Why I Loathe The Button Straddle

((Before I start this post, I want to tell everyone some exciting news.  Remember "Veronica", the star of one of my popular posts (see here), the awesome poker player I met at the Aria tournament a couple of months ago? She won that tournament back to back.  Well, she's playing in the main event at the WSOP for the first time.  Please wish her luck.  She's starting day 2 with 54K in chips.  You can follow her progess on Twitter here.  Oh, and her real name is Alicia and yes, she gave me permission to give out her twitter ID and reveal her real name.))

Edited 7/11/12 to add:  Alicia ("Veronica") is doing great.  She made it to day 3 (which will be Thursday for her) with 166,800 in chips!!!  Well played!

A couple of weeks back, in this post, I blogged (and yes, Duggle Bogey, “blog” is a verb) about a poker session at Bally’s that featured Josie, Lightning and Poker Grump.  In that post, done quickly while I was in Vegas and still recovering from the night I was blogging about, I promised to rant at a later date about why I hate the Bally’s poker room and why I hate the “button straddle” which is allowed there.  So here is that rant.

Warning: This post will contain a shocking amount of poker content.

Regarding Bally’s, the biggest reason I don’t like it is pretty simple.  I never win there. Yeah, pretty much never.  Any time I play there and don’t lose two full buy-ins, I have to consider it a successful session.  I guess this has nothing in particular to do with the room itself. I think pretty much every poker player has rooms they seem to do well in and rooms they seem to do poorly in.  For me, Bally’s has always been the latter, at least since I started going there again to play NL.  I do recall one time, early in my poker playing days, having a nice session back when they still spread 2/4 limit.  But never have I had any luck there at NL.
It’s especially frustrating to me because so many people, including some of my fellow bloggers, keep telling me that it is their favorite room, the games there are incredibly easy to beat, it’s more fun than some of the bigger rooms, etc.  Thus because some of the bloggers who were in town last month were staying there and love the room, I found myself playing there much more frequently than I would have liked.

