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Understanding Straddle Strategy For Market Profits
In trading, there are numerous sophisticated trading strategies designed to help traders succeed regardless of whether the market moves up or down. Some of the more sophisticated strategies, such as iron condors and iron butterflies, are legendary in the world of options. They require complex buying and selling of multiple options at various strike prices. The end result is to make sure a trader is able to profit no matter where the underlying price of the stock, currency or commodity ends up.
However, one of the least sophisticated option strategies can accomplish the same market neutral objective with a lot less hassle. The strategy is known as a straddle. It only requires the purchase or sale of one put and one call to become activated. In this article, we’ll take a look at different the types of straddles and the benefits and pitfalls of each.
Types of Straddles
A straddle is a strategy accomplished by holding an equal number of puts and calls with the same strike price and expiration dates. The following are the two types of straddle positions.
- Long Straddle – The long straddle is designed around the purchase of a put and a call at the exact same strike price and expiration date. The long straddle is meant to take advantage of the market price change by exploiting increased volatility. Regardless of which direction the market’s price moves, a long straddle position will have you positioned to take advantage of it.
- Short Straddle – The short straddle requires the trader to sell both a put and a call option at the same strike price and expiration date. By selling the options, a trader is able to collect the premium as a profit. A trader only thrives when a short straddle is in a market with little or no volatility. The opportunity to profit will be based 100% on the market’s lack of ability to move up or down. If the market develops a bias either way, then the total premium collected is at jeopardy.
The success or failure of any straddle is based on the natural limitations that options inherently have along with the market’s overall momentum. (For more, see: Option Basics Tutorial)
The Long Straddle
A long straddle is specially designed to assist a trader to catch profits no matter where the market decides to go. There are three directions a market may move: up, down or sideways. When the market is moving sideways, it’s difficult to know whether it will break to the upside or downside. To successfully prepare for the market’s breakout, there is one of two choices available:
- The trader can pick a side and hope the market breaks in that direction.
- The trader can hedge his or her bets and pick both sides simultaneously. That’s where the long straddle comes in.
By purchasing a put and a call, the trader is able to catch the market’s move regardless of its direction. If the market moves up, the call is there; if the market moves down, the put is there. In Figure 1, we look at a 17-day snapshot of the euro market. This snapshot finds the euro stuck between $1.5660 and $1.54.
While the market looks like it may break through the $1.5660 price, there is no guarantee it will. Based on this uncertainty, purchasing a straddle will allow us to catch the market if it breaks to the upside or if it heads back down to the $1.54 level. This allows the trader to avoid any surprises.
Drawbacks to the Long Straddle
The following are the three key drawbacks to the long straddle.
- Risk of loss
- Lack of volatility
The rule of thumb when it comes to purchasing options is in-the-money and at-the-money options are more expensive than out-of-the-money options. Each at-the-money option can be worth a few thousand dollars. So while the original intent is to be able to catch the market’s move, the cost to do so may not match the amount at risk.
In Figure 2 we see the market breaks to the upside, straight through $1.5660.
ATM Straddle (At-The-Money)
This leads us to the second problem: risk of loss. While our call at $1.5660 has now moved in the money and increased in value in the process, the $1.5660 put has now decreased in value because it has now moved farther out of the money. How quickly a trader can exit the losing side of straddle will have a significant impact on what the overall profitable outcome of the straddle can be. If the option losses mount quicker than the option gains or the market fails to move enough to make up for the losses, the overall trade will be a loser.
The final drawback deals with the inherent makeup of options. All options are comprised of the following two values:
- Time value – The time value comes from how far the option is from expiring. (For more insight, read: The Importance Of Time Value.)
- Intrinsic value – The intrinsic value comes from the option’s strike price being out, in, or at the money.
If the market lacks volatility and does not move up or down, both the put and call option will lose value every day. This will go on until the market either definitively chooses a direction or the options expire worthless.
The Short Straddle
The short straddle’s strength is also its drawback. Instead of purchasing a put and a call, a put and a call are sold in order to generate income from the premiums. The thousands spent by the put and call buyers actually fill your account. This can be a great boon for any trader. The downside, however, is that when you sell an option you expose yourself to unlimited risk. (For related reading, see: Options Hazards That Can Bruise Your Portfolio.)
