will fold a big raise. Typically, the opportunity to act last preflop is a luxury the big blind enjoys, but this changes since the straddle are posting the biggest blind at this stage.
  • Increasing the Stakes in a Lower Stake Game: Another good reason why you may want to straddle is when you find yourself in lower stakes game where most of your opponents are unwilling to commit. You can take them out of their comfort zone with a straddle. This effectively forces many to fold, and others to call your straddle, making the hand profitable and winnable.
  •  When in the Button: A straddle can be hugely beneficial when you’re in the button position and a Mississippi Straddle is allowed. This gives you the advantage of being in the last position in the round. A Mississippi straddle will force the blinds to act before everyone else. This move could force the blinds to fold if they have a rubbish hand. If you’re sitting next to two of the best players on the table, this could be your opportunity to take them out and ease the competition for your benefit.
  • When You’re Bored: Obviously, this is not a profitable reason to straddle, but it could be one of the reasons you may want to straddle in live poker. Most players who straddle do so to loosen up. This could spark a flurry of straddles from other players on the table.
    For social reasons, you can join in and straddle as well. However, you must note that, once you join in, you’re basically just gambling away as opposed to your mantra of making calculated and profitable moves. If the fun in straddling excites you, or you simply don’t want to be the odd one out in a table of straddlers, then you may straddle.
Classic double straddle in poker
The double straddle will turn your poker game into playing 2 limits higher than without the straddle.

4 Reasons Not to Straddle

There are players who believe straddling is a bad idea. We’ve already discussed how it could be beneficial. If you’re going to straddle, then you could consider the following reasons why it may not be a great idea

  • You’re more Likely to Lose Money: Experienced poker players will tell you that placing a bet before seeing the hole cards is -EV. This is the reason why the blinds are more likely to lose money in poker. When you straddle from UTG, you’re basically putting in a third blind that will likely suffer the same positional disadvantage that the big and small blinds suffer. It is, therefore a risky move to place a straddle from UTG.
    I and just like the majority of poker pros have a positive winrate from any other position but from the blinds.
  • More Pressure: When everyone is straddling around the table, the game suddenly becomes bigger. As is with any game, the higher the stakes, the bigger the pressure to win. More pressure can lead to mistakes and hold you back from playing your normal game. Unless you have your gameplay well-structured and thought out, your straddle bet could end up working against you.
  • It Changes Your Strategy: in a $2/$5 game, straddling takes the blinds to $5/$10, an action that has a ripple effect on the stack size. With the game now $5/$10, a player who started a hand 100bb will have his/her stack size reduced to 50bb. This can be problematic if you have a sound 100bb strategy but not so good with 50bb.
STAKES $500 2XSTRADDLE bb W/ STRADDLE
$1/$2 250bb $4 125bb
$1/$3 167bb $6 83bb
$2/$5 100bb $10 50bb
$5/$10 50bb $20 25bb
  • Takes out Your Edge Postflop: As earlier mentioned, straddling shrinks stack size. This could be bad for you if you have a postflop edge on other players on the table. When you have edge post-flop, you need the stack sizes to be bigger to make it count. Straddling will effectively decrease SPR and that’s certainly not a situation you would want.

How to Play Against a Straddle

Even if you decide against straddling, there is always that chance that a player at the table may straddle. As you already know, straddling shortens your stack size, which effectively changes your preflop strategies. Hence, it is crucial to learn how to cope with a straddle.

With shorter stacks means we won’t have the luxury of a deep SPRs post-flop. This scenario makes it overly tough to play drawing hands. Therefore, you would want to go into a game with at least a basic knowledge of how to leverage stack sizes.

  • Discard Suited Connectors and Small pairs:  You won’t be able to play suited connectors or small pairs with a short stack size. While you can try, it does become significantly tougher to make a successful play with them.
  • Don’t Call Raises: If your 100bb has been halved to 50bb by a straddle, then it would not make sense to call a raise preflop by anything than a decent hand. The reason is that a preflop raise takes away a larger part of your starting stack which makes calling raises not worth your while. To understand if playing suited connectors is good or bad and why so, read this article.
  • Know the Straddle: Before playing against a straddle, be sure to read your straddle and know the kind of player he/she is. How will they react if you limp from behind? How about if you open-limp or open raise? These are questions you should have an idea of the answers. For example, some straddlers are overly protective of their straddle and will almost always call preflop raises.

    On the other hand, some straddlers will raise whenever their straddle is limped. Meanwhile, there is also the kind of player who will treat it like every other pot. Always be on the lookout for scenarios where you can induce the straddler to make sizable raises by limping in with big hands. It may not happen often, but when it does, it can be quite rewarding as you easily exploit an aggrotard.
  • Raise to a Size: In a normal cash game, you should look to raise between the range of 2.2 to 3 big blinds. Raising by these sizes helps you get a decent price on your raise. Also, this means the big blind is forced to defend your straddle with a weak and wide range that he/she has to play out of position.

    When there’s a straddle in the game, we basically have a new big blind. Hence, your best approach is to base your sizing on the size of the straddle in the same way you base your size on the big blind. Therefore, if you usually raise to 3bb, when a straddle comes in, you should look to raise to 3x the straddle or 6bb. That is, if you’re playing a $2/$5 with $500 and an opponent places a $10 straddle, your best reaction would be to raise to $30.
  • Adjust Postflop Strategy: Although you may have walked into preflop with 100bb, the straddle shortens your stack size to 50bb, which in turn reduces your stack to pot ratio, and this will more than likely affect optimal strategy.

    In a regular game, If a player raises preflop to 2.5bb and gets a single caller, we will have about 6bb in the pot on the flop, leaving 97.5bb behind. This scenario means the stack to pot ratio becomes 15.75, and that is relatively deep.
    Now compared to a straddle game, If a player raises preflop to 2.5x the size of the straddle and he/she gets a call, the pot will have 12 big blinds on the flop, and we have around 95 big blinds left. This scenario means the stack to pot ratio becomes 8. Therefore, players who play straddle games will have less space to maneuver compared to players who play regular blind games.

    Now imagine a player raises preflop to 2.5bb, and then he/she calls an 8.5bb 3-bet from an opponent. There will be around 18bb in the pot with 91.5bb behind on the flop. In this case, the stack to pot ratio will only be above 5. What we see from this comparison is that in a straddle game, the ratio in a single raised pot is quite close to the ratio in a three-bet pot in a normal game. For this reason, the optimal strategy becomes more straightforward.

Should I Straddle?

Many professional poker players will tell you that straddling is a poor move, and they are mostly right. As earlier stated, players record more losses from the blind than on any other positions on the table, hence, intentionally making a blind bet doesn’t seem like a bright idea. If you must straddle, then you must be sure that you’re doing so from the button as this position gives the best chance to make a successful move.

Many players straddle just for the fun of it, and others do it to join in the merry go round on a poker table. You should never allow the actions going on in a poker table to bully you into straddling. If you don’t want to do it, then you probably should not.

Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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