What is a Straddle Bet in Poker?
Get your mind out of the gutter; we’re not talking about that kind of straddling! A straddle is a type of bet, most commonly found in live cash games, that increases the stakes of the game. If you’re new to the world of live cash games and have no idea what a straddle bet is, then don’t worry; we’re here to break down what it is, the types of straddle bets, and whether or not you should do it.
What is a Straddle Bet?
A straddle bet is a like a third blind that a player voluntarily puts in before the start of the hand. Most commonly, this happens to the left of the big blind; the under-the-gun player doubles the size of the big blind, and as a reward, they get to act last preflop. When a player straddles, the player to their direct left becomes the first to act preflop.
You’ll tend to only find straddle bets in live cash games, as they’re not allowed in tournaments, and the majority of online poker sites don’t support straddles. However, there are some sites, such as PokerStars, which are starting to implement the function into their software to allow players the option to straddle.
When playing a live cash game, most casinos will allow more than one straddle at the table. That means if the under-the-gun player has straddled, the player next to them can also straddle, and so on and so on until you reach the button. Unless you’re playing in a private game, the straddle must stop when it reaches the button.
Many casinos will put a cap on the number of straddles allowed in the game due to how much they increase the size of the game. Each straddle must be at least double the previous blind, so the game grows exponentially with each straddle. For example, in a $5/$10 cash game, the first straddle would be $20, the next $40, the next $80. In just three straddles, the size of the game has increased by 8x.
The Types of Straddle Bet
The most common type of straddle you’ll encounter while playing is the one we’ve already discussed, where the player to the direct left of the big blind is the person to straddle. However, there are several types of straddle that can be seen in cash games, as long as the casino allows it. Let’s take a look at what those are.
- Mississippi Straddle - This straddle can be made from any position at the table, apart from the small or big blind. The player to the direct left of the player who straddled becomes the first to act preflop, and the player who straddled becomes the last to act.
- Sleeper Straddle - This is a unique type of straddle that only becomes active if the action folds to the player who made the straddle. For example, in an 8-handed cash game, the MP player wants to straddle, but they can’t make a Mississippi straddle, so they put out a sleeper straddle. If the UTG and UTG+1 players fold, their straddle becomes active, and the action skips over them to the next player. However, if either player calls or raises, the MP player can take back their straddle and play the hand as normal.
- Button Straddle - The player on the button puts out a straddle of at least 2x the big blind. The action then starts on either the small blind or the under-the-gun player, depending on the casino. Even if the action starts with the under-the-gun player, the button is still last to act preflop. This is because the action skips the button and moves to the small and big blind before returning to the button.
Is Straddling a Good Strategy?
In short, no. Straddling isn’t considered profitable for the same reason that playing from the blinds isn’t profitable - you’re putting money in preflop without looking at your cards. Not only that, you’re increasing the amount you’d usually have to pay, paying at least 2x the big blind for the opportunity to straddle. This means that your win rate from the straddle starts at -200bb/100, which is a lot to make up. Many players can’t make up the -50bb/100 playing from the small blind, so what hope do you have from the straddle?
The only time straddling becomes a neutral EV play is when every other player at the table is doing it. In this situation, everyone is taking the same hit, so you’re not losing compared to other players at the table. Plus, no one wants to be the only person not straddling in a game. By joining in with the group, you show that you’re not a complete nit and are happy to gamble it up every now and again, which may help you get paid off in future hands.
What’s the Point of Straddling?
So if it’s such a negative EV play, why do people straddle? Well, the simple reason is that people like to gamble! When there’s a straddle on, the stakes get bigger, and so do the pots. Plus, as they’ve already put in a couple of big blinds with their straddle, players feel like it’s OK to play speculative hands that they may have had to fold if they were first to act.
As straddling reduces the stack size of the players relative to the blinds, some players who prefer playing with shallower stacks may encourage straddling to try and gain a competitive advantage. If everyone is sitting 200bb deep, just one straddle reduces their stack to 100bb, making the game much shallower. This will benefit the players who have studied 100bb poker, as they won’t be put in tricky deep-stacked spots that they’re not familiar with.
Adjusting to Straddles
So, what should you do if people are straddling in your game? What’s the best way to adjust your strategy? Well, the first thing you need to do in your mind is adjust the size of your stack. Your stack has become a lot shallower since the straddle has come into play, and you need to be aware of that when considering your preflop ranges.
This means that speculative hands, such as suited connectors, low pocket pairs, etc., go down in value, as the stacks aren’t deep enough to profit if you make your hand. Many players think that because everyone has the same amount of money in front of them that they can play the same ranges, but this isn’t the case. You should always be thinking of stack sizes in terms of big blinds, not dollar amounts.
Another important aspect when constructing your ranges is the type of player who is in the straddle. Are they the kind of player who’ll play any two just because they’ve straddled, or are they a nit who’s been bullied into straddling by the rest of the table? If a loose player is in the straddle, you'll find that your best strategy is to raise with a strong opening range that allows you to punish their wide calling range. Conversely, if a tight player is in the straddle, you can attack it with a wider range of hands to try and take down the dead money.
Straddling is a fun way to create more action and increase the size of the pot. However, because you’re required to post at least two big blinds without seeing your cards, they’re not a profitable play to make. If you’re trying to become a profitable poker player, it’s best to stay away from straddles.
Poker Tells Part Five - The Hands
The hands are an extremely important part of playing live poker. For most players, they're the way we look at our cards, manage our chips, and make our bets. As they play such an important role in the mechanics of the game, there are many tells that we can pick up from them if we look closely enough. In Part Five of our Poker Tells series, we'll be looking at the most common hand-related tells you can spot at the poker tables, how you can spot them, and how you can use them to your advantage at the poker table. Shaking Hands at the Poker Table The "shaking hands” tell is an extremely common tell in low-stakes poker games. The majority of the time, when a player's hands are shaking, it's not because they're nervous; it's because they have a huge hand and can't contain their excitement. They're feeling a rush of adrenaline as they know they're going to potentially win a huge pot, and this adrenaline rush is what causes their hands to shake . This tell is most commonly found in inexperienced players who aren't used to playing live poker, as they're unable to regulate their emotions while they play . People who regularly play live poker are able to suppress this feeling at the tables, which means it's unlikely you'll see an experienced player ever give off this tell. However, that doesn't mean that someone more experienced won't try to throw it in as a fake tell, so it pays to watch your opponent closely to see if they're displaying genuine shakiness or if they're just putting it on. How Do I Counter It? So, if your opponent looks like they're about to drop their chips while making their bet, what should you do? Well, as this tell is a great indicator of strength , we should respond by playing tighter against their bets and raises. You should be calling a tighter range and greatly reducing the number of bluffs you have in your range - if not eliminating bluffs altogether. The more confident you are in this tell, the more you can adjust your range to exploit your opponent. If you've seen this player's hands start to shake every time they have a big hand, you could even go as far as folding all of your hands that aren't monsters. However, this requires a lot of trust that your read is correct, so don't start making these big changes to your range without a strong idea that this tell is genuine. Picking up a Handful of Chips When You're Making Your Decision If you've played live poker before, it's likely that you've come across this tell without even realising it. Many people don't think to look at their opponents for tells when it's their turn to act, but there's a lot you can pick up if you look closely enough. This tell is an example of the classic " look strong, is weak ” psychology. They can see that you're considering making a bet, so they pick up a big handful of chips as a show of strength - as if to say, "I'm calling, no matter how big your bet is.” However, in reality, the opposite is true; they're not ready to call a bet, and they're hoping that this show of strength will intimidate you into making a passive action. With this tell, it's important to gauge your opponent's body language to ensure that it's accurate and not just a random coincidence. For example, if your opponent is studying you while you're thinking and then decides to pick up a big stack of chips as you start reaching towards yours, they're likely giving off this tell. On the other hand, if they're watching a football game on the TV and grab a handful of chips to start shuffling with, they're likely not giving off this tell. This will probably point to the "attentiveness at the table" tell, covered in Part 1 . How Do I Counter It? This tell is designed to intimidate you into a passive action, so the easiest way to counter it is to do the opposite of what they want you to do and make an aggressive action. However, we can get more nuanced than that. If you have a bluffing hand, the best thing to do is pull the trigger, as it's very likely they'll fold to a bet. Upon seeing this tell, I'd recommend increasing your bluffing frequency to take advantage of the likely increase in fold percentage. However, if you have a very strong hand, you may want to check to try and let your opponent catch a card they need on a later street. By doing this, you let your opponent improve to a hand that could pay you off on the turn or river, giving you a much bigger pot with your strong hand. Attempting to Turn Their Hand Over Prematurely Anyone who watched Jamie Gold's infamous run to the 2006 Main Event title will have seen this tell in action on the biggest stage in the world. When pulling it off, the player will pretend to attempt to turn their hand over early, as if their bet has already been called, when it hasn't . This apparent eagerness to show their hand is supposed to be a show of strength; after all, if someone's bluffing, why would they be so eager to show their hand at showdown? In reality, the opposite is true, and it is all an elaborate ruse to trick you into thinking their hand is much stronger than it is. It could be argued that this is less of a tell and more of a psychological tactic used to try and deceive you into thinking you have the worst hand. As such, it's one you'll tend to see used most often by experienced players, as they're the only ones confident enough to try and pull off such a move. However, you may come across an inexperienced player accidentally doing this at the tables, as they often don't know when exactly they should and shouldn't show their hands. Therefore, it's important to have a grasp on what kind of player your opponent is before deciding how much stock to put in this tell. A good rule of thumb is the more experienced the player, the more likely it is this tell is a show of weakness, and the less experienced the player, the more likely this tell is a show of strength. How Do I Counter It? Countering this tell will depend on exactly what kind of opponent you're facing. If you're facing an experienced opponent and you see this tell, it's likely they have a much weaker hand than normal. This means that we want to exploit them by widening our calling range and playing back at them more aggressively than normal. However, if you're playing against an inexperienced opponent who is most likely genuinely eager to show their hand, they probably have a much stronger hand than normal. This means we can exploit them by folding more of our range and only calling the strongest parts of our range. Rubbing Their Face, Arms, or Neck Like many of the tells in this series, this is one that you can see in your day-to-day life if you look closely enough. Repeatedly touching or rubbing one's face, arms, or neck is a common way to manage anxiety and is known as self-soothing . It is thought that the repeated touching of these areas activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to relieve symptoms of anxiety and stress. So, what does it mean if you see someone exhibiting these self-soothing techniques at the table? Well, if they're trying to manage their stress and anxiety levels, it's likely they have a weaker hand than usual, as those are the situations where players often feel the most stress. However, due to the ease at which these tells can be faked, it's important to understand the type of player you're playing against. The more experienced a player is, the more likely they are to be aware of this tell, and use it in a situation where they're strong rather than weak, and the less experienced a player is, the more likely it is this tell is genuine. When trying to use tells to inform your decision-making, it's best to avoid guessing as much as possible , so rather than getting into a levelling war with an experienced player, just focus on using this tell against inexperienced players who don't realise they're doing it. How Do I Counter It? If you stick to using this tell against inexperienced players, it's likely they have a weaker hand on average. Therefore, we can exploit them by widening our calling range against their bets and playing more aggressively against their passive actions. However, it's important to gauge exactly how strong this tell is for your specific opponent before widening your range too much. Start by making small adjustments to your range, and when you grow more confident in this tell, you can start making larger adjustments to exploit your opponents. Summary While poker is a game of the mind, in live poker, you still need to execute your actions if you want to play the game. Someone may have completely mastered poker strategy, but will still give away subtle clues as to the strength of their hand through their actions at the table. This is why studying your opponents, and specifically their hands, is so important , as players often unknowingly betray their emotions through their actions. By using the tells in this article, you'll be able to exploit your opponents who cannot control their emotions at the table, giving you an edge and potentially increasing your win rate. Join us in part six of this Poker Tells series, where we'll be talking all about the legs and feet. Make sure you join our PokerDeals Facebook group or follow us on Instagram to be notified of the next article in the series. *Image courtesy of PokerGo
8 Tips on How to Make Poker Your Full-time Job
