Although straddling can be entertaining in live poker, many players must know its proper functions. The idea of a straddle in poker can be utterly alien to those who only play online. What, then, is it? An additional blind wager is placed before the cards are dealt, usually (but not consistently) twice as large as the big blind.
What impact does a straddle have on the remaining hand? The implications of a poker straddle transcend much beyond the additional dead money added to the preflop pot, both mathematically and psychologically. Additionally, it gives a poker player another option in situations where a straddle is allowed: Do I need to straddle?
In the following paragraphs, we define straddling in detail before discussing its merits. Please enjoy the following video summary of the main principles if you prefer it over the text:
A POKER STRADDLE IS WHAT?
In poker, a straddle is a third, extra-large blind placed before the cards are dealt. A straddle is “live,” similar to the vast blind, which means that if one or more players call this blind bet, the straddler can raise the callers after the action is on them. This separates a straddle from a blind raise, which does not allow for the possibility of raising in response to a call.
The straddle is rarely seen in live poker games, but it is very prevalent in online games. Various straddles exist, each with a unique convention for how it affects the pre-flop activity, given the nature of poker players. We will focus on the typical ones you could encounter in a casino.
THE UTG STRADDLE, A CLASSIC
Before the cards are dealt, the player under the gun (UTG), or the person directly to the large blind’s left, must wager two times the big blind. The player immediately to the straddler’s left and places the first bet, and betting usually progresses around the table until the straddler is the last to act.
The UTG player wagers $10 in this $2/$5 hand before the cards are dealt, and the action moves to their left. If the pot is raised, play continues as usual, and the straddler takes the lead right after the large blind. The straddler can check or increase if the pool is limped to them. The action moves around the table in order if they raise their hands.
Be aware that many casinos and card rooms have varying rules regarding the size of the straddle, even in this most straightforward instance of the UTG straddle. The most frequent bet is double the big blind, especially in $2/$5 games. The UTG straddle is frequently set at $5, even at $1/$2, possibly because a single red chip expedites play for dealers and players. Other variations allow any straddle size between a 2x minimum and a sure cap. (In a $1/$2 game on the Las Vegas Strip, we have seen hats as high as $25.)
STRADDLE OF THE MISSISSIPPI
The Mississippi straddle is another popular straddle, especially at higher-stakes no-limit hold ’em and pot-limit Omaha. If the button decides not to straddle, the choice is offered to the player to their right. This provides control and the first chance to straddle for 2x the large blind. Until someone decides to straddle or UTG declines and the hand proceeds normally, the process is repeated. The player to the left of the Mississippi straddle takes the initial turn if anyone puts on the straddle.
If the button puts on a Mississippi straddle, the small blind will act first, then the big blind, and finally, the rest of the table will work as usual. (We discuss one potential exception in the section below this.) Like the UTG straddle, the straddler can check or raise if the action reaches them without anyone raising it.
A Mississippi straddle on the button is different from the UTG variation described above if you understand the significance of position in no-limit hold’em. A Mississippi straddle on the button puts you in the best place, both preflop and post-flop, as opposed to UTG straddling, which is one of the worst positions at the table.
If you’ve ever played live poker, you might have seen the Mississippi straddle’s significant flaw. It causes the game to lag. A lot. Asking each participant in turn if they are putting on the Mississippi straddle can take a whole minute if you only need one player to watch the game and another to have their drink dumped on them by a careless cocktail waiter. Many low-stakes casino games have a more straightforward solution as a result.
THE BUTTON STRING
Sometimes the Mississippi straddle is used to refer to the button straddle. This may be a reflection of the fact that if the Mississippi straddle is permitted, it will commonly be filled by the button, especially in a game with a lot of gambling. Many casinos have determined that a UTG straddle and a button straddle are adequate additional features for their no-limit hold’em games to avoid the potentially time-consuming procedure of asking each player in turn if they wish to straddle.
However, as is so frequently the case, alternative procedural rules could still be used. In particular, and in addition to housing limitations on straddle size, there are two possible methods to proceed after a button straddle.
The player in the small blind usually takes the initiative. This strategy is the most straightforward since it enables preflop play to proceed normally sequentially. The same convention was used in our previous example, where the button was placed on a Mississippi straddle. This alternative, however, puts both blinds in such precarious positions that they must play crazily narrowly. The post-flop disadvantage persists, while the preflop advantage of acting after the other players is eliminated.
Some casinos employ the “skip blinds” straddle rule to address this issue. Players who have not seen this before are almost always perplexed by it. As to how it operates:
Both blinds are skipped, with play beginning with the tiny blind. UTG thus takes the initiative. But this is when it gets confusing. The action continues as usual around the table until it reaches the button if a player before the control raises the straddle. The action moves to the small blind after the controller has the option to fold, call, or pitch.
The action “passes through” the button and onto the blinds. However, if the button straddle is merely called or if everyone folds to the controller. The straddler does nothing more than watch as the tiny blind. Then the big blind decides what to do. The “final action” button doesn’t start working until that point. The controller can check or raise, as in our earlier examples, if the blinds call, for instance.
It does get more natural after participating in hand runs like this a few times. However, this rule variation always creates more issues than fixes in low-stakes games involving recreational participants. The ability to straddle is meant to give the game more fun. When attempting to adhere to complex regulations, people rarely have fun.
DO I NEED TO WALK IN NO-LIMIT HOLD’EM?
Who would want to straddle, though? What advantages are there? Recall first what the straddle accomplishes. The straddler effectively changes the size of the game by placing an extra-large blind before the cards are given; as a result, the blinds for this hand are now $2/$5/$10 for a $2/$5 game. In other words, the game is now $5/$10, but the effective stack sizes are smaller than usual.
When the straddle is active, and the blinds are effective $2/$5/$10, a player who started the hand with $500 would have 100 big blinds at $2/$5, but that $500 stack is now merely 50 big blinds. The preflop and post-flop approach is significantly impacted by that decrease in stack depth!
Through instances typical of beginner-level games on the Las Vegas Strip, the table below illustrates the effect of the poker straddle on effective stacks. The last two columns of this table indicate the impact of the straddle on stack depth in big blinds for a few different stakes and effective piles in dollars.
The minimum buy-in for many $1/$2 games is $100, and you’ll frequently see participants at the poker table playing with that sum. As a result, the effective stacks are already low, but even a $4 straddle moves them into the realm of small piles, which is more typical in Los Angeles. The second row of the table’s table indicates the average cap in $1/$2 Las Vegas games, which is $300. Here, a $5 straddle reduces the game’s deep stack to levels well below the standard 100BB used in most poker training materials.
The $1/$3 game influenced the last two columns at the Wynn, which has a $6 straddle and a cap on buy-ins at $500 (with $300 buy-ins being typical). Because of the higher cap, this game may be played deep, and stronger players employ techniques that take advantage of deeper stacks. The table suggests that the strategy should be changed when the straddle is on. These modifications are a crucial part of developing a preflop strategy when playing no-limit hold ’em and are discussed in our training materials.
Does this method of lowering the effective stacks benefit the straddler? Such circumstances are conceivable, but they are the exception rather than the rule. For instance, a player with a solid 100bb strategy but falters when deeper might use a straddle as a cunning technique in a game playing 200bb deep. However, finding a live, low-stakes cash game where everyone is seated so deeply is relatively uncommon.
Practically speaking, the straddle is a gambler’s sign; one who loves to play for pleasure and likes to use their chips more generously. Such players are likely to need to consider the straddle’s effect on effective stacks.
But there are three situations that straddling can be a smart idea. Let’s take each one in turn.
CONFLICT TO ATTACK
A straddle can be great if you are at the kind of table where you can do it, draw a lot of callers, and then attack them with a massive raise when the action gets back to you. You can make a tonne of quick money as a result of this. However, the straddle frequently produces an odd dynamic where players desire to fold less regularly, which can significantly lessen how often they fold when you assault.
TO NEUTRALIZE BUTTON STRADDLE
Assume that the game has a few influential players on your immediate left. Since you usually don’t want good players acting after you, this is a challenging circumstance. It makes sense to put on a button straddle to gain a preflop position since the button is the only hand per orbit on which you have a post-flop place on both of them. The button straddle will force solid players to fold all but their best preflop hands if house rules require the blinds to act first. By doing this, you eliminate them from your pot and put yourself in a solid position to deal with the lesser competition. At least, on the one hand, you have successfully neutralized your most bothersome rival. However, requesting a seat or table change is still a good idea.
STRUGGLING TO ENSURE FUN IN THE GAME?
I never enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb at a poker table. Follow along if the table is doing a round of straddles. Just throw your straddle out there, make the game fun, and everyone smiling. A straddle is a -EV play, but it’s usually a brilliant idea to pitch away two big blinds to keep the game going and the players pleased.
However, even the “fun” justification for the poker straddle has drawbacks. Think about the following circumstance. On a Tuesday afternoon, you’re participating in an average $1/$2 game in Las Vegas. Both visitors and locals are seated at the table. The two people playing directly to your left of you both play quite tightly and reliably.
You’re in a fantastic situation right now. You can considerably increase your range from the cut-off and the hijack if two close players are to your left. The fact that these nits will always move out of the way gives you three buttons per orbit. You want to avoid interfering with a game dynamic that is so profitable.
Straddling the button for “fun” in these circumstances is probably the minor productive thing you could do. Sure, it’s plausible that it would encourage a few other players to bet more and give the impression that the game is exciting. But crucially, the two players on your left are the ones who won’t enjoy themselves, especially if house rules require the blinds to act after the button straddle. One typical outcome is that they’ll stand up and leave.
PERSONAL FINAL VIEWS OF THE POKER STRADDLE
The discussion above should have shown that there is much more to the straddle in poker than first appears. Looking at what many people perceive as a tool to relax a table by fostering a joyful environment uncovers a far more subtle and complex set of ramifications.
Fundamentally speaking, placing a large blind into the pot before consulting your cards is a losing move. This is especially true for the UTG straddle, which calls for both blind betting and playing the hand from a weak position.
Your opponents may occasionally put on the straddle in no-limit hold’em and other flop games. You might determine that participating is advantageous when a “round of straddles” is called for social reasons. If this happens, you will at least be equipped as a skilled poker player to take advantage of the circumstance. Consider the stacks at the table and determine how much the straddle has lowered them in terms of large blinds. Consider the knowledge of the game’s dynamics and your opponents’ habits. Consider how the new stack depth will affect your post-flop betting lines and preflop betting ranges.
You should do just as well as anyone in the new setting, provided everyone is placing straddle bets, and the table is happy with this development. The more skilled player at the table often favors deeper stacks to push that skill edge postflop, which is the only specific drawback. However, if you throw out that big blind with a “yeah, let’s have fun” attitude and a mathematically sound game plan at the same time, you’ll be well-liked and successful at the