Usually, most people learn what a straddle is during the first time they play at a casino. You are sitting there ready to play a “normal” Texas Hold’em hand and someone shoves chips out under the gun before the cards are even dealt. What the heck does that mean? Fortunately, I have enough experience now to be able to explain exactly what straddle is so that you can confidently continue playing.
What is a straddle in poker? A straddle is an optional cash game pre-flop bet that must be exactly double that of the current big blind amount. It is usually made by the player seated directly to the left of the big blind and must be wagered before the dealing begins. Post-flop, the player who wagered the straddle acts last.
I remember my maiden voyage at the 1/2 tables. What a cluster. People were straddling left and right and blowing up the price to play. It felt like I was playing a high-stakes game. It eventually made me tuck my tail between my legs and run away fast. However, I have since learned that the straddle is nothing to be afraid of. Let’s cover this often misunderstood move in greater detail.
What Is a Straddle?
A straddle is a unique betting strategy that can only be done in cash games. You can’t straddle in games with a prize pool, like tournaments or sit and go’s. It involves betting double the big blind before the dealer passes out cards. In most cases, you must sit directly to the left of the big blind to be able to straddle, though there are a few exceptions.
The “classic” straddle is a type used in “flop” games, like Texas Hold’em or Omaha, where there are community cards. Traditionally, a straddle must be played before the dealer passes out cards, but sometimes a dealer will allow the bet after the deal, as long as no one has looked at their cards. However, this is not usually the case since someone could complain that another person looked and is cheating.
An easy way to look at it is that a straddle is like a third blind, after the small blind and big blind. However, there are many ways you can straddle, and you need to strategize when and if you use it. This play can have significant effects on a game of poker, so you should know what you are doing before you use it.
A straddle must always be exactly twice the amount of the biggest current bet, usually the big blind. However, the guy seated directly to the left of a straddler can do a double straddle and raise the stakes yet again.
For example, let’s say you are playing in a $1/$2 game and the under the gun player straddles to $4. The next player can double straddle to $8. This can continue on indefinitely, in some games. The next player could, although it almost never happens, triple straddle to $16.
In some games, the amount can be unlimited, but most games will set a limit to keep it from getting too high.
General Straddling Rules
- To play a straddle, you must announce to the table your plan, or you can put out the bet with poker chips.
- Since a straddle doubles the big blind, it also doubles the amount other players bet.
- If you straddle, you get another chance to act after you look at your cards, and your options include check, fold, and raise.
- The poker game continues as if no one straddled.
You may find that some poker games place a limit on how much the straddle can be. However, other players prefer not to set a limit. Both options can keep the game interesting in their own ways.
The Purpose of The Straddle
Many players have studied the math of the straddle and the overwhelming belief now is that it is a losing play over the long term. However, there are some situations where it could be a +EV (profitable) metagame play to make. Additionally, some players straddle to try and loosen up the game and create more action.
Of course, it’s best to avoid straddling altogether if you are a newer player or if you do not want to risk that much. Still, you should educate yourself and know what a straddle is in case you ever come across it or want to do it yourself. In my live play experience, you can come across tables where straddles occur quite frequently.
Now let’s talk about some of the most common types of straddles.
Types of Straddles
Out of all the types, you’ll probably see the Under-the-Gun, or UTG, straddle most often. It’s the most common type, and you must make a bet before the dealer passes out cards. To play this type of straddle, you have to sit to the left of the big blind.
Before the dealer passes out cards, you must make your bet. If you do place a straddle bet, you’ll be the last player to act, essentially “stealing” the button.
The Mississippi Straddle is exactly the same as a classic straddle except that it allows anyone at the table in any position except the blinds to place a straddle bet, so you don’t have to be to the left of the big blind. As with any other type of straddle, you’ll be the last player to act.
In some games, you might see the Button Straddle appear. It’s pretty similar to the Mississippi Straddle in that you don’t have to be in a specific seat to make the bet. However, the Button Straddle is open to the player in the dealer’s spot.
If you play the Button Straddle, that will cancel out other types of straddles, like UTG. In that case, you would give the bet back to the UTG player. The Button Straddle is relatively rare, though, so you don’t have to worry about seeing it that much in poker.
While the typical straddle has a minimum that’s double the big blind, that’s also the maximum amount. However, you can take things up a notch with the Un-Capped Straddle. This type of straddle takes away any maximum limit that can be bet.
In fact, with the un-capped straddle, you can bet as much as you want, and you can even bet your entire stack of chips if desired. If you want to go big, placing an Un-Capped Straddle bet can be a good strategy. On the other hand, it usually isn’t the smartest thing to do.
Putting yourself in the 2nd worse position at the table blind with a random hand is a recipe for losing a lot of money. I spent a lot of time trying to think of a situation where making un-capped straddles would be a good idea and I can’t think of a single one.
Double and Triple Straddling
Since all players can straddle, it also means other people can “restraddle”. This means the straddle can keep doubling as long as people want to do it. For example, if the UTG player straddles to $4, the next player can restraddle or double straddle to $8. And, while rare, the next person has the option to triple straddle to $16.
As with straddling, double and triple straddling are usually just exercises in being macho for most players. There really is no profitable strategic basis to engage in doing it. Often, it’s done by bad (but maybe rich) players to force their will on other players by making them effectively play a higher stake than it actually is.
Should You Straddle?
If you are an up and coming player who wants to win in poker, then beyond just learning how it works, you should avoid taking part in straddling shenanigans. Instead, just understand that players who are straddling are probably really bad at the game.
The fact that straddling is happening probably means that you are on a really profitable table. If you can stay disciplined (and can afford to play), there is a lot of money to be made in these environments.
Perhaps the best benefit of being on tables that have a lot of straddling occurring is that it changes the game and the strategy by doubling the big blind. It essentially overrides the position of the big blind, and the big blind overrides the small blind. At most, it halves the value of effective stacks. This plays directly into the hands of anyone who is good at short stacking.
However, if you have no such ambitions, straddling can be an entertaining option to try if you aren’t really in the game to win and like to just play for fun.
Whether you’re new to poker or looking to improve your game, it is important to understand what a straddle is and how to adjust your strategy when they occur. While straddling yourself is a losing player, being on a table where lots of straddling is happening can be a really advantageous situation to navigate. I recommend learning a solid short stacking strategy which will help you tremendously.
Jim is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. He has been playing professionally for over 15 years and has helped countless people become winning poker players. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, Jim has helped demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em.