Straddling is a fun element of live poker, but many players don’t fully understand what a straddle really does. More than just putting out 2x the big blind before the cards are dealt, a straddle can dramatically alter the game in some big ways. So enjoy this free video which will forever answer the question “Should I Straddle?“, and if you prefer reading, the script can be found below. Enjoy!

There are many different kinds of straddles. While straddling is not a traditional feature on online poker sites, you live players will see plenty of it. They come in different sizes, from different positions, and are made for a multitude of reasons. A straddle is simply a blind raise preflop made before the hole cards are dealt. The two most common types of straddles are:

  • The classic UTG straddle
  • The Mississippi straddle

Let’s start with the common UTG straddle…

An UTG straddle is when the UTG player, or the player to the direct left of the big blind, puts out 2x the big blind BEFORE the cards are dealt. Action then begins with the next player and the straddler gets their option when it comes back to them.

So in this hand at $2/$5 the UTG player puts out $10 before the cards are dealt and action starts on their left. If the pot is raised action goes around like normal and the straddler still gets an action in normal rotation. If the pot is limped to the straddler, the straddler can decide to check OR raise. If they raise, action goes around like normal.

But why would someone want to straddle? What are the benefits? Well let’s first understand what the straddle is really doing. By putting out a blind 2x raise before the cards are dealt the straddler is essentially putting out a third blind, so at a $2/$5 game the blinds are now $2/$5/$10 for this hand. That artificially makes this hand like a $5/$10 game and thus lowers the effective stack sizes.

So a player who started the hand with $500 would have 100 big blinds at $2/$5…but when the straddle is on and the blinds are artificially $2/$5/$10…that $500 stack is now only 50 big blinds. That changes a lot of things when it comes to both preflop AND postflop strategy!

Stakes$5002x StraddleBB w/ Straddle

The other common straddle, albeit less common than the UTG version, is the Mississippi straddle. This gives the button the option to straddle for 2x the big blind first, and if he defers the option rotates around the table counter-clockwise. If a Mississippi straddle has been established, the player to the direct left of the straddle acts first.

So if we take an example where the button does a Mississippi straddle, the SB would act first and action continues like normal. Similar to the UTG straddle, if it limps around to the straddler, the straddler does have the option to check OR raise.

This straddle also halves the effective stack, but rather than UTG straddling and being in one of the worst positions at the table…a Mississippi straddle done on the button puts you in the best position both preflop and postflop.

In general, a straddle doesn’t really offer any other benefits…if you can even consider halving the effective stacks a benefit. The straddle is more a sign of a gambler, someone who wants to play for solely for fun and likes to throw chips around more liberally.  Most players that straddle don’t even understand that it changes the effective stacks…but now you will!

So back to the original question…“should I be straddling?”  In general, no. By straddling you change the effective stake of the game, and in turn change the effective stacks. If you have a solid 100bb strategy but not a great 50bb strategy, why create a bad situation for yourself?

But there are three main times when I think straddling is a good idea:

1. When you can straddle/attack. If you are the kind of table where you can straddle, get a bunch of callers, and then attack them with a big raise when the action comes back to you…a straddle can be excellent. This gives you a chance to pick up a bunch of easy money. However, in most games the straddle creates a bizarre dynamic where people want to fold less often…which can dramatically reduce how often they fold when you attack.

2. A Mississippi button straddle with solid players on your direct left: If you button straddle, the players in the blinds are forced to act first, and the solid players are likely to fold preflop at a full table. This removes them from your pot and leaves you on the button, which is awesome! However, if you have a number of solid players on your direct left…chances are you should have already been considering a table change.

3. When it’s socially acceptable: I never like being the sore thumb at a poker table. If the table is doing a round of straddles, just go along with it. Keep the game lively, keep everyone smiling, and just throw your straddle out there. Sure a straddle is a –EV play…but pitching away 2 big blinds to keep the game running and happy is easily a good idea.

