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The Professional Approach to Straddled and Three-Blind Pots

Even the best poker players in the world lose money from the small and big blind.

You’d have to be an action junkie — or hate money — to voluntarily become a third blind… right? Mostly right. That’s where the straddle in poker comes in.

A straddle is a blind bet made by a player before cards are dealt that gives them an option once preflop action concludes — effectively buying the big blind and doubling the stakes.

Straddles typically occur in live cash games — rarely online. There are two common straddle types that we will discuss in this article:

  • Under-the-gun (UTG) straddles — permitted by most major card rooms around the world
  • Button straddles — permitted in a relatively small number of card rooms

Let’s dive right in so you can learn how to adjust your pre-flop strategy to maximize your win-rate with the straddle in play.

(If you play in a game with a three-blind structure, this article applies directly to your games as well.)

Straddles and Stack Depth

Consider a typical $5/$10 full ring game with $1000 effective stacks and compare the pre-flop stack-to-pot ratios (SPR):

  • Without the straddle, there is 1.5BB in the middle, meaning that the pre-flop SPR is 66.67
  • With a straddle of 2BB, there is now 3.5BB in the middle and the SPR has dropped to 28.57.

The SPR has more than halved under the effect of the straddle. Our pre-flop strategy needs to change to reflect this.

As the pre-flop SPR changes, so does the playability of some hand types in a single-raise pot.

As the SPR gets smaller, the pre-flop strength of every hand changes. For instance:

  • Suited connectors like 76s or 65s decrease in value
  • Broadway hands like KQo or AJo increase in value
  • Small pairs drop a significantly amount of value as the implied odds of hitting a set is greatly reduced.

When selecting our pre-flop raise size with a straddle in play, we should use a slightly smaller size than if we were playing at a larger SPR.

If our standard open raise size was 3BB/3x in the un-straddled pot, then consider using a 5BB/2.5x open size in the straddled pot. This will keep the flop SPR smaller and allow us to utilize more of our post-flop edge.

Our 3-bet size also needs to be smaller-than-usual in straddled pots. If your usual 3bet size was 3.5x the RFI, then instead go for 2.5x.

When using the smaller size, our 3-bet range should be a lot more merged – 3-betting a large proportion, if not all, of our range. This has the benefit of taking more of the dead money from the three blinds by kicking out their equity.

(Note: Want to be the best player at the table — from every position? Check out The Lab, an extensive poker training course developed and updated monthly by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. Click here or below to learn more!)
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Under-the-Gun Straddle

The UTG straddle is the most common straddle type in live cash games played around the world. UTG is allowed to straddle 2BB (some casinos allow more) effectively becoming the third blind pre-flop.

With an extra player in the blinds to get through, it is harder to steal the pot pre-flop. When considering which hands to open-raise, focus less on stealing the blinds and more on getting value with what we think is likely the best hand, or will play well in a small SPR pot when in-position against one of the blinds.

Blind Play in UTG Straddled Pots

The small blind is one of the toughest positions to play with a UTG straddle looming.

Instead of one blind to get through when we open the pot, there are two – and we’re out-of-position against both of them. This means that we’ll need to play tighter than if we were making an un-straddled small blind steal.

When facing a steal from the small blind or the big blind in a UTG straddled pot, play more (if not all) of your pre-flop range as a 3bet to re-steal. Since we’re out-of-position, we should use larger sizes for the re-steal – 3-betting to 3.5x or 4x to take down the pot more often pre-flop. This has the advantage of kicking the blinds out and putting pressure on the in-position stealer.

Similarly, squeeze more often from the small blind and the big blind. When facing an open raise and a flat call, play the small blind close to squeeze-or-fold to kick out the equity of the two blinds behind us, and to attack the capped range of the flat caller.

In the big blind, we’re getting a slightly better price on our call, but we should still ramp up the aggression and squeeze the majority of our continuing range — similar to how we advocate playing from the small blind in un-straddled pots.

Button Straddle

With the button as the third straddle, action starts on the small blind. The button gets to act last pre-flop as well as on every other street.

The button’s advantageous position makes stealing the pot pre-flop no easy task – they can flat many hands getting a cheaper price as well as position. However, with only one blind to get through after the small blind and big blind fold, we should aim to attack the pot with a wider range than usual, dependent on how many players are left to act….

…but because out-of-position, we should weight our range towards hands that work well out-of-position in the smaller SPR pot – hands like suited connectors will go down in strength. Using larger RFI sizes allows us to take the pot down more often pre-flop when we raise and mitigate the button’s positional advantage going forward.

In this blind structure, it is even more important for us to 3-bet or squeeze all of our continuing range, because if we call we let the button/straddle in for a cheap price and they will have position against us for the rest of the hand. Keeping our range uncapped is important here – If we were to have a calling range, then the button can squeeze aggressively into our capped range with position. When 3-betting our entire continuing range, we can use a smaller raise size closer to 2.5x instead of the usual 3-3.5x.

Straddled Pots Recap

When there’s a straddle (or a third-blind) in the game you’re playing, make the following adjustments to your pre-flop strategy:

  • Use a smaller open size when the pre-flop SPR is low
  • Choose hands that play well when the pre-flop SPR is low
  • 3-bet more of the range you want to continue with, using a smaller size if in-position
  • Squeeze more from every position, especially from the blinds
  • Stay aware of how many players are left to act behind you when deciding on how wide you should open raise

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Until next time!

(Note: Become a master of paired flops, multi-way pots, flush draws and more with The Poker Lab training course. Click here or below to learn more.)
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