Many of us who play poker dream of leaving the rat race behind and becoming bonafide full-time poker professionals . While many are called, few are chosen, and the dream of becoming a poker professional remains just that for most people. However, if you're serious about poker and want to give it your best effort, what are the steps you can take to make poker your full-time job ? Understand Variance For many people, becoming a full-time poker player is a case of "be careful what you wish for!” Variance is the term given to the uncertain short-term outcomes for which poker is well known, but it can of course apply to the swings in fortune in any game where luck plays a role. Being a full-time poker pro is not for everyone, and it certainly comes with its own challenges, such as the stress of bankroll swings . It's not uncommon for winning players to go a week or a month without winning. Make sure you're emotionally ready to handle those downswings , as they hit a lot harder when you're relying on that income to pay your bills. Many good profitable regulars mix in other roles, whether full-time or side hustle, to ensure that they're not 100% reliant on their poker profits. Know Your Edge You should also be confident that you are already skilled enough to beat the game at a certain stake before you even consider turning pro. If you have any doubt about whether you're a winning player in the game you're playing, you're not ready to go full-time. If you are confident that you can beat your game, make sure that your win rate in these games is enough to turn a decent living . Having a 1bb per hour win rate at $1/$2 isn't going to pay the bills! Make A Schedule One of the toughest things about becoming a full-time poker player is playing enough volume. Once you turn pro, you're relying on your poker income for your living, so you need to be playing a significant amount of poker each month to cover your expenses . The best way to do this is to create a schedule where you outline how much poker you're going to be playing each week or month. A good rule of thumb is to look at your win rate in the games you're playing, work out from there how much poker you need to play to reach your monthly $ target, and then double it . This gives you a chance to play through any variance you may encounter and have a better chance of having a winning month/week. Manage Your Finances The biggest problem people face when going full-time in poker is financial - specifically worrying about having enough money each month . Poker is a brutal game, and there's no guarantee that you're going to have a winning month just because you're a winning player. That's why we recommend setting aside at least one year's worth of living expenses before turning pro. Having financial security allows you to play your best poker, as you don't have to worry whether or not this hero call will mean that you have to skip a meal tomorrow. Always keep your poker bankroll separate from your living expenses, and if you feel like you're not earning enough to support your lifestyle, there's no shame in finding a job and trying again another time. Accumulate a Bankroll As well as setting aside a year's worth of living expenses, you need to have a dedicated poker bankroll for the games you're playing. The size of the bankroll will depend on the games you're playing and your perceived edge over the other players in your games. Tournament players should have at least 200 buy-ins for their average buy-in if they're playing professionally, and cash game players should have at least 50 buy-ins for their games. Having such a big bankroll allows you to manage any variance without having to dip into your "life roll.” It's important to keep your poker bankroll separate from your "life roll”, as playing with money that should be used to pay rent is never a good idea. Have a Plan One thing that many prospective poker professionals fail to do is plan for the future . It's all well and good being able to crush your local $2/$5 game now, but what's going to happen a year from now, five years from now, or ten years from now? Are you in poker for the long haul, or are you trying to make some easy money while the games are good and then jump back out after a year or so? Y ou need to have a solid plan of what you hope to achieve as a professional , what stakes you want to move up to, and how you're going to achieve that goal. If you're looking to rise up the ranks and become one of poker's best, you know that you're going to have to put in a lot of studying to get there and probably live in a place with access to online poker. However, if you're just in it to make some quick cash while your local games are juicy, you don't have to dedicate yourself as much to the craft. Knowing your aims will better allow you to plan your time effectively, manage your expectations, and hit your targets. Explore Alternate Poker Revenue Streams While it's appealing to be able to say that you make your living entirely off the back of your poker skill, the reality is that many of the most successful poker players don't solely earn their money from playing poker . There's a lot of money to be made in poker-adjacent fields, such as Twitch streaming, poker coaching, or becoming a poker content creator. It's always a good idea to diversify your income, and having a solid, reliable revenue stream from another poker-related role is a good way to soften the blow of losing months and help break the monotony of the grind . Be Prepared to Fail The sad reality is that many players who set out on their dream to become poker professionals don't make it. It's a very competitive field , and it's tough to earn enough to live just by playing a card game. Many people who take the plunge realise they could be earning a lot more with a lot less stress at a regular job, so they decide to go back to their old lives and keep poker as a hobby. It's important to know that there's no shame in trying and failing - if you're brave enough to stick your neck out there and try to achieve your dream, then you should be applauded for doing so. Even if things don't work out, at least you'll be able to say you tried. Summary Poker is often described as " a hard way to make an easy living ,” and for good reason. It may seem like an easy life, showing up to the casino every day and just playing cards to earn your living, but it's a lot harder than it looks, and the swings are too much for most people to bear. However, if you're dedicated and have the skills, you have a chance to make it work, and hopefully, this article will have given you some helpful tips on how to get started.
