Poker straddles can cause confusing situations for newcomers to live poker.
This article will shed light on what poker straddles are, and if you should ever straddle yourself.
What is a Straddle in Poker?
A poker straddle is a voluntary blind bet made by a player before cards are dealt. A player who straddles is effectively buying the big blind and doubling the stakes.
A standard straddle is two times the amount of the big blind, but can be bigger if the poker room rules permit.
For example, let’s say you’re sitting in a live $2/$3 No Limit Hold’em game. Before the deal begins, the under-the-gun player slides $6 in chips in front of them and the dealer announces “straddle” or “live six.” That is a $6 straddle, which in this case is two times the big blind.
As you may have guessed, the goal of a straddle is to increase the stakes of the poker game. Instead of having to call $3 to see a flop, you have to call $6, which can cause the pot to grow exponentially.
When the under-the-gun player straddles, the preflop betting round plays out as if the under-the-gun player was in the big blind.
So in this case, the player to the direct left of the straddler is first to act preflop. That player can either call the $6 bet, raise, or fold. Action then proceeds around the table, with the under-the-gun player last to act. In all postflop betting rounds, action resumes as normal.
Most poker rooms only allow a straddle from the under-the-gun position, but some allow straddles from the button and other positions.
There are even poker rooms that allow for double and triple straddles, or more. For example, if the under-the-gun players straddles for $6, the player on the direct left can double straddle for $12, and this can escalate even further before the cards are even dealt.
Check out this hand from Poker Night in America that sees Upswing Poker’s Ryan Fee put out a quadruple straddle in a live cash game (note that the video is easier to follow with commentary on):
Why Straddling in Poker is Generally a Bad Idea
When a player straddles, their overall expected value (EV) in that particular hand goes down.
This happens because you’re putting in a blind bet with an unknown hand, which goes completely against the principals of a winning poker strategy. Hand selection is crucial in poker, especially from the early positions like under the gun.
At many casinos, the straddle is only permitted from under the gun, the position which normally requires the tightest hand selection for a winning strategy. You generally don’t want to put out an under-the-gun straddle and look down at hands like 7♠ 2♥ or J♦ 3♣.
Because most hands in No Limit Hold’em should be folded preflop, blind raises are massively losing in the long run.
Straddled hands also cut stacks in half, in terms of number of big blinds. For example, $300 in a $1/$3 game is 100 big blinds, but goes down to 50 big blinds when a $6 straddle is put out. The $6 straddle effectively acts as the big blind, turning the game into a $1/$3/$6 game.
Playing with a 50 big blind stack brings in an entirely new strategy for starting hands and postflop play, and can lead to difficult spots at the poker table.
When Can Straddling Be a Good Idea?
The straddle is not a play to be recklessly applied, and it’s perfectly fine to never initiate a straddle. In the following cases, however, straddling could have benefits.
1. If you’re playing at a loose passive table. Straddling could be a profitable move if you have several opponents that are prone to calling loose preflop, then folding to aggression postflop. With this table dynamic, you could use the straddle to build big preflop pot, then take advantage of passive opponents with aggressive postflop bets.
The downside to multiway straddled pots, however, is that you’ll have to put in big bets postflop, as the preflop pot is already massive. This strategy is not for the weak at heart.
2. If everyone is straddling. If you sit down at a table and everyone is straddling, in turn around the table, it might be best to go ahead and straddle when it’s your turn.
The upside is that this means you’re playing at a juicy, action-filled table, with plenty of opportunities to win money. The downside is that a game like this might put you out of your element if you’re not used to it.
3. If everyone is a nit. At a very tight table, your straddle might be the catalyst that gets the action going. If anything, perhaps you can gain an edge by pushing nitty players out of their element.
Be warned though: never straddling is much better than doing it too often.
How Does a Poker Straddle Affect the Game Dynamic?
Many players straddle in poker in an effort to get more action at the table. In reality, however, frequent straddling makes for a tighter overall table dynamic.
The straddle, by nature, pushes players out of their comfort zones, particularly those not used to the play. Even players with extensive online experience can be rattled by a straddle in poker, as the move is almost exclusive to live cash games.
With a straddle in play, many players will fold marginal to decent hands like lower pocket pairs and suited connectors. Playing behind a straddle takes these hands out of a raise first in (RFI) range and into a calling or three-betting range.
Button Straddles & Mississippi Straddles
Some poker rooms allow players to straddle from the button, and others allow players to straddle from any position. The latter is known as a Mississippi Straddle.
These types of straddles change the way preflop action works.
For example, let’s say the button put out a $6 straddle in this $1/$3 game. Depending on the house rules, preflop action will either start with the under-the-gun player or the small blind (on the button’s direct left). That first player would have the option of calling for $6, raising, or folding. The action would proceed around the table, but skip the button player if no raise was made.
Continuing the example, suppose that the under-the-gun player calls the $6 after the cards are dealt. The action folds to the player in the cutoff, who calls as well. In this scenario, the action would skip the button, moving from the cutoff to the small blind. If neither of the blinds raised, the button would then act last, with the option of checking or raising the $6 bet.
If a player in front of the button straddler raises, then the button player resumes his/her normal position in the betting round, with the option of calling the raise, re-raising, or folding.
The straddle can be a daunting concept in which to develop a strategy against, but it’s a big part of the live poker experience. In general it’s best to never initiate a straddle, but know how it works when other players do it.
To learn about how to adjust your strategy when there’s a straddle in play, read one (or both) of these articles: