Understanding the Straddle in Texas Hold’em Poker – Facts and Strategies.

John Darr
Dealer button


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.

Recently Observed Use of the Straddle
Before digging into the details of the straddle, I’d like to review in general terms a recent 2/5NL game I was involved with at a local casino. This casino allows straddles in this game, and an experienced, jovial, and crafty NL regular in the game was using the straddle to his advantage. He was the type of player that everyone liked – he welcomed new players to the table, made friendly conversation, and had a clean cut and friendly demeanor. He utilized this reputation to be very crafty with his straddle use, using it as a tool to both loosen up his table and create big pots. In the big pots he used his image to deceive his opponents and create a large edge. His use of the straddle works for his game, and I’m certain he does it regularly. Read on to learn more about the straddle and how it might work in to your strategy.

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:

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