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October 5, 2011

Poker Straddle: The Basics of the Straddle in No Limit Holdem

It’s one of the more controversial plays in the cash game players arsenal; the straddle. You see it quite often in televised cash games, and it’s gained popularity in casinos and home games over the years, but the question remains; is straddling a good play or a money drain? The answer lies in the game type and the player type of the table you’re sitting at; and it’s not always a yes or no answer.

The definition of a standard straddle is a technical “third blind” under the gun; a player puts at least twice the big blind in the pot, and gets to act last on their hand. In No Limit games, this amount can be anything over double in some places. Players will routinely make the straddle for larger amounts; in a $1/$2 game, you may see $7-$20 straddles from some players. Now, most poker players are aware that playing UTG is the hardest position to play from preflop, which begs the question, why would you ever want to put in more money in the dark from the worst position? There’s a few factors that can make the decision more reasonable.

– You’re wanting to loosen up a tight game. Many times, when faced with a table filled with nits and no other games in sight, you may not want to shelve it for the night and go all the way back home. By showing players you’re willing to gamble via the straddle, you can sometimes encourage rocks to lower their standards when playing against you; if you’re willing to throw money recklessly into the pot blind, what’s to say you won’t be doing the same thing when you’re actually looking at your hands?

-You’re looking to pick on the blinds. Sometimes, you’ll be playing a shorthanded limit game with rocks. If those rocks happen to be to your right, you can add even more pressure to their already tight game by routinely straddling their blinds. In a 5 handed $10/$20 game, you’re looking at leaning on $15 in super tight blinds every round, which can be a big profit for you in the long run.

-You want to make players uncomfortable. A lot of the younger and less experienced players will make it fairly obvious that big stakes intimidate them. One of the ways that you can exploit that tendency in these players is to artificially raise the stakes of the game with the straddle. Making a $1/$2 game essentially a $2/$4 every time you’re UTG makes these players play a lot more textbook, easy to read poker than when they have that comfort zone and proportionally large stack to play with.

The problem is, these factors aren’t always going to be there, and in fact, the vast majority of the time, the UTG straddle is a money loser in the long run; it’s hard to turn a profit playing even top tier hands out of position, so imagine attempting to squeeze every dollar of value from 92o and J4o. In short; understanding how to utilize the UTG straddle is important in selective games, but isn’t going to be part of an everyday game plan for a winning poker player.

There is a straddle, however, that if available to use at the game you’re playing in, is a very powerful move that should be used as often as possible, providing you have the bankroll to handle it; the button straddle, or Mississippi straddle.

The Mississippi straddle allows you buy last position in the hand preflop, guaranteeing that you’ll be last to act throughout the entire hand. This has some unique advantages over the UTG straddle;

– Additional pressure on the blinds. Normally, playing from the blinds is either a pretty simple task; if no one’s raised, you’ve got a cheap call or you can raise, with the luxury of knowing you’re last to act, at least for this round. With someone Mississippi straddling, however, not only are you already invested in the pot, you don’t close the action; in fact, you’ve essentially been put UTG, except now you’re enticed by alluring pot odds with your blinds already posted. The problem? If you’re the big blind, and you toss in $5 more dollars to call the $10 straddle, there are 7 people left in a standard ring game that can possibly decide to raise the action. Many times, players that straddle like to frequently pop the straddle with a big raise, making it even harder to just hope you see a $10 flop with J9s, and if you’ve got a short buy-in, like say, $250, seeing 2 or 3 rounds of these straddled pots is a good way to go broke fast.

-The straddle pop. If you’re bought in relatively short in your game, and players like to limp and aren’t particularly agressive, a surefire method of generating profit is straddling, then shipping when the action gets folded to you. Say you’re stack is at $200 at a $2/$5 game, and you straddle for $15. Four people (both blinds, and two middle position weak/loose guys) call. Shipping your last $185 means you profit $60 every time the shove works, and against blinds and weak players, you’re likely to take the pot down well over 50% of the time. When you don’t, you still have a chance to score the double up, but winning inflated pots without a showdown is one of the easiest ways to secure profit in poker; why not take the opportunity when you’re given a free shot at it with Mississippi straddles?

A straddle may not be a move you use often as a poker player, but cash game veterans understand the logic behind using it and mix it into their repertoire when the need arises. Try it out and get a feel for the straddle, and you’ll add another layer to your game.

Article credit: Pete Carter