As long as the market does not move up or down in price, the short straddle trader is perfectly fine. The optimum profitable scenario involves the erosion of both the time value and the intrinsic value of the put and call options. In the event the market does pick a direction, the trader not only has to pay for any losses that accrue, but he or she must also give back the premium he has collected.
The only recourse short straddle traders have is to buy back the options they sold when the value justifies doing so. This can occur anytime during the life cycle of a trade. If this is not done, the only choice is to hold on until expiration.
When Straddles Strategy Works Best
The option straddle works best when it meets at least one of these three criteria:
- The market is in a sideways pattern.
- There is pending news, earnings or another announcement.
- Analysts have extensive predictions on a particular announcement.
Analysts can have tremendous impact on how the market reacts before an announcement is ever made. Prior to any earnings decision or governmental announcement, analysts do their best to predict what the exact value of the announcement will be. Analysts may make estimates weeks in advance of the actual announcement, which inadvertently forces the market to move up or down. Whether the prediction is right or wrong is secondary to how the market reacts and whether your straddle will be profitable. (For more insight, read Analyst Recommendations: Do Sell Ratings Exist?)
After the actual numbers are released, the market has one of two ways to react: The analysts’ prediction can add either to or decrease the momentum of the actual price once the announcement is made. In other words, it will proceed in the direction of what the analyst predicted or it will show signs of fatigue. A properly created straddle, short or long, can successfully take advantage of just this type of market scenario. The difficulty occurs in knowing when to use a short or a long straddle. This can only be determined when the market will move counter to the news and when the news will simply add to the momentum of the market’s direction.
There is a constant pressure on traders to choose to buy or sell, collect premium or pay premiums, but the straddle is the great equalizer. The straddle allows a trader to let the market decide where it wants to go. The classic trading adage is “the trend is your friend.” Take advantage of one of the few times you are allowed to be in two places at once with both a put and a call. (For related reading, see: How the Straddle Rule Creates Tax Opportunities for Options Traders.)
Explaining the “Straddle” (It’s Not As Obscene As It Sounds)
Table Of Contents
You’re enjoying your first time in a real poker room.
You’ve played for several orbits of the button and are feeling like you’re getting the hang of things.
Then, suddenly, when you’re four seats left of the button, expecting to be second to act.
The player to your right puts out some chips even before picking up his cards, the dealer says, “Straddle,” and points to you.
Apparently, everyone expects you to do something.
Your mind reels, wondering if your legs are long enough to straddle whatever it is the dealer expects you to straddle and whether it will look pornographic if you do it.
What the hell is going on here?
What do Players Think about the Straddle Bet?
|Aggressive Players||In Favor. You get more action when the straddle bet can lead to an all-in blind bet.|
|Conservative Players||Against. When you don’t set a limit for the straddle bet in no-limit poker games, you risk turning the hands into a luck-based lottery.|
What is a Straddle in Poker?
- The straddle in poker is an extra bet that is placed before the cards are dealt.
- The straddle bet is usually equal to 2x the big blind (BB).
- In some particular cases that we explore in this article, the amount of this bet can be unlimited.
The “straddle bet” is one of the most confusing subjects to try to explain to new players.
The essential concept is that the straddle is an optional blind bet (i.e., one made before the cards are dealt).
But the number of variations on that basic idea is dauntingly large and bewildering to every new player.
The straddle is an optional blind bet.
You can hit five Vegas poker rooms in a day, and find that they all have different rules for straddles.
Let’s start by describing the basic elements of what we might call the “classic” straddle in poker:
- It occurs in “flop” games or the versions of poker in which there are community cards used by all players to make their hands — mainly Texas hold’em and Omaha poker.
- The option to place a straddle bet belongs to the player who would otherwise be first to act, which is the seat to the immediate left of the big blind.
- The straddle bet, if it is to be done, must be either put out or verbally announced before the cards are dealt, or at least before the player has looked at his cards. (The former way is easier to enforce, but some casinos allow the latter.)
