(Distributed Aug. 29, 2006)
HOW TO PLAY LIMIT TEXAS HOLD’EM AGAINST A STRADDLER
In everyday life, being a straddler means you avoid taking assertive stances on issues. In poker, a straddler is just the opposite. A player who straddles is making one of the more aggressive bets imaginable.
A straddle bet in limit Texas hold’em can be made only by the “under-the-gun” player seated immediately to the left of the player posting the required big blind or ante. The bet must be made before any cards are dealt and typically is twice the size of the big blind.
For example, in a structured-limit $4-$8 hold’em game, the small blind is $2, the big blind is $4, and the player seated immediately after the big blind can straddle by posting $8.
Basically, a straddler is making a blind raise before anyone sees their starting hands. But here’s a catch: A straddle bet is not technically considered a raise. The standard number of raises allowed per betting round in your card room — usually three or four — still can be made despite the straddle bet.
Another catch: The straddle bet is “live,” which means the straddler acts last on the first betting round and can raise his own bet even if no one has raised before the action returns to him.
When a player straddles in a $4-$8 game with four raises allowed, then, the betting cap before the flop becomes $24 instead of the normal $20 — $4 for the normal structure, $4 for the straddle, plus $16 more for the regular raises. After the flop (the first three community cards), betting reverts to $4 on the flop and $8 on the turn and river (fourth and fifth community cards).
So why, you ask, would anyone in their right mind make a raise before seeing their starting cards?
One reason might be to establish a table presence as a loose-aggressive player itching to mix it up. Sometimes, the straddler is a player bored with low-limit poker who is just killing time, waiting for a seat in a higher-limit game. Or, the straddler is “on tilt” after suffering some bad beats and is trying to get his money back in a hurry.
Playing against a straddle changes your strategy a bit. Opponents playing normally still should discard their worst hands and raise with premium ones. The in-between hands, however, are trickier to play against a straddler. Your position — early, middle or late — makes a difference, too.
For example, middle suited connectors such as 10-9 usually are worth playing for a single $4 bet before the flop, especially if there are several “limpers” entering the pot ahead of you for the minimum amount. Those additional bets in the pot give you proper odds to play the hand.
But against a straddle bet, if you’re in early or middle betting position, the hand probably should be dumped. That’s because several players are left to act behind you. They could raise, thus decreasing your pot odds. And, of course, the straddler or one of the players in the blinds could hold a big hand that dominates yours.
If you’re on the button or in the cutoff position just ahead of the button, raise with any pair or any two cards 10 or higher against a straddler if no one has called before it’s your turn to act. That should force out the remaining players and get you heads-up against the straddler, who, after all, raised the bet without seeing his cards.
He’ll call, regardless of what he holds. If he re-raises, just call. If you hold a monster such as A-A or K-K, you can disguise the strength of your hand by just calling. Playing the hand “slow” by not re-raising here might cause the straddler to keep betting into you since he must act first on each betting round, giving you the chance to win a bigger pot by raising later in the hand when the limit doubles.
Perhaps the best seat to have against a straddler is immediately to his right. That puts you in the big blind when he straddles. If no one calls ahead of you, you can play heads-up against the straddler with any reasonable hand. If you hit a decent flop, just check and then raise when he bets, which he almost surely will. Don’t fold until you’re certain you can’t win.
Should you be a straddler? Maybe, but only if it suits your style of play. Remember that in a low-limit game, you almost always still will have to show down the best hand to win.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 RUSS SCOTT
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