Poker Tells Part Four - The Neck & Chest
One of the things we look for when searching for poker tells is uncontrollable bodily reactions to stress . These reactions are extremely hard to fake, which means if you can spot one from your opponents, you can be certain that you've got yourself a tell. Reactions such as these are commonly found when looking at an opponent's neck and chest, so being able to identify these tells can be extremely beneficial. In part four of our Poker Tells series, we'll be looking at the most common poker tells you can spot by looking at your opponent's neck and chest . As always, we'll be helping you adjust your game based on these tells, so keep reading if you want to effectively use poker tells to crush your games. Check For a Pulse... One of the most common tells you'll see in poker movies/TV shows is the sight of a neck pulsing at a hundred miles an hour as they're trying to pull off a bluff. As someone becomes stressed, their heart rate will increase, and as the blood is pumping around the body at a faster rate, it will cause some veins near the surface of the skin to visibly pulse. One of those veins is in your neck, and if you look closely enough, you can see it pulse as someone's stress increases. The most common reason for someone to be stressed during a poker hand is because they're bluffing . They know that if they're called, they lose the hand and all the money that goes with it and that stress leads to a heightened heart rate which can be seen through the vein on the neck. However, some people's heart rates will also dramatically increase when they're excited, such as when they have a good hand. This is why it's important to carefully watch your opponents while they're in other hands; the more you watch your opponents and the hands they show down, the easier it is to identify what certain tells mean. However, if you've just sat down and noticed someone with this tell, a good rule of thumb is to assume it means weakness until proven wrong. How Do I Counter It? So, if you spot your opponent's neck looking like that one scene in Alien, what should you do? Well, the most likely reason you're seeing this tell is because they have a weaker hand than average, so we can assume that their overall range is weaker than it would usually be in this spot. The best way to counter a player whose range is weaker than average is to slightly expand your calling range. Just how wide you expand your range will depend on your confidence in the tell, so make sure you know your opponent well before you start hero-ing it off with jack-high. You can also play more aggressively with your draws and your own bluffs, as you know that your opponent is more likely to fold than usual, making aggression more profitable. Covering their Neck to Hide their Tell If you've ever played a hand of poker and felt your neck pulsing like in the example above, you'll know just how obvious it feels. Sitting at the table, it feels like your neck is expanding out across half the table, so the obvious instinct when you feel that sensation is to cover it before anyone spots it . Now, it's become second nature for many poker players to sit in a prescribed position for the duration of the hand, with many players choosing to sit in a way that covers their necks. Obviously, if someone is sitting in the exact same way every single time, there isn't much to pick up on. Instead, we're looking for the players who would otherwise sit openly, that are now deciding to cover their necks halfway through a hand . Any player that's trying to do this will try and naturally slide into a position that covers their neck so as not to make it too obvious, so you have to be paying attention to how someone is sitting from the start of the hand. If you see someone who was previously sitting upright adjust their position to cover their neck, there's a good chance that they're trying to hide it from you for a reason . How Do I Counter It? As we've previously discussed, a pulsing neck is often a sign of stress, so if a player is doing their best to try and hide that signal from you, that in itself is a sign of stress . The likelihood is that they're weak and trying to hide that weakness from you, which means you need to exploit it. Play back aggressively against their bets and raises, particularly if you have a semi-bluff of your own. You'll find that if you do, your bets and raises will work much more often, allowing you to win the pot without showdown. You can also expand your calling range if you have a showdownable hand; start with small adjustments and start to expand your range even further as you gain confidence in your read. Gulp... Gulp... Gulping During a Hand Just so we're all on the same page and no one's mind is where it shouldn't be - by gulping, we mean the classic movie-style *gulp* that someone makes when they're stressed or nervous, not any other kind of gulping. While it may be cliche in TV and movies, it's a cliche for a reason. Everyone has experienced this phenomenon in one form or another, and it's a recognised reaction to stress . When your "fight or flight” response is activated, your body produces cortisol , which causes, among other things, your mouth to dry up. This is