- The size of the straddle bet is double the big blind, and effectively acts as a voluntary third blind, by which I mean that it sets a new “limp-in” level. In a $1/$2 no-limit hold’em game, the straddle would be $4. Subsequent players in turn then must either call that $4, raise, or fold. In essence, for one hand the straddle transforms the game from $1/$2 no-limit to $1/$2/$4 no-limit.
- Because the straddler put his money in without having seen his cards, he is given another chance to act after having looked at them, just as the two players in the blinds get. His options are the same as those that the big blind has when there is no straddle: check, fold, or raise, depending on what action has gone before.
- After the flop, everything proceeds in the normal fashion; the fact that there was a preflop straddle has no further effect on how the hand is played.
All of that is not too hard to deal with.
You just think of the straddle as an optional third blind, and everything makes perfect sense.
But poker players are never content to just leave well enough alone. They’re always tinkering, coming up with new variations to keep from getting bored and to try to find a new strategic edge.
The most common variant is the “Button Straddle”
So we started seeing mutations of the basic elements listed above. And these can change the very nature of this bet and the poker straddle definition.
The Straddle Bet in No-Limit Games
In no-limit games, some people reasoned that the “no-limit” concept should apply to all bets, including the straddle.
As a result, you now sometimes see house rules that allow the straddle to be any amount, up to and including an all-in blind bet. Action-hungry players love this.
Other more conservative players think it ruins the game, turning a contest of skill into a crapshoot when the game has a few players who take advantage of this leeway.
If you ask me, I’m delighted to have a game in which we have players routinely putting in all their chips in the dark.
- I am not one of them
- I get to decide whether to call after looking at my cards.
If you think about it, this way of using the straddle bet in poker is an enormous advantage in my favour — a far larger mathematical edge than I could get in most games.
Besides, action like that doesn’t tend to go on for very long.
The players doing it either burn through all the money in their pocket, or they get lucky, accumulate a huge stack, and decide to either cash-out or start playing more cautiously.
Poker Straddle: Three Scenarios to Know
There are different scenarios where you might be required to know how to deal with straddling and how to size your first bet.
- The Under-the-Gun (UTG) Straddle: This is the most common straddle in poker. The UTG player is required to place the straddle bet before the dealer begins to distribute the cards.
- The Mississippi Straddle: Any player can straddle — as long as they do it before the cards are dealt. If no one re-straddle (yes, that’s possible), the player who places the straddle bet is the last one to act before the flop.
- The Un-Capped Straddle: This is the occasion we have seen above when we spoke about no-limit games. This type removes the 2x BB rule and lets players bet as much as they want / can afford.
The “Button Straddle”
Things got even more confusing when poker rooms started introducing variations on who can straddle.
Very rarely, you’ll find a game in which a straddle is allowed from any position.
Another common variant these days is the “button straddle.”
The game can’t have more than one straddle. The button straddle, if in play, takes precedence over the under-the-gun straddle, and the dealer pushes the latter bet back to the player before passing out the cards.
Unfortunately, giving the straddle option to the player on the button wreaks havoc on the usual order of play, if the straddler is to have the last option to raise, as he does when the straddle is from the first position.
Casinos have devised several ways of handling this anomaly:
In some places, the use of the button straddle option means that action starts with the under-the-gun player, proceeds clockwise as usual, but then skips the button, jumps to the two blinds, then back to the button for his move.
Of course, if the button chooses to raise, then the action goes around the table again.
Finally, you will rarely encounter a game with even more complicated rules, such as having the order of action between the button and the blinds change depending on how many raises have been made in the meantime.
It gets horribly complicated and confusing to everyone.
Don’t worry about these obscure variants. They’re usually found only in high-stakes, action-crazy games.
I’ll save for another day a discussion of whether and when you might want to straddle for tactical advantage.
For now, if you’re aware of the traditional procedure and the most commonly found modern variants on that classic, as explained above, you’ll be in a position to avoid the confusion and frustration that new players otherwise tend to experience when first encountering the poker oddity called the straddle.
888poker Ambassador Vivian Saliba Explains the Pros and Cons of the Straddle Bet
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.
The straddle bet increases the stakes of the game you are playing.
There are a few things to consider when putting in a straddle bet in poker 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.
