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STRADDLES in Poker: Good or Bad for the Game?

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Countless poker enthusiasts often seek to spice up their games with the introduction of non-standard rules. Wild cards, 27o bounties, bomb pots, and other optional features promise to keep the action going and thus make the game more exciting, but most of these innovations are strictly limited to poker home games among friends because official casinos and cardrooms prefer to keep their games more standardized and uncontroversial. Yet even in the most straightlaced and by-the-books casinos, you will often see straddles not only permitted but encouraged.

Some enjoy straddling at the poker table but others think straddling is bad for the game

A thread on the twoplustwo forums has been started regarding straddling at the poker tables. Some are enthusiastic supporters of this practice while others claim that it is bad for the game and may even make newcomers uncomfortable. We've decided to take a look at this issue, explain what straddles are, and examine the arguments for and against them.

What Are Straddles in Poker?

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First things first, we need to make sure we're clear about what we're discussing. In poker, a straddle is an optional bet, typically for twice the size of the big blind, that a player can make preflop before the cards are dealt. The size of the straddle becomes the active bet amount. For instance, in an NL Hold'em game with $1/$2 blinds, someone could straddle for $4, and then all players who wish to remain in the hand must at least call the $4.

Straddles from the under-the-gun position are the most common. When someone makes an UTG straddle, the person to their left starts off the preflop action by either folding, calling the straddle, or raising. The action proceeds around the table like normal, through the blinds, and then the straddler acts in last position. Assuming the pot has not been raised, he or she can check or raise.

Some cardrooms permit straddling in positions other than UTG. The button straddle is the most common of these.

At some tables that permit button straddles, the action starts with the small blind. In others, the action begins under-the-gun like normal, but if there has not been a raise when the action reaches the button, the blinds instead act before the button, reserving for the player on the button the final preflop action. In case the pot is raised when it reaches the button, the button acts before the blinds like in a normal hand.

These are countless variations on these kinds of straddles, such as the Mississippi Straddle, which can be placed from any position outside the blinds, and the Dallas Straddle, which changes the rules about how the action proceeds around the table.

Perhaps the most prevalent wrinkle to the idea of the straddle is the concept of the “re-straddle.” At rooms that allow re-straddling, after the under-the-gun individual makes a straddle, the UTG+1 player has the option to re-straddle for double the amount of the straddle. Then UTG+2 can re-straddle for double that amount if he or she wishes! This process can go on until there are several straddles active before the cards have been dealt.

Mason Malmuth Stirs the Pot

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Two Plus Two Publishing founder Mason Malmuth kicked the discussion off on Aug. 12 with a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), which was cross-posted to the twoplustwo forums:

Mason Malmuth thinks cardroom managers should disallow straddling

Mason rightly points out that straddles make the effective stacks shorter, eliminating much of the skill that characterizes deep-stacked play. For example, in a $1/$2 NLHE game with $200 effective stacks, the play starts out 100 bets deep, and the initial SPR (stack-to-pot ratio) is a healthy 67. However, if a $4 straddle is present in addition to the blinds, that same $200 effective stack becomes merely 50 bets, and the SPR shrinks to just 29.

Shorter effective stacks mean fewer bets before getting all-in and most likely fewer streets of play. Certain starting card combinations, like suited connectors and small pairs, become unprofitable to play in many cases, leading to more straightforward ranges weighted heavily toward high pairs and high cards. Reading opponents' hands thus becomes simpler, and players can more correctly use direct pot odds to figure out what to do with their draws rather than having to contend with the vagaries of implied odds.

Malmuth's reasoning resonated with many twoplustwoers. Some raised additional concerns regarding straddles:

Twoplustwoer “zrap” is against straddling in poker

As user “zrap” notices, straddles not only affect the hands in which they are placed but also the entire metagame of the table. There tends to be frequent animosity between those in favor of straddling, those opposed to it, and those who only wish to straddle if everyone else is straddling.

Although the practice is supposed to be completely voluntary, many participants are not shy about trying to convince others of their views. This can lead to arguments, wasted time, and poor sportsmanship, which threaten to create an unfriendly environment for recreational players who may elect to leave rather than put up with these hassles.

In Defense of Straddling


Clearly, in light of all the problems people have with straddling, there must be some positives to it; otherwise, it would hardly be as popular as it is. An excellent summary of these advantages is provided by twoplustwo poster “razorbacker”:

Twoplustwo's “razorbacker” likes straddles

As noted, straddles make pots larger with dead money and cause the stakes to effectively double. Although GTO modeling suggests that people should play tighter when a straddle is active, in real life, the opposite often occurs. Players see that there's more money in the middle to fight for and are therefore willing to put in more action.

One other common sentiment is that UTG straddles are fine but straddling on the button is bad for the game. This mindset is exemplified by the comments of “OmahaDonk”:

“OmahaDonk” thinks straddles under-the-gun are fine but detests button straddles

According to this mindset, an under-the-gun straddle functions basically as a third blind and doesn't really affect positions or the dynamics of preflop play all that much. A button straddle, on the other hand, magnifies the button's positional advantage and forces all other positions to tighten up. This is especially true in cardrooms where the SB acts first when the button straddles – the blinds are not only forced to put in dead money but have to act before everyone else and must therefore fold almost every hand.

There are many more nuances to this discussion of straddling in poker, including further comments from Mason Malmuth. If you'd like to read more on this topic or contribute to it yourself, you can head over to the twoplustwo thread and put your two cents in.

Straddle Online

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Although straddling is mostly a live cardroom phenomenon, there's at least one trustworthy online poker site that allows straddles in cash games. That site is BetOnline, and it permits straddles in NL Hold'em, PL Omaha, PL Omaha Hi-Lo, and 5 Card Omaha games. To start playing at BOL today, click the button below:

If you'd like to get more information about BetOnline first, then feel free to peruse this detailed BetOnline review.