To Straddle or Not to Straddle: Considering Pros and Cons
In the majority of live poker rooms in which I have played cash games, players are allowed to "straddle."
This means players are able, if they wish, to post what amounts to a third blind bet — called the "straddle" — and by doing so possibly win the right to the be the last person to act before the flop, since preflop the action typically begins with the player to the left of the one putting in the straddle.
Usually players will straddle from under the gun or the button, although on rare occasions they can be allowed to straddle from other positions (a.k.a., a "Mississippi straddle"). The straddle size is commonly twice the big blind — thus, if the game is $5/$10 no-limit hold'em, the straddle bet would be $20.
There are a few things to consider when putting in a straddle bet or when playing a "straddled" hand.
First of all, you must keep in mind that when a straddle or third blind bet is played, that will increase the stakes of the game you are currently playing.
If you are playing a $1/$2 no-limit hold'em game with effective stacks of $200, the stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR) before any bets are made is 66.66. But if someone puts in a $4 straddle (2x the big blind), suddenly the SPR drops to 28.57. This change means you'll have to adjust your preflop ranges and strategy.
A key factor to consider, then, is that if you believe you have an edge against the other players, decreasing the SPR might not be the best thing for you to do. It might have the effect of limiting the decision-making of short stacks, which in turn gives them fewer opportunities to make mistakes, thereby lessening your edge.
On the other hand, if most of those sitting around the table are deep-stacked, playing in a bigger game might be a good thing to do, insofar as it can increase your chances of winning bigger pots.
Another argument in favor of straddling is that doing so usually loosens up the game, thereby creating what could be a better dynamic for you with more action. This is especially true if you can influence other players to do the same and straddle as well.
When an entire table is straddling (or even most of the players), some don't even realize they are actually playing a bigger game than they should be, which can lead to those players experiencing more pressure and thus play less well. It can even cause them to tilt and make more mistakes.
Even if you believe there are good reasons to straddle, keep in mind that straddling from under the gun (as opposed to straddling from the button or other positions) can mean putting in more money and potentially playing bigger pots from out of position.
Most players — even the most profitable ones — lose money when playing from the small and big blinds. Voluntarily putting in that third blind from UTG thus increases your risk, since you'll not only be playing a bigger game but very likely be playing from out of position in most postflop situations.
The scenario is considerably different when you straddle from the button, which is the most profitable position at the table for most players. Making the game play bigger while enjoying position postflop can be a profitable strategy.
Remember that making smart decisions is the key to success in poker. Always make it clear to yourself the reasoning behind your decisions with every move you make when playing poker. That goes for decisions made in a hand, as well as the decision whether or not to straddle when given the opportunity.
Even though poker is a social game — and I highly recommend you try your best to enjoy it and also to be sociable while playing — you shouldn't feel bad or hesitate at all to refuse to straddle if this is your wish, even if everyone else is doing it. Stay disciplined, and evaluate every situation in order to make the best choice for you.
Primarily an online player, 888poker Ambassador Vivian "Vivi" Saliba has recently collected numerous live cashes including making the money in both the 2017 WSOP Main Event and 2017 WSOP Europe Main Event. Pot-limit Omaha is her favorite variant, and among her many PLO scores is an 11th place in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed Championship at the 2017 WSOP.