That changes if someone decides to throw the straddle bet into the mix.
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.
Two Key Factors to Consider:
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.
Another argument in favour of straddling is that doing so usually loosens up the game. This creates 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.
You shouldn’t feel bad or hesitate at all to refuse to straddle if this is your wish.
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.
A situation like this one can lead to those players experiencing more pressure and thus play less well.
The straddle bet 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.
Not only you’ll be playing a bigger game but very likely be playing from out of position in most post-flop 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 post-flop can be a profitable strategy.
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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.
Video: How to Use the Straddle Bet to Win More Hands
In this conversation part of the PokerSimple series, poker-lifers Tommy Angelo and Lee Jones explain how you can use the straddle bet in poker to your own advantage.
Poker Straddle F.A.Q.
Why do you straddle in poker?
The straddle bet ‘buys’ you the right to be the last one to act. This way, you can act as if you were on the big blind even if you are not.
Is the straddle considered to be a raise?
According to Robert’s Rules of Poker by Bob Ciaffone, the straddle is a third blind, not a raise. However much the straddle is, that’s the new big blind.
How much can you straddle in poker?
The standard straddle bet is equal to 2x the big blind (BB). In a $1/$2 Hold’em game, the straddle would be $4. Once the straddle bet is on the table, all the other players will need $4 to ‘Call’ and continue playing the hand.
Is straddling profitable in poker?
Hardly so. The straddle is a blind bet, and it is never +EV to invest in your hand before you see what cards you hold.
About the Authors
Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.
Primarily an online player, 888poker Ambassador Vivian “Vivi” Saliba has recently collected numerous live cashes including making the money in both the 2020 WSOP Main Event and 2020 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 2020 WSOP.
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Understanding the Straddle in Texas Hold’em Poker – Facts and Strategies
by John Darr | Nov 5, 2007 at 8:03 pm | Strategy
The definition of straddling entirely depends on where you use the word. If you’re in a rodeo, the definition of straddling a horse is somewhat blah, but with all that bucking you’re going to be in for one hell of a ride. If you’re in an intimate situation with a loved one (wink, wink), the definition of straddling each other is far from blah, but you’re still going to be in for one hell of a ride! (pun intended)
In a poker room, ‘I straddle’ is often received with mixed emotions, but the definition is understood – ‘I straddle’ means I’m going to put up a voluntary blind bet and the action starts on my left. And like the other two straddles above, when you straddle in a game sometimes your stack will fall hard and sometimes your stack will, uh, rise. Whether or not the straddle is a profitable play depends on how well you understand it and utilize it.
The straddle is a minimum of double the big blind and when there’s no cap it sometimes can be a much, much larger blind. It’s also a blind raise that allows you to act last in that round where players wanting to enter have to at least call your blind raise, giving you the open to raise your blind raise, reraise a raiser, check, or fold. Confused? I hope not. PTP readers are savvy, educated players and should know the basics of the straddle. But knowing how to straddle doesn’t mean a savvy, educated player can do it right or will even straddle when it’s right to do so.
I’ve heard a lot of good players bash the straddle, using harsh qualifiers like ‘never’ and ‘only an idiot’ and ‘kills the game.’ That’s nonsense from haters. When used right, the straddle can be a very powerful weapon. Here’s the deepest look in to the straddle that I can provide in a column like this.
Types of straddles / Not a kill
Not all straddles are equal, not all straddles are legal and not all straddles are right. The straddle usually occurs in games with at least one forced blind, like Hold’em and Omaha. An important note: straddling is NOT the same as a kill. Kill games are used in limit poker (and sometimes pot limit), but straddles can occur frequently in no limit, limit, and pot limit games.
In a kill game, when the kill conditions occur, the winning player posts what looks like a straddle, double the big in full kill games, a bit less in half kill games, and the betting limits subsequently increase for that one hand. There is no trigger for a straddle, just a reckless player’s impulse and the conviction to speak on it. So, in a 10-20 kill game when the kill is in effect, you’d play 20-40 until the kill is off. During a kill pot, preflop, the player does have action to raise himself and sometimes he gets to act last. However, a kill is not a straddle; it’s just a larger big blind structure for the entire hand. A straddle’s monetary impact is only felt preflop. In a 2-5 no limit game, a player can conceivably straddle for $100 and then bet any amount $5 or larger on the flop, turn and river.
