Spend enough time in casino environments playing poker, and you’ll soon come across the straddle bet. But what exactly is the straddle and how is it used in poker? This article explores the concept and the reasons why you should (and shouldn’t) straddle.
Straddling is a special kind of bet made before the player looks at their cards. The easiest way to think about the straddle is as an optional third blind.
Rules around straddling vary and are set by individual casinos. Typically, where the straddle is allowed, the option belongs to the player who sits to the left of the big blind.
The player to the left of the big blind can only declare a straddle before they have seen their cards. They will then place the straddle bet, and any player behind who wants to continue their hand must now match or raise the straddle.
In other words, the straddle becomes the new blind, the minimum cost to enter the pot.
The player who straddled then effectively becomes the big blind – they will be last to act pre-flop and will have the option of calling or re-raising any bets once they have looked at their hand.
A straddle bet can occur in live tournament poker, and more commonly in live cash games. It’s not usually an option for online cash or tournament poker.
As mentioned, the rules of straddling differ across casinos, so if you do want to play the straddle bet it’s important to check with the casino. Ask the dealer and they’ll soon let you know when and how much you can straddle.
That said, the straddle bet is usually twice the cost of the big blind. So, if you’re playing a $1/$2 game, the cost of the straddle is $4.
In most casinos where the straddle is an option, players also have the option to re-straddle. So, using our example above, the player to the left of the big blind (UTG+1) straddles for $4, then UTG+2 straddles for $8.
Technically (and again, depending on the rules), this can continue around the whole table to the button, making the blind cost of the hand exponentially bigger. But this rarely happens. Most of the time, only one or two players will opt for the straddle.
Variations in straddling mean that in some no-limit games a player can straddle for any amount of chips, ranging from twice the big blind to all their stack. Again, you won’t see this often – and if you do you could be in for a very profitable night.
Which brings us to our next point of discussion. What’s the point in straddling? Is it ever profitable?
The truth is, straddling can never be considered a profitable play. There are at least two reasons for this.
First, a straddle bet is always made blind, i.e. without seeing your hand. That means your hand range is literally 100 percent. You could be holding any two cards.This reduces your chance of hitting a highly ranked hand.
Betting with any two cards is never profitable poker, even from a decent position.
But straddling doesn’t occur from a decent position. The option belongs to the player to the left of the blind, one of the worst positions on the table.
This combination of poor position and random cards makes straddling -EV.
You could quite safely completely ignore the option to straddle and never go wrong in terms of strategy.
Why then, oh why do players straddle bet in poker?
It’s a good question.
Let’s think about the impact straddling has on the betting and the dynamics at the poker table:
- Straddling forces a temporary blind increase, doubling the cost for other players to enter the pot
- This blind increase cuts effective stack sizes in half – if you had 100bb before the straddle, you now have 50bb for the duration of the hand
- Straddling can therefore inflate the pot, especially if players respond aggressively with re-raises or all-ins
- This often leads to more action both pre and post flop in a more valuable pot
In short, the main effects of a straddle bet in poker is a potential for more action!
The straddle bet is more about excitement than it is about strategy. It can speed up a slow paced table and encourage tight players to step up to a more risky dynamic.
It’s a bet for players looking to have fun and splash chips around…
So far, we’ve discussed the straddle bet in terms of whether it’s profitable and useful for you to do it.
There’s also a more sneaky way to think about the straddle bet.
If lots of players are straddling and re-straddling in a live poker game, you’re looking at a very loose (or drunk) table dynamic. There’s going to be chips flying and players making big bets holding any two cards. You might even see crazy all-ins.
(It’s worth mentioning too that some players can react in the opposite way, tightening up even more in the face of expensive straddles)
Instead of worrying about whether or not to straddle, you can be the player who thinks about when to come over the top of a straddle to take down big pots. You can look to extract more value with big holdings preflop in an overinflated pot. You can read the way the straddle changes the dynamic and react to it.
In this respect, straddling can be a very profitable dream.