When you hear the term “straddle,” you probably wouldn’t think of poker, but it’s a common term you’ll likely come across when you are playing poker both live and online. Things like this can be confusing if you’re a new player, so we’re here to explain what a poker straddle is, whether or not they’re good, and how you should adjust.
What Is a straddle?
A straddle is a voluntary blind bet that a player puts in preflop before the cards are dealt. The most common place for a straddle to happen is to the left of the big blind and is often double the size of the big blind. When a player straddles, they become the last to act preflop, and the first player to act is the person to the left of the straddle.
It is often only found in live cash games, as they’re not allowed in tournaments. Most online poker software doesn’t support this feature in their poker rooms - except for GG Poker and Natural8, which both allow you to straddle in their cash games.
It’s often the case that more than one player can straddle in a hand, so if the Under The Gun player has straddled, the next player will also have the option to straddle (sometimes called the double straddle). This can go on until the straddle reaches the button.
Most casinos have a rule that you cannot straddle past the button, with some poker rooms capping straddles at 2 or 3. This is because straddles drastically increase the size of the game, as each straddle doubles the previous stake.
For example, if you’re playing a $1/$2 game, the first UTG straddle would be for $4, the second straddle would be for $8, and the third straddle would be for $16. In only three straddles, the game has increased in size by 8x!
What Types of Straddle Are There?
The most common straddle bet you’ll see allowed in card rooms is the one we’ve described above, where the player to the left of the big blind is the only player who can straddle. However, some casinos allow other types of straddles. You may come across three other forms of straddle: the button straddle, the Mississippi straddle, and the sleeper straddle.
The button straddle is when a player straddles from the button, often for 2x the size of the big blind. Depending on the casino, the action either starts with the Under The Gun player or the player in the Small Blind. If the action begins with the Under The Gun player, the button will still be last to act preflop, as the action skips over the button to the Small Blind before going back to the button.
A Mississippi straddle is made from any position at the table, apart from the Small Blind or Big Blind. When a player makes a Mississippi straddle, the player to their left starts the preflop action, and the player who straddled is last to act.
Finally, a sleeper straddle is where a player puts out a straddle that only becomes active if the action folds to them. For example, in a 9-handed game, UTG+1 wants to straddle, but it’s not their turn, so they put out a sleeper straddle.
If the UTG player folds, the straddle becomes active, so the action skips over them to the UTG+2 player, and the straddler becomes last to act. However, if the UTG player limps or raises, the UTG+1 player can take their straddle back and play their hand as normal.
Benefits of Straddling in Poker
Straddling in poker is often considered to be a losing play for one simple reason - you’re putting in money blind! The two least profitable positions at the poker table are the Small Blind and the Big Blind due to the forced bets you have to make. Straddling is a more extreme version of that, as you’re choosing to put in at least 2bb voluntarily before cards are dealt.
You’ll find when you straddle that you’ll have to fold most hands to a raise, just like you do when you’re in the big blind. However, some people try to justify playing bad hands because “they’ve already made a significant investment” and end up losing even more money because of it. Just save yourself the money and the hassle by not straddling and just folding your hand.
One way poker straddling can be considered good is when everyone else is doing it at the table. When everyone straddles, no one gains an advantage over the other, so it becomes a neutral play to make. Also, no one wants to be the nit who won’t straddle when other players are, so by straddling, you can potentially get action in your hands later on in the session.
Why Do People Straddle?
We’ve covered one reason why people straddle in poker (making sure you don’t look like a huge nit), but what are some other reasons people choose to straddle?
The most common reason is that they like to gamble. Straddling increases the stakes of the game, leading to bigger pots and more opportunities to win and lose a lot of money. For some people, this thrill of playing bigger stakes for a hand or two is worth the loss of EV.
Some poker players will try to use it to gain a competitive advantage at certain tables. For example, if the table is full of loose passive players who’ll call down with any two cards, it’s profitable to build the pot as quickly as you can when you have a strong hand. By straddling, you get a head start on doing that, and the times you scoop a massive pot against a calling station more than make up for the times you have to fold your garbage hands.
Straddling also reduces the size of the stacks relative to the blinds, which benefits players who prefer playing with shorter stacks. In cash games, it’s common for stacks to quickly build, and before you know it, most of the table is sitting over 200bb deep.
However, if you straddle, you bring down the depth of the stacks, as the straddle is considered to be the new big blind. For example, if you’re playing $1/$2 with a $400 stack, you’d have 200bb, but if someone straddles to $4, your stack would be 100bb.
How Should You Adjust to Straddles in Poker Games?
Due to straddles making the game shorter, you’ll need to adjust your strategy based on your new stack size. As your stack gets shorter in relation to the blinds, you should be changing your opening ranges preflop. Speculative hands, such as the lowest pocket pairs and suited connectors, go down in value, whereas hands that flop strong top pairs, such as KQ, AJ, and KJ, go up in value.
Another thing to consider is the player type of the person straddling. Often a player who straddles is going to be a loose player, so you should be raising a strong range into them, as they’re unlikely to fold pre or postflop. When in a hand against these players, it’s important that you value bet your hands strongly, so you can take advantage of their loose nature.
In the rare occasion that you see a nit put out a straddle, you can attack it with a wide opening range, as they’re far less likely to defend their straddle than a loose player would.
While straddling can be fun and create some interesting pots, it’s a losing play to make. If you’re serious about becoming a winning poker player, you shouldn’t be the one to initiate a straddle, but joining in if everyone else does it is acceptable. If you’re just playing for fun, then feel free to go nuts and straddle to your heart’s content!
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