Should you EVER Straddle in Poker?

“Should I ever straddle in poker?” is a question several friends and students have asked me over the past few years. Every time I answer, it is some form of no. A straddle is a voluntary blind raise normally from the UTG position (see Mississippi Straddling for another variation), it acts as a 3rd blind. On the surface straddling is a highly -ev action, you will lose money whenever you decide to straddle. However, there are sometimes when you really should consider straddling at a live table. Legitimate reasons for straddling include:

  • Encouraging the inflation of pots when you are playing with weaker players,

  • Artificially doubling the games stake,

  • Trying to make poker fun for new players to encourage them to come back to your game,

  • Trying to improve your table image.

Firstly, let’s look at why straddling is almost always a low expected value decision.


Dissecting the Expected Value of a Straddle

Straddling is Negative EV. You will lose value when you decide to straddle, this is for the same reasons that you lose money when playing from the Big Blind (BB). You are putting in chips to play out of position with no idea how strong your hand will be. You profitably need to fold between 50% and 70% of the time out of the BB on average depending on previous action and opponents opening positions. The opponents opening ranges are so strong and they have a positional advantage so from the BB you are on the backfoot.


When you do call, you are playing in an inflated pot out of position with a capped range- a recipe for disaster and break even at best. Even when you get a good hand that you would want to 3bet, this doesn’t offset the money lost when folding or calling with mediocre hands. We call from the BB because we have enough equity vs the opponent’s range to win back our bb in the long run. It’s hard to play profitably from the BB, so doubling this for a straddle costs a lot in terms of BB/100 hands.


You may be able to make up for the -EV decision with the effect that the straddle or frequent straddling does in the long run. Let’s look at the times when you can take this losing strategy and flip it to become a winning one. We’ll start with the most common situation that you will find yourself in, encouraging action on soft tables.


Encouraging Action Against Fish

The biggest excuse I hear for someone straddling is to claim that the player straddling is trying to encourage action against weak players at the table- the fish. There is no easy calculation for when a tables atmosphere is just right to make your straddle profitable. You need a huge skill gap versus most of the players on the table to counteract the out of position disadvantage you put yourself in. You also need the fish to get involved in the action, which some weaker players don’t do, they often flat call the straddle instead of making a raise.


One of the ways to increase a skill gap is by having players at the table play with wider ranges. If your straddle is going to have a lasting effect on the players at the table by making them play looser poker overall, then straddling has its benefits. One of the best ways to change the dynamic of the table is to convince most people on the table to a “round of straddling”. For one orbit, every player puts in this extra blind. Having every player straddle for an orbit removes some of the disadvantage you are burdened with as everyone on the table is now in the same boat. It has a high change of changing the way the table plays these players will be in a situation with shorter stack sizes and more money in the pots for 15 to 20 minutes- plenty of time for them to change their tendencies for the rest of the session.


If you are on a table with regulars or semi/fully professional players, they know that straddling is a losing play. They are unlikely to change the way that they play too much, versus the straddle and then once the straddling has finished. Against newer, more recreational, gamble orientated individuals- this change in dynamic could make them much looser. That is the best outcome you could achieve when straddling.


A round of straddling can be highly effective if you are playing on a table of weak players who are sat deep (250bb+ average). Another reason you would want to straddle is because you are trying to change the blind level.


Changing the Blind Level

Imagine, you’ve been sat at the table for a few hours, and you realise that every player is particularly deep. If you are not comfortable playing deep stacked poker, by convincing the entire table to constant rounds of straddling, you are artificially doubling the stake. This can play into your favour if you feel like you are a worse player when playing deep. Remember though, if you have a skill advantage against your opponents, it’s normally in your best interest to play as deep as you can. Players mistakes are often magnified the deeper that they are, so keeping in control of the size of the pot will likely be in your favour- especially in the long run.


Keep the Game Fun

If you are the organiser of home games or private games, you need the high value players to keep returning to your game. High value players are weak poker players with deep pockets. The best way to convince players to come back to the table is by making the game as entertaining as possible. One of the best ways to do that is by straddling or playing various side games on the table. If you think that by adding some variation to your game you will bring the whales and fish back to your games, that small loss from the straddle will be insignificant compared to the amount you will win when they come back to play.


Great live players don’t just take advantage of weak players, they make them want to come back to play with them. If you have the reputation of a live crusher, weak players are going to want to play at a different table to you. That harms your profit in the long run. If you have the reputation of a gambler and an action man, you can keep the players you want at your table there for the long run.


Summary

To conclude, straddling is a highly -ev action in a vacuum and in the long-run. There can be some golden opportunities that present themselves at a poker table that make the straddle a viable strategy. You only want to make the straddle if you are going to achieve the following:

  • Make players play looser poker

  • Play shallower poker (when your advantage is at that depth)

  • Increase the entertainment value of the table/game

  • Improve your table image


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