Straddled pots – Considerations

Straddled pots

In live poker cash games, there is often the option for a player to put in a straddle. We will discuss what exactly a straddle is, and whether you should partake. Whether or not you partake in straddling yourself, if someone has straddled this will have massive consequences for your strategy – we will discuss exactly what you must think about in straddled pots.

What are UTG straddled pots?

  • In Texas holdem, every hand usually starts off with the player on the left on the button posting a small blind, and the player on his left placing a big blind. The big blind is often (but certainly not always) double the small blind.
  • The UTG straddle is placed by the player on the left of the big blind, and is often (but certainly not always) double the big blind. e.g. in $2/$5 live poker the straddle is normally $10, in $1/2 live poker the straddle might be $4 or $5 depending on the cardroom. UTG straddling is allowed almost everywhere live poker is played.
  • The difference between the straddle, and the other blinds, is that the straddle is usually optional (although all the players on the table may agree that everyone will straddle, when they have the option).

If UTG straddling is optional, should you partake?

Imagine you noted how much money you won or lost in every single hand you played in full ring live cash game poker, noting down your position each hand. If you had a reasonable sample size, even as an overall winning player you are likely losing from both the small and big blinds. This should not be a surprise – even if you put in no further money in preflop in these positions you have lost your blind. If you do put money in, unless you manage to take the pot down preflop, you are guaranteed to be out of position postflop if you are in the small blind, and quite likely to be out of position postflop if you are in the big blind – making it harder, all things being equal for you to win the pot, especially if not playing short stacked. In isolation, clearly putting in a third blind in the UTG position (when you don’t have to) is not to your advantage. The fact that you get to act last preflop, does not make up for this – you will still likely be out of position to one or more opponents on upto three streets postflop.

If you find a game where others are straddling and you are not, this is great for your bottom line (of course, if you morally have a problem with this, that is another matter).

So why do players straddle? They usually want to make the game bigger for a variety of reasons (they may be action junkies, they may have lost a buy-in or too and want to try and get their money back quicker, or they may be winning players wanting to turn a ‘boring’ game into something more interesting).

Let’s say you are playing $2/$5, and the majority of players have a lot of cash behind (i.e. you are playing deep). Let’s say for whatever reason pots are remaining relatively small, then by encouraging players to straddle pots usually become bigger – some players will be playing out of their comfort zones in these straddled pots, other players may tilt after losing a bigger pot that they wouldn’t do in a smaller pot, and the list goes on. If your reason for straddling, is that you feel it will encourage others to do so as well, and you feel the bigger game will be better for your bottom line then go for it! Many recreational players seem to want to defend their straddle, when they shouldn’t – and, as a studied player you can take advantage when you are in position.

When you are playing $2/$5 live cash, there may be players in your game you would love to play at $5/$10, especially when they are playing deep. However, for whatever reason they won’t join the $5/$10 game, but are prepared to play in a game that is effectively $2/$5/$10. This is interesting as the $2/$5/$10 is actually a bigger game, than the $5/$10 game they won’t join!

However, if you start straddling because you think it will be a positive expected value decision, but no one (or the majority of players) don’t join the party, you should stop.

Straddled pots cannot be treated the same as non-straddled pots!

Whether or not you are straddling when it is your turn, in straddled pots you must absolutely take the following factors into account:

Effective Stacks, SPR, Playability

In straddled pots, remember the game has become shallower from the outset. Imagine you are playing live $2/$5, and everyone has $500 in front of them. Each player has 100 big blinds (without deducting the blinds, or straddle). If instead you are playing the same game, but the UTG player has put in a $10 straddle, each player only has 50 big blinds (without deducting the blinds, or straddle). This means there is going to be a significant reduction in the SPR going into the flop.

As the effective stack sizes become shallower the following hand types will become…

…more profitable, all other things being equal:

  • Premium pairs (e.g. KK)
  • Premium high card hands (e.g. KQs)

The main reason these hands become more profitable, is that you are more likely to realise your equity as your opponents won’t be able to get you to fold your hand on certain runnouts than if there was more money behind.

…less profitable, all other things being equal:

  • suited connectors (e.g. 98s)
  • small pairs (e.g. 22)

The main reasons these hands become less profitable are:
(1) your implied odds of making your flush/straight with the suited connectors, or your set with your small pair decrease
(2) it will be more difficult to perform a semi-bluff, as it will be more difficult to get your opponents to fold

Having said that, you have a say in what the SPR is going to be on future streets with your bet sizing decisions (whether that be open raises, 3-bets etc.). In a straddled pot, if we think a lower SPR going into the flop, would be more advantageous for us (perhaps because we think we have a postflop skill edge over our opponents) we can size in a different way than we would in a non-straddled pot. You can read all about SPR, and how it affects preflop hand selection, in another post here at poker.betzoo.uk.

For example, in a $2/$5 game ($500 stacks):

  1. we might open raise to $20 (i.e. 4x the BB). Let’s say we do this in MP and get called on the button, and the blinds fold. The SPR going into the flop is 480/47 = 10.2
  2. however in $2/$5/$10 pot we might open raise to $30 (i.e. 3x the BB). Let’s say we do this in MP and get called on the button, and the blinds/straddle fold. The SPR going into the flop is 470/77 = 6.1. If instead we had stuck to our 4x open raise, and got the same action, the SPR would be 4.7

Stealing

It is easier to steal (that is raise in late position, hoping the out of position blinds fold) when there are just the standard two blinds to get through, than three blinds. All things being equal, you will want to do a lot less stealing.

When you are in the blinds

  • The small blind becomes harder to play, as you still have 2 (instead of 1) players left to act. They both have position on you preflop and onwards.
  • The big blind is also harder to play, as you still have the straddler left to act , ho has position on you both preflop and onwards.

In both cases, we would suggest squeezing and 3 betting more. Your aim is not to give the remaining blind players an incentive to call in position (and thus not allow them to realize their equity).

Button straddled pots

  • There is a less common straddle, which you will sometimes see, which is a button straddle (as the name implies, in this case the button places the third blind, instead of the UTG player). Usually the small blinds acts first preflop, and the button last preflop.
  • In this game, the small blind and big blind have it particularly bad – of course they are being forced to put money in preflop like any other Texas holdem hand, however this time they have to act 1st and 2nd preflop!
  • The button, on the other hand, gets to be in absolute position on all streets (including preflop, unlike normal). This is great for him, and button straddling is lot better than UTG straddling!
  • You will find the small blind and big blind (correctly) fold more often than a non-straddled game, if there is a button straddle. This means if you are opening the pot in the UTG-CO position, you have less players to get through – only 1 blind (the straddle) remains. So, if folded to the CO, a steal often only needs to work versus 2 players (the button, and the straddle).
  • In an unopened pot, where the small/big blinds have folded, if it is folded to us in the UTG-CO positions we should use larger sizing than in a non-straddled game (all other things being equal). We want to give the button a worse price to continue.
  • If we face an opened pot, generally we are looking to 3 bet or squeeze. The reason is if we just call, the button is likely to get a great price to come along – as he gets to pay a discounted price to call having put in the straddle, and he will have the benefit of position.