If you want to be a winning live poker player, you need to have a good handle on how to play straddled pots.
Straddles are quite common in live cash games, but most live players make the same mistakes over and over again when the straddle is on.
For this article, I dove into Nick Petrangelo’s new Smash Live Cash course and pulled out 3 preflop tips that will help you play straddled pots to perfection.
Let’s get started!
Tip #1: Play Tighter in Every Position
The number one rule in straddled pots is this: play tighter!
Straddles are commonly thought of as a way to create more action. But this doesn’t mean that you should be loosening up your ranges.
In fact, the opposite is true. Nick says the following in his Smash Live Cash course:
The number one thing to remember in straddle games is that you’re supposed to play tighter.
So many people don’t seem to get this, but you have to keep in mind that there are 3 blinds now and an additional player to act behind you.
To properly adjust for this, your opening ranges should be from one position earlier from your current position.
For example, if you are on the Button in a straddled pot, you should raise with your usual Cutoff range. If you are in the Cutoff, you should raise with your usual Hijack range. And so on.
Adjusting for Shorter Stacks
The other major factor that incentivizes tighter play in straddled pots is stack depth. It’s important to remember that, due to the straddle, everyones’ stack gets cut in half in terms of big blinds.
For example, suppose you are in a $5/$10 game with a $1,000 stack. If someone puts out a $20 straddle, our stack has gone from being 100bb down to 50bb. The shorter stacks get in cash games, the tighter you’ll generally need to play.
One other side note: your hand selection should change a bit when stacks get shorter. Speculative hands (like low pocket pairs and suited connectors) go down in value. At the same time, high card hands go up in value. Don’t neglect those factors when the straddle is on and you’re deciding whether or not a hand is worth playing.
Tip #2: Don’t Limp from the Small Blind (Raise or Fold Instead)
Live players make mistakes in straddled pots from every position, but Nick typically notices the biggest mistakes are made by the players in the blinds, in particular the Small Blind.
Limping way too often from the blinds is one of the major ways players consistently bleed money in straddled pots. As Nick says in the course:
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in straddled pots is that they limp way too much from the blinds, especially the Small Blind. Particularly in no ante games, the relatively bad price you are being laid to enter into the pot is very important.
Nick goes on to say that many players tend to underestimate how much of Small Blind’s range is going to under-realize its equity with two players behind rather than just one.
With this in mind, the optimal Small Blind strategy in straddled pots is to play a fairly tight range and only enter the pot with a raise. Your raising range from the Small Blind in straddled pots should be very similar to your raising range from the Cutoff in an non-straddled hand.
I’ll end this section with a quote from Nick reiterating this point:
In the Small Blind we don’t want to be limping into two opponents while we’re out of position.
Instead we want to raise aggressively, putting the Big Blind in a difficult position sandwiched between two players. People are generally pretty bad at playing a defense strategy against the Small Blind from the blinds, so as long as we play the right ranges, this spot is generally going to go really well for us.
Tip 3: Use a Small Raise Size
Players seem to have major misconceptions about how to size their opens in straddled pots.
You do not need to raise to a big size when the straddle is on. In fact, doing this is extremely spewy, as Nick explains:
I see people open to 4x or 5x all the time in straddled pots, and just in general. Really, the optimal size is somewhere between 2x-2.5x. There’s no need to use a 4x size.
When you 4x or 5x, you’re just losing money with the middle and bottom of your range. We technically shouldn’t even be opening those hands if we’re using a bigger sizing.
An absolute rule across all of poker is that the bigger you bet, the fewer hands with which you can profitably bet. This is especially true preflop. Nick explains why big opens in live poker wind up costing us a lot of expected value (EV):
If we think we have an edge in the games we’re playing in, we should be trying to play as many hands as possible to maximize this edge.
That’s going to mean we’re going to need to use smaller opening sizes. It’s not sustainable to just be nuking in 4x and 5x opens. That’s something that has to go and is pretty contagious among a lot of different populations in cash games.
This is largely true in all live cash game hands, but especially so in straddled pots.
Do you like playing straddled pots?
Let me know in the comments.
Hope you enjoyed this one. If you want to continue upgrading your live cash game skills with Nick Petrangelo, be sure to check out his Smash Live Cash course.