But first things first. The blinds can not straddle; at least not anywhere I think I’ve played. Never seen it but that doesn’t make it absolute. But for the most part, it’s best to believe the blinds can’t straddle.
The SECOND thing you need to know (and believe) is that despite players saying ‘straddling is a losing play’ or ‘straddling is just plain dumb,’ there ARE times when you are hurting your profitability by NOT straddling.
The THIRD thing you need to know about straddling is that the house rules. Some casinos allow straddles and some don’t. Don’t argue with the floor about changing their rule either, you’ll lose and probably look like an ass.
Some casinos put restrictions/conditions on me, the straddler:
- is my straddle voluntary or forced?
- how much can I straddle?
- from what position can I straddle
- who has the first opportunity to straddle?
Here’s the rundown of the most common house rules and some general considerations:
- No Straddling Allowed – that’s pretty self-explanatory; most of the casinos in Las Vegas follow this rule and your house game might as well.
- Straddling Allowed only from one position on the table – usually under the gun, sometimes on the button; if under the gun only, use very wisely and selectively; if on the button, use more liberally; generally, if a Las Vegas casino allows straddling, it’s UTG only; most East Coast casinos I’ve played in allow straddling UTG only, but times are changing.
- Straddling Allowed any position (Mississippi Option) – generally, if the casino allows this, the button has the priority to straddle first and the option works counterclockwise, away from the blinds, with UTG having the last option; this is the way the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica ran most of their games when I was there last; if you find yourself in this type of game, consider straddling only on the button and the cut-off unless four-handed, UTG can be right; sometimes, sometimes! you can re-straddle the straddle, and that can be restraddled, and that can be restraddled all the way down the table; I’ve never seen it but I know it exists and sometimes happens, especially in Mississippi PLO games during the Poker Open.
- Straddling Allowed Any Position (Indiana Option) – I’ve only seen Caesars Indiana offer this option, but others in the area will probably catch on. I think French Lick offers it as well; UTG has first option to straddle, then priority ‘magically’ goes to the button and works counterclockwise away from the blinds; treat this game just like the Mississippi Option (without the re-straddle option though), but if you attempt to straddle on the button and UTG wants to pull rank, don’t argue; he has first option anyway and you’ll be in great position in most likely a built pot.
- Straddling Allowed but Capped – Most casinos that allow straddling put a cap on it, usually double the big blind. So if you’re in a game where the blinds are $2-$5, you can straddle to $10. It’s this way in Las Vegas, Tunica and most of the East Coast.
- Straddling Allowed but NO Cap – I’ve only seen this in Indiana, not to say it’s not allowed somewhere in Mississippi or California. This option permits the straddler to make the straddle any amount they want to gamble with. In a tiny 1-2 NL game, I’ve seen $20, $50, and even $100 straddles! Most often, everyone folds or someone attacks it all-in with something like AK, AQ and even AJ (I’m not saying it’s right, just that I’ve seen it). If you can straddle with no cap, you really don’t want to go any larger than 3X the big; the stacks in the game hardly ever justify the much LARGER blind raise. I occasionally go 3X in games where the table is full of passive limpers preflop who play tight on the flop (I just hammer the flop when everyone misses or bet players off their draws on the turn).
- Straddling MANDATORY – I’ve seen whole tables agree to change the game to a forced straddle, usually on the button or under the gun. In this case, it’s not really a straddle but more a third blind. Be careful, though. Just because every player is straddling and they tell you that you must DOES NOT mean it’s mandatory. Ask the dealer. Everyone just may be doing it and I’ve seen this happen. If you find yourself on a game where everyone just agrees to straddle, it’s probably best to do it as well. These guys are looking for action, don’t slow them down! The most ‘famous’ forced straddle is the Horseshoe Tunica’s ‘Rock,’ several chips rubber banned together to create a big, inseparable object of desire, usually in their infamous 20-40 limit game. It’s crazy, ‘The Rock’ is like the ring on Lord of the Rings, players go nuts for it. The ‘Rock’ enters the pot and if you win that pot, you put the ‘Rock’ up as the straddle and the action acts to your left, no matter where you are. I don’t get why people love the rock and seem to attack it preflop with raises and reraises, but when you win it, the pot is generally swollen.
