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How Poker Straddle Affect Your Winrate


How Poker Straddle Affect Your Winrate
Find out the ins and outs of straddling in poker and whether it is a profitable play for the average poker player.

It can be a little confusing the first time we run into a straddle playing live poker. What exactly is a straddle? What effect does straddling have on the game? Should we straddle given the opportunity?

Let’s review the basics.

WHAT IS A STRADDLE ANYWAY?

A straddle can be defined as follows -

“An optional blind bet made preflop in an attempt to generate action”.

Not all straddles follow the same set of rules – there are variants. Whether certain types of straddles are allowed will depend on the house rules of the game we are playing in. We’ll start by discussing the classic UTG straddle (the most common) and talk about some of the other variants a little later.

Imagine we are playing a $2/$5 game in our local casino. The SB posts $2 and the BB posts $5. Before any hole cards are dealt, UTG announces that he wishes to “straddle” and places a blind payment of $10 into the pot. We refer to this as a “blind” payment because it’s an action that is taken without seeing any hole cards first. Action starts with the player to the left of UTG.

The easiest way of thinking about the straddle is as a third blind, i.e. we have the small blind, the big blind, and the bigger blind (straddle). If players wish to enter the pot, they must at least call $10 preflop, the size of the bigger blind (i.e. limping is now more expensive). Many players would even now describe the structure of the game differently: as $2/$5/$10 instead of $2/$5.

WHAT EFFECT DOES STRADDLING HAVE?

As the above example shows, straddling radically changes the stakes we are playing. The big blind payment is no longer $5, but $10. The effective stacks must now be thought of differently.

If we buy into a $2/5 game for $500 we have 100 big blinds. Once a player puts on the $10 straddle, we are now essentially playing a $5/10 game instead of a $2/5 game. We now effectively have 50 big blinds in our stack and must adjust our poker strategy accordingly. Shallower effective stacks mean that it is going to be correct to stack off significantly wider postflop.

Straddling is hence used as a way to generate action. This scenario is especially true given that the straddle hasn’t seen his hole-cards before straddling. There is an extra $10 in the middle, and it has been invested by a player who could literally have any two cards.

Despite this, many straddlers will be reluctant to fold preflop even if they have trash – they feel invested in the pot after straddling. Straddling hence encourages shallow-stacked battles with wide ranges.

IS STRADDLING A GOOD IDEA?

Most experienced poker players know that their biggest losses come in the blinds. Good blind play involves losing less than our blind investment on average, but it’s virtually impossible to turn a profit from the SB and BB in the long run. The disadvantage of being forced to make a mandatory preflop investment with any two cards is too much of a hurdle to overcome.

It shouldn’t surprise us that average loss-rates in the BB are even higher than average loss-rates in the SB. Why? Because the mandatory BB payment is larger than the SB payment, it stands to reason that our loss-rate in the straddle will be even higher than typical loss-rates in the BB.

In other words, the voluntary straddle is a mathematical disaster! We are passing up the opportunity to make a zero-EV fold from UTG and instead adopting a strategy, which is more or less guaranteed to make our winrate worse.

Of course, habitual straddlers might be quick to highlight the advantages. Firstly, straddling affords us relative position preflop. (Note that the straddle still has the option to raise even if every other player just calls the straddle. It’s hence different from simply making a 2bb blind raise from UTG.)

Secondly, straddlers may claim that straddling “loosens up the game”, making future orbits more juicy and profitable. While this may be true, such advantages are extremely difficult to quantify and the chances of them being enough to overcome the disadvantage of a blind 2bb preflop investment is remote.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that straddling may sometimes be correct for social reasons. Sometimes a live game may agree to a “round of straddles” (everyone straddles for one orbit). It’s not such a big deal to straddle if every other player at the table is voluntarily taking on the same disadvantage. Besides, we don’t want to be that one guy at the table who ruins the fun.

STRADDLE VARIATIONS

Straddling rules change from casino to casino. For example, while the straddle size is typically 2x the BB, some casinos may allow a straddle bet of any size. Whether different sizings are permitted, may also depend on the type of straddle. We have thus far considered the classic UTG straddle.

Let’s examine some additional types of straddle:

Mississippi Straddle – The Mississippi straddle is most commonly made by the button. (In fact, some sources say it can only be made on the button while others say the Mississippi straddle can be used in any position. Assuming the straddle is on the BTN, action starts out at the SB. Assuming there is no raise, the straddle (BTN) has the option to raise once the action gets back around to him. (Sometimes players describe a straddle with the option to raise as a “live” straddle).

Sleeper Straddle – The sleeper straddle can be made from any position. As its name might suggest, this is not a “live” straddle (although some casinos might treat it as such). If the action is called or folded around to the straddle, he does not have the option to raise. Unlike other types of straddle, the sleeper straddle does not buy relative position with his straddle. The action does not start to the left of the sleeper straddle but instead starts in the normal place (UTG).

Re-straddles – Re-straddling (or double-straddling) can be applied to any of the types of straddle we have discussed so far (assuming allowed by the casino). After the initial straddle is made, a second player may also choose to straddle behind him. For example, in the case of the classic UTG straddle described at the outset, a second player may decide to re-straddle to $20. The stakes would now be $2/$5/$10/$20 – although it’s easiest to simply think of this as an effective $10/$20 game.

SUMMERY OF STRADDLING

Here are the key takeaways from this discussion on straddling:

- Learn what is allowed in your local casino and how it works.

- Avoid straddling unless it is socially questionable not to straddle.

- Understand the impact of straddling on effective stacks. (If we are good at playing with different effective stack-depths, adjusting to a straddle should come more easily.)



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Adam “w34z3l” Jones
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