Overall, straddling is a losing play. You put in more money with a random hand, and when you do so from UTG you have awful position when you go postflop. You also halve the effective stacks and artificially increase the stake to one that you likely are not bankrolled for. In specific situations a straddle can be good, especially when it’s socially viable…but barring that you should usually avoid straddling in your games!

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Same as always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to let me know…otherwise…good luck and happy grinding!

Showing 11 comments
  • S

    Hmmmm I totally disagree with this analysis of straddles. Many times a straddle will accomplish several other benefits. 1. It loosens up a tight game and can induce bad play from otherwise tight nits. 2. It also is very optimal at inducing tilt and bad play out of Cannons. Overall straddles are a very good tool if used effectively by a skilled player to help improve edge. Thats my two cents

  • Thanks for the comment S! I agree with point 1, especially if you can encourage a round of straddles. But I’d say bad cannons are going to spew anyway and don’t usually need a straddle to encourage that =)

  • Darren

    What about a button straddle that starts the action under the gun then proceeds around the table skips the button and let’s the blinds act and finally comes back to the button for an optional call or raise? My home casino plays the button straddle this way. Seems like this gives the button a big advantage to act last on limped pre flops and pressure table with raises?

  • The concept would be similar to a normal Mississippi straddle done on the button, given the absolute position and ability to act last preflop. It can be good in certain games, for sure, especially when you can use your position and really generate those preflop folds with a nice big raise!

  • Richard

    Nice article James,
    I usually follow the strategy you describe. I would also sometimes encourage the table to straddle if it is a relatively deep game because if everyone straddles it isn’t -EV anymore but just an added blind.

    But except for that I would straddle in following situations

    1. If some deep fishes are to the left of myself I will often straddle because I want to build the pot up early to stack them easier and because they will call almost every hand or even blind. Preferably there aren’t aggressive players who attack those fishes a lot and the table overall is at least 200bb deep on average.

    2. I will often live straddle if to the right of myself sits a whale or a maniac to have position on him once more in the game and again: to build the pot up and stack him easier. Besides, I have the feeling that maniacs get often very emotional in straddled pots.

    What do you think about this “straddling strategies”?

  • Thanks Richard!

    1. But in doing so you build the pot with a totally random out of position on the fish. I’d avoid straddling given this dynamic because we can make large preflop raises against fish with good cards and they will still make calling mistakes.

    2. Kind of the same concept as the point above.

  • Michael Helsvig

    Dear James, I have a question, which seem to cause confusion at the live tables: UTG at a live cash game puts his beer aside, yells ‘Straddle!’ and throws out 2x or 4x the big blind. Is UTG+1, and the other players, obligated to throw out the same amount, if they wish to play? If a straddle is like a third big blind, that bumps up the table stake, I would assume, that UTG+2, and other players, can look at their cards – and either fold, call the straddle or raise. I am sure, you have the answer to this. All the best from Copenhagen.

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney

      Think of the straddle as a “first-raise”. So if UTG straddles 2bb, UTG+1 would be able to fold, call 2bb, or raise. But yeah…live players who are not used to seeing the straddle will be very confused by it =)

  • BWillie

    I agree for the most part. Most people are assuming that straddling, even only on the button, is a +EV play but there is no evidence to support this. If we had hundreds of thousands of hands database, assuming you could straddle online and you did it voluntarily every button, Im sure it would yield a worse WR than not straddling. Especially when playing full ring, straddling is a leak UNLESS

    1) Two really good & tricky players are in the blinds because you can neutralize them & make them play tighter by straddling button.

    2) If you are playing 3 or 4 handed with passive players

    3) A FR where everyone is super passive and all fish (which in todays poker environment is almost never)

  • Jacob Buckey

    I was at a live cash game tbl the utg straddled and i was utg2 and i was forced to call theyx said i couldnt fold it made no sense at all

    • James Sweeney

      That is very strange. I would suggest talking to the floor to see if they can clear it up and either explain to you why the rule exists that way, or explain to the dealer how it’s supposed to work =)