Impact on the game
(When considering the impact of a straddle on a game, assume we’re not talking about ‘The Rock,’ that’s a whole other article)
When you straddle, there will be a variety of reactions. Most importantly, there ARE reactions and hopefully you can read and/or anticipate reactions to manipulate the game conditions to your favor.
Most often, when someone (you or anyone else) straddles in a game where the straddle is unfamiliar or new to that group of players, nearly EVERYONE tightens up preflop for the first couple occasions. They know what it is; they just don’t see it often. It’s during this time that players adjust their comfort level to the action. In the early ages of the straddle’s presence, you know you’ll be playing against big cards, usually facing a raise and typically heads up or three-handed.
Then something strange happens. Someone gets crafty, raises preflop and takes the pot down with a hand like 4-6 suited. What? He raised with 4-6! It’s then the first raise loses all value and reraises with top 40 hands become more common. Often, if the game isn’t too aggressive, a lot of players will call the first raise with hands they normally wouldn’t even consider playing for two bets or more. So, you get a lot of big pots multi-way. That’s good and bad for you. If you’re straddling UTG (under the gun), you’ll be out of position with usually crappy cards. You may be ‘priced in’ on some calls with weird draws, flop a vulnerable hand like bottom two pair and have to commit a lot of chips to protect this abnormally large pot, and you may flop a baby flush and get A LOT of action and have no idea where you are.
When the pot gets big, a lot of players want to play hands and draws they may have otherwise folded. Also when the pot is big, any big bet, any attempt to win the pot seems fishy. So if you’re bluffing at a straddled pot, be damn sure to pick your spot. There’s an increased chance you’ll get looked up. Also, if you’ve got a monster hand, balance your feelings to get massively paid off (like a pot or over pot bet) with the likely hood you could value bet (third pot bet) and get called in two or three spots, possibly raised!
Occasionally, when preflop raises aren’t being respected, you’ll often find players trying to win the pot ‘right now’ with massive reraises and all-ins with small and medium pocket pairs. So, it may seem like you’re just pissing away two big blinds. Don’t fret though. Consider you’ll get AA or KK once every 110 hands. When you do, you’ll typically have a ton of dead money in front of you, your preflop raise will probably look like a steal, the chances of significant action in front of you increases as players overplay smaller pocket pairs and hands you dominate (like AQ or AK), and you’ll get a lot in with a good edge. The AA and KK argument for why you should straddle isn’t an end-all and seems short sighted. But . . .
There are several, very powerful reasons to straddle when the conditions are right.
When to use the straddle
Ok, this is going to open some debate. Remember, this is MY opinion.
I straddle most often when it’s allowed on the button AND when the two players to my left (those in the small and big blind) are either tricky or highly skilled. I want them to act first. Why?
My style of play (loose aggressive and trusting my usually accurate reads) works best when I have a lot of information, in position. Without the straddle, I am still apt to call a lot raises with marginal or speculative hands on the button against opponents I can tag or read well. I think I’m right to do so as I’ll have all the information I need for the rest of the betting rounds. If I flop a good draw, I’m in position. If I think he missed and is following up, I’ll make him pay dearly. That’s my game. I’m not here to defend that, my hourly rate over the last 1000 hours justifies it.
But I have some good reasons to justify the cost of the straddle to get skilled opponents out of the hand as early as possible:
With a tricky or skilled opponent on my left in the blind I’ll straddle on the button (90%):
- To keep them from seeing a cheap flop with random cards they’d normally fold; it’s hard to put a good player on a hand, doubly hard if it’s random; would I rather play 2-5 against 2 good opponents and 5 lesser skilled opponents or would I rather invest $10 to get my biggest competition out and play the idiots in a built pot in position
- I know they’ll fold a lot of hands that play poorly out of position or against a raise, fearful of that raise coming from any of the 8-9 hands still left to act. This is important because these hands are typically drawing hands that offer good returns in big multi-way pots
- Simply, I want them to reveal the strength of their hand before I act; there’s nothing worse than getting two Kings in the small and the button straddles
Here are three other good reasons to straddle on the button:
- When there’s tons of limpers, I’ll get to see a flop cheap on the button (with a hand no one can put me on)
- When there’s tons of limpers, sometimes I’ll take a shot at the free money, sometimes with a real hand, sometimes without; they won’t be able to tell the difference
- When I hit a flop hard, I’m likely to take down a big pot
All of that, and simply acting last preflop is worth two big bets to me.
