January 09, 2011

Button Up!

If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the "Up" button.

—Sam Levenson

During my past couple of trips to Vegas, I played a lot of hours at various Harrah's / Caesars Entertainment conglomerate poker rooms. Many of these rooms now permit a button straddle, which allows the button to post a blind raise ($5 at Bally's, $10 at Planet Hollywood, and any amount at Harrah's) which is live, meaning the straddler retains the right to raise. Action begins with the small blind, and proceeds with the button getting last action.

I happen to love the button straddle. Rather than a regular under the gun straddle, where the straddler plays the hand out of position, the button straddle lets the straddler play the hand with the best position. In other words, when on the button, a player can raise the effective stakes of the game for the one hand in which he holds the best position. Limped pots that check to the button can be stolen with greater value. Also, if a table is passive or fears big bets, a button straddler can build and steal pots with preflop raises combined with a strong c-bet or two-barrel bet. I find that many players at the 1/2 NLHE level don't mind an initial bet of $10-$12, but fear the big flop bet. Button straddling simply makes stealing from these types of players easier  and more lucrative.

However, my favorite reason for using the button straddle arises when one of the blinds on my button complains that they hate when I button straddle. Thank you, sir, for telling me what to do to make you play poorly! Also, players who whine about the button straddle pretty much telegraph their hand when they call a button straddle and/or a raise from a button straddle. Again, thank you sir for making it easy to play correctly against you!

Next time you get the chance, hit that button straddle and see the money roll in.

The button straddle in action.


  1. I love it when people tell me what makes them tilt.

  2. The button straddle is such greatness. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this also called a Mississippi straddle?

    Grange, what you really need to find is a game in which the straddle gets ultimate last action. Say you straddle the button. A few limp and the cut off raises. In these games, the action passes you and goes back around the table until the pot is right, waiting only for your closing action which, of course, could be a raise. These games are pretty rare to find, but are amazing value when you do.

  3. @ CrabblerK3: My understanding is that technically, a Mississippi straddle allows anyone in any position to straddle, with highest priority given to the player in latest position who wants to straddle (so the button has first shot at a straddle). So a button straddle is just a limited version of a Mississippi straddle. See: http://pokerterms.com/mississippi-straddle.html

    I played at the Hard Rock in Vegas a year ago, and they had a "Hard Rock straddle" which was a $10 button straddle, but action started UTG, skipped over the button, completed action with the blinds and then ended on the button. I can't recall if the button had ultimate last action, or if he had to act in turn to a pending raise. However, I *love* the idea of a button straddle with ultimate last action as you describe. It would be -EV not to take advantage of that situation.

  4. I play in the Mississippi casinos and I believe you are right in what you said in the above comment.

    The MS straddle on the button becomes a cat-and-mouse game. It's common for several players to limp when there is a button straddle. When it gets to the button, they raise to $50 and take down a nice little pot. When you find players who do this (routinely), you should limp with A-A or K-K and then move in after they pull this trick.

  5. I really dislike the button straddle as a general rule; it makes the game play with much shallower effective stacks, which is the exact opposite of my default strategic goal: getting bad opponents to make huge mistakes when the money is deep. Of course, if you have the right mix of players, the straddle can create some very profitable situations. I guess that's why the old poker truism "it depends" still has some currency.


  6. I remember the Hard Rock running a $2/$5 game with a mandatory $10 straddle for a bit. The button also had the option to straddle for as much as $100 if they so desired. I never got to play in that game, but it looked outstanding.

    At any rate, the ultimate last action straddle is amazing, particularly if the action gets crazy in front of you. It also allows you to somewhat sniff out plays like the one Memphis MOJO described.

  7. Hard Rock straddle action: the straddle has ultimate last action unless there are TWO raises ahead of the straddle.