By: Paul Hewson
If you got hooked on late-night poker shows back in the 2000s, you might remember how loose the players were – opening marginal hands or worse, bluffing constantly, and making the kind of moves you just don't see online. One of those signature moves: the straddle. Before the cards were in the air, someone would call “Straddle!” and put out a stack of chips, usually twice the size of the big blind, maybe more. Then that person would be last to act preflop.
It's a baller move. While the straddle raises the stakes, it also puts the player at a disadvantage, since he's putting money in blind. That's fine for live television; it's much more important to entertain the viewers than to play optimal poker, or they won't invite you back on TV again. But what should you do when the cameras aren't rolling?
First, you need to know the rules – including whether or not your casino or home game allows straddles in the first place. The basic “live straddle” is made from under the gun, and must be executed (either verbally or by putting in the chips) before the cards are dealt. Some casinos are more lenient, allowing you straddle before you've looked at your cards. The straddle must be twice the size of the big blind, unless “unlimited straddles” are allowed, in which case you can put in more, even your whole stack if you like.
Once the straddle is in, the person to the left of the straddler is first to act. He can call, raise or fold as usual, treating the straddle like one of the blinds; the new minimum raise is the difference in size between the big blind and the straddle. When the action comes back around to the straddler, if nobody has raised in front of him, he has the option of raising. Otherwise, he can only call or fold. Then postflop proceeds as normal, with the straddler acting first under the gun.
The rules get a bit more complicated when re-straddles, Mississippi straddles and sleepers are allowed. Take some time to learn about these variations and get comfortable with them, but in general, if you have the option to straddle, don't. Having said that, if other people in the game propose a round of straddles, play along. It's good to keep everyone happy at the table, and people who want to straddle are usually loose players that you can now exploit at higher stakes. Don't pass up this opportunity when it presents itself at the poker table.