an uncomfortable sensation for most people, so to relieve it, they gulp. Therefore, if you see someone at your table make one of these large gulps, there's a high likelihood that they're experiencing a high amount of stress. How Do I Counter It? As we believe this tell to be a sign of severe stress, it's likely that anyone who is displaying this tell has a weaker hand than you'd usually expect to see. This means we can adjust our strategy based on our opponent having a weaker overall range . Start by slightly widening your calling range against your opponent and play back slightly more aggressively if you don't have a showdownable hand. When you become more confident that you've picked up a solid tell, you can start to make larger adjustments to exploit your opponents and win more than your fair share of pots. Touching the Base of Their Neck/Playing With a Necklace When under stress, it's common to feel like your airway is restricted or that you're not getting enough air. This is part of the reason why people's heart rates and breathing increase; they're trying to get more oxygen into their bodies to help deal with the stress. We've already talked about how people will gulp uncontrollably to help relieve the tension they're feeling, but another way people do this is by touching the base of the neck or playing with their necklace. If you've ever worn something slightly too tight around your neck, you'll know how uncomfortable it feels and how you feel compelled to try and rectify the situation. That's what people are trying to do when they're giving off this tell; they can feel their airflow restricting, so they're soothing the base of their neck to try and relieve that stress and breathe normally. This tell is much easier to spot when your opponent has something around the neck which they can play with, such as a necklace or a tie. However, you will still spot people without these accessories reaching for the base of their neck to try and self-soothe in the same way, so make sure you watch your opponent's movements carefully throughout the hand. How Do I Counter It? If you see someone giving off this tell, it's a sign that they're under significant stress, which often means they're in a weaker position than they would normally be. We can assume that this person has a weaker range than they would on average, which means we can start to expand our calling range against them when they bet and play more aggressively when they check. Remember, always start off by making small adjustments to your range until you get a read that this is a surefire tell for your opponent. Rising Chest Indicating Heavy Breathing Just as an increased heart rate will cause your neck to pulse, it will also increase your breathing rate. The faster your heart beats, the faster you breathe in and out . Depending on how your opponent is sitting at the table, you may be able to see their chest rising and falling as they breathe. This is a great window into the overall stress levels of your opponent at any given time. The slower and more controlled their breathing looks, the more likely they are to be relaxed. However, if their rate of breathing becomes faster and less controlled, it's a good sign that they're stressed about the situation. This is another reason why you need to pay close attention to your opponents as you play, as you may spot someone who you think is stressed based on the speed of their breathing, but that's just how they breathe all the time! Establishing a baseline of how your opponents act at the table is key to being able to identify tells such as these. We're looking for things that deviate from the norm and can signal the strength of your opponent's hand, but how can you know if something is deviating from the norm if you don't know what the norm looks like? How Do I Counter It? Countering this tell will depend entirely on how your opponent is breathing at the table. The more relaxed and controlled their breathing is, the more relaxed your opponent is likely to be. This means that they likely have a stronger range than usual, so you'll want to exploit that by folding more often and playing less aggressively against their bets . However, if you spot your opponent breathing heavily, it's likely they're feeling stressed about the situation. This makes it more likely that their range is weaker than usual, so you'll want to exploit that by calling more often and playing more aggressively against their bets . Summary If you want to become a master of picking up tells and reading people at the poker table, being able to spot involuntary tells such as these is essential. Most people in the world cannot control bodily reactions to stress , making these tells universally applicable to the games you play in. If you pay close attention to these particular areas and become skilled at recognising the small movements, you'll see a marked difference in the quality of your decisions at the table. Join us in part five of this Poker Tells series, where we'll be talking all about the hands. Make sure you join our PokerDeals Facebook group or follow us on Instagram to be notified of the next article in the series. *Image courtesy of PokerGo
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