When you believe the conditions are in your favor to straddle on the button, ask yourself this question – is the person on my immediate left tight and/or passive? If so, consider straddling on the cut-off (button plus one). This is an even bigger advantage because most often, you’ll be the last player to act twice a round, while everyone else will only act last once (except the guy on your left, who only acts last when he has a real hand, so like 20% of the time he has the button).
Here’s a situation I think you should ALWAYS straddle: you’ve missed your blinds, want to come back in THIS HAND and you’re in late-mid to late position (button plus three or closer). Instead of posting a dead small and a live big, straddle. When you post the dead small and the big, you’re in for 1.5 blinds while anyone who wants to play only pays 1 blind. That sucks. If you straddle instead, you post 2 bigs (no dead small) and everyone coming in has to put up 2 bigs. That’s fair! AND YOU GET TO ACT LAST. So, you can decide not to straddle, forfeit .5 of a blind and act without all the info. Or you can straddle, pay .5 more, forfeit nothing and get position preflop. Hmmm.
I also ALWAYS straddle when it’s three handed. The benefits of this play would take a long time to explain, but it almost always boils down to ‘position and aggression is everything short handed,’ so just do it. However, if you’re not comfortable with short handed play, get out of there!
And I almost ALWAYS straddle four-handed. I like all the benefits of doing it three-handed. I will consider not straddling if the button starts picking up on what I’m doing and kicks up his aggression.
When NOT to use the straddle
When it is right NOT to straddle? Most of the time, you don’t want to straddle. It will increase your variance significantly and only moderately increases the variance of the average player at your table. How’s that? I’ll let someone else take a crack at explaining the straddle’s impact on your hourly. That’s an article in itself. When done at the right times and in the right spot, it helps your hourly a bunch and allows you to maximize your skill.
When is it right NOT to straddle on the button? I won’t straddle if there’s a lot of preflop raising in the game AND a lot of callers. I typically change my style of play to a tighter, more aggressive style when playing in a loosey-goosey game. In those games my straddle essentially gets lost in the action so I save it to help my hourly.
When is it right NOT to straddle on the button? DO NOT straddle if you don’t play well in awkward situations. Some guys just don’t and be honest with yourself. Straddled pots typically get attacked on the flop and you’ll be forced in to some weird corners. >
When is it right NOT to straddle on the button? When there are four or five other talented players at the table, you don’t want to straddle because more often than not, you’ll be in awkward situations against a player or players who play well anyway. You don’t want to bring random cards to war too often if you’re playing against a tough lineup. Yes, they have a hard time putting you on a hand but they’ll play strong enough to compensate for that.
When is it right NOT to straddle on the button? If you’re killing the game already, don’t bother.
Closing / Word of Caution
There’s still so much to be written on the subject. I understand how the straddle impacts me mentally, how and when it helps my hourly and I know how to play against it, but it would take some real effort expressing any of those concepts in a column. And frankly, after 3,273 words on the subject, I’m straddled-out. Chris is always looking for good articles; maybe you’d like to take a shot at one of those topics. Go ahead, you’ll save me the hassle and you’ll get to see your name in print.
I can’t leave you without a warning: when you straddle, you’re loosening up the table AND yourself. Be careful when you start straddling. Don’t allow yourself to get TOO LOOSE and don’t DEFEND your straddle like it was your only roll of toilet paper on a two-week camping trip. The straddle has a magical power. Use it for good, not evil. People will think you’re loose. People will think you’re gambling. Excellent. You’re not though. When you straddle, be sure you’re making the most profitable play you can.
I hope you had one hell of a ride learning about the straddle. Now go out there and appear to ‘gamble.’
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