How to React to Straddles and Other Added Plays
Straddles, blind raises, re-straddles, and checking in the dark are all plays that you'll encounter exclusively in live poker. These moves have their positives and their negatives, but each depends on how and when you use them. One thing that you can do is to learn how to react when other players implement these moves. Though it's hardly true that any given move is going to mean one thing over and over again, it's true that they tend to imply one thing or another. Just as you would assume that a raise means a player has a strong hand, you can make educated guesses as to what other plays mean as well, however intricate or abstract they may be.
Most of these plays are going to occur in pre-flop situations, though not always. A straddle or re-straddle (or any variation therein) cannot possibly be made post-flop, so you can discount these situations entirely. On the other hand, a play like checking in the dark could be used on repeated occasions within the same hand.
A move like checking in the dark is going to mean different things depending on what has happened during the hand in question. If a player checks dark pre-flop, it could mean one of many things. If a player checks dark on a draw heavy board, it may very well mean they are on a draw. These are just a few quick examples of how any play is going to have many different possible explanations, and context clues will be most important.
Straddles are a forced pre-flop raise. Normally a straddle is placed by the UTG player, though this isn't always the case. In some games players are allowed to straddle from the button, and in other games players can straddle from literally any seat at the table. For the most part, however, a straddle is generally going to be referencing when the UTG player doubles the big blind with a forced bet. The goal of a straddle is to try and increase the amount of action at the table.
Your goal as a player defending against a straddle is to capitalize on all of the dead money. If you have a big hand, you shouldn't be raising in much smaller increments than you would be if the blinds were normal. For example, in a $2/$5 NLHE game, if you would normally raise to $25 (5x the bb), you should open to $50 when someone straddles to $10.
One way to make money from a straddle is to make large raises when you feel like there's a lot of dead money available. If you are in position and think that a raise is likely to get folds from those who have called the straddle, a sizable raise may be enough to get them to fold. The only trouble with this move is that it will cost you a decent amount of money and if it fails you are going to be in the hole quite a bit. If you are up against a bunch of calling stations, don't even consider this move. If you are at a very tight table, it's worth a shot.
Blind Raises and Bets
Blind raises or bets are similar to one another but different from straddles. A straddle will allow the player who straddled to act last whereas a blind bet negates the bettor's action unless another player re-raises. Blind bets are most common in pre-flop play because they are too disadvantageous pre-flop, and it's generally difficult to find a spot where blind betting pre-flop isn't making the logistics of a game a hassle.
A blind bet, for the most part, is usually going to be indicative of strength. There aren't a lot of players who will be making blind bets when they don't have a big hand. The most obvious blind bet is when a player bets the rest of their stack before the next card is even dealt. Unless this player is exceptionally confident in their hand, this type of move says "I have a big hand and I don't even care what the next card is." While it certainly isn't impossible for someone to do this with a draw or another similar hand, it isn't very likely. Always be weary of a player who is making a blind bet because they are probably not too worried that you currently have them beat, and beyond this, they probably aren't scared of too many future cards either.
Checking in the Dark
Checking in the dark is arguably the most common play of this group. This move is also the most interesting because it can mean so many different things. A straddle isn't indicative of hand strength one way or the other (unless the player is cheating) and a blind bet usually means strength, but a check in the dark could mean a weak hand, a strong hand, or something in between. There are two primary reasons why most players will check in the dark. The first reason for checking in the dark would be for deception. The second reason for checking in the dark would be because a player doesn't know what to do next, so they pass the next move onto their opponent.
Deception is a great reason to check in the dark because it tends to work so well. If the board is draw heavy and a player checks to you, but is actually holding a set, this would make it seem like they were looking for the draw to hit when they really weren't. This is an example of how checking in the dark could be deceptive. With that said, more players are going to be using this move because they aren't sure what to do next. Don't assume that someone is using this play to be tricky, because the chances are that they aren't, but you should consider that it's possible.
A player checking in the dark because they don't know what to do should be your automatic assumption when someone uses this move. A common hand in this situation is a draw, a middle pair, or an otherwise uncertain hand. If a player bets the flop, you raise them, and then they flat call before checking the turn in the dark, you could bet that they have a pair or some sort of draw. They are hoping that you check back or make a small bet so they can see another card.
Use this information to your advantage by betting hard on the turn, because they are likely to pay you off regardless and you don't want to give them a cheap river if they are on a draw. Of course, if the flop draw hits on the turn, you should consider that checking back might be most optimal. As with everything in poker, this play is going to be very situation dependent.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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