I do have some other issues with the room.  The chairs are more uncomfortable than in most rooms and in badly need of replacement.  The cushions have been worn out for years.  You better have plenty of your own padding to sit there very long. Actually, I have more than enough of my own (as Josie can attest to) but I still am uncomfortable whenever I sit there for more than a minute or two.
Another problem, the cocktail service is especially bad.  It’s not surprising I guess considering the waitress are all old enough to have served drinks in speak-easies.  So it’s understandable they don’t move very fast.  But the bar is about two feet from the poker room, you’d think they could do a better job.
Also the room is noisy, very much so.  Especially at night when you have the music from the party pit competing with the music from the lounge and the casino itself.  The room is not really a room at all, just an area corded off, right next to the blackjack pit and adjoining the aforementioned bar.
It’s a shame I don’t like the room because one thing it does have going for it is the dealers. All the ones I’ve seen are very good, some of them are excellent—including Ron, one of my fellow bloggers.  Ron writes a great blog and is a terrific dealer and I’d see a lot more of him if he dealt at room where I could actually have a winning session.  Sorry Ron, none of this is directed at you.
Anyway, there’s a couple of other things I dislike about the room.  One is the rake.  Unlike most rooms in Vegas, where the rake is maxed out at $4, Bally’s, like all Caesars Entertainment properties, maxes out at $5.  Plus they have high hand bonuses, so they take an additional buck out for the jackpot.  Of course that’s nice if you hit one of the bonuses, but since I rarely get two cards in the same time zone in this room, it’s not likely to happen for me (never has so far).  So that’s an extra two bucks out of the pot and at the 1/2 NL level (or even the 2/4 limit level like I used to play) that makes a difference.
So that brings me to the last thing I dislike about Bally’s.  Like all Caesars properties, I believe, Bally’s allows the button straddle.  As I mentioned in that earlier post, “I hate the f&ck*#g button straddle with all the intensity of a thousand red suns.”
Actually, I think I was understating it.  Now, I’ve never been a fan of the ordinary, garden-variety, “under the gun” straddle, to be sure.  But at least that doesn’t change the nature of the game like the button straddle does.  I guess I should explain the straddle although I seriously doubt anyone still reading this doesn’t know what it is.  Basically, the regular straddle is a blind bet of double the big blind by the first person to act pre-flop in a game of Hold ‘Em (and other flop games, I assume).  The only reason it’s called a “straddle” other than just a blind raise is that by “straddling” the person UTG gets the option to act last, after everyone else, including the Big Blind, has acted.  It if was just done as a blind raise, the Big Blind’s action would end the round (assuming no raises to call).
The button straddle is instead a blind bet of usually $5 (in a 1/2 game) from the player on the button (i.e., the last person to act on all betting rounds after the flop).  And again, the person, by straddling, is buying the right to act last on the pre-flop betting round.  He can either call whatever the bet is by the time everyone else has acted, or raise it up and see how many call his raise.
As I said, the regular straddle makes it a little more costly to play the same hand you otherwise would, but doesn’t really change the nature of the game.  In limit poker, it really sucks, because you expect to be able to see most pots for the price of the small blind, and when someone does raise it preflop, you at least know he or she is telling you that they have a good hand.  If it’s a straddle, you have no idea if the straddler has Aces or 7-2.  In NL, it’s not quite as bad, because you generally see a lot less limped pots anyway.  And with the chances of a bigger pot likely in NL, the extra two bucks there probably doesn’t make much of a difference.  In other words, it’s only mildly annoying.
But the button straddle changes everything, especially if they do it the way they do it at Caesars properties, like Bally’s.  There, the person who straddles on the button has last action as usual, but first action is on the small blind, not UTG.  That means that the big blind, the single worst position in Hold ‘Em, must act second, and if he chooses to play, has to call a $3 raise without knowing what all but one person (the small blind) is going to do. 
It is a terrible penalty to assess the big blind.  At least with the UTG straddle, the big blind has seen everyone but the straddler himself act, and knows if there was a raise. Here, there are 8 or 9 players left to act.  If BB has a garbage hand, no problem, easy fold (of course, if there were no straddle, he might have been able to see the flop for “free”).  If he has a premium hand, ok, he can raise, as he would have anyway.  But if he has a speculative hand, the one advantage he was going to have for the entire hand—the ability to act last pre-flop—is gone, because some clown did the button straddle.
Now some rooms saw (I believe, Golden Nugget and the new Palms room), have the button straddle but start the action UTG, so the blinds act last except for the button straddler.  That’s a lot better, at least the blinds aren’t  penalized anywhere near as much.
To me, the button straddle—as it is applied at Bally’s—changes the nature of the game.  It really isn’t Hold ‘Em as far as I’m concerned, it’s some weird variation.  They should call it something else.  “Straddle ‘Em,” perhaps?  I dunno, but it puts such a severe penalty on the blinds that is a different game than Hold ‘Em if you have one or two (or worse, even more) players regularly using the button straddle.
As for the folks who actually do the straddle—well I suppose a case can be made for using it.  Unlike the UTG straddle, which I think would universally be considered a bad bet, there might be a case to be made for straddling on the button.  When on the button, you have position on every street after the flop, so this gives you position on the flop as well.  Your blind bet has a better chance of being a good one because you can take advantage of your position on every street as the hand plays out.
Still, being on the button is a great advantage anyway.  Why not wait to see your hand—and all the action in front of you—before deciding how to bet?  It seems to me, if you’re straddling—in any form—you’re just turning the game into more of a crap shoot.  If you have confidence in your ability to play poker, why not wait and see what your hand is before putting any money out there? If you have a good hand, you can still take advantage of the position the button offers.  Or, if there’s a bunch of limpers (much less likely if there’s a button straddle, btw), you can use your position to try to steal.  To me, a person who straddles is really saying, “I don’t know how to play this game, let’s try roulette.” (Yes, I know I’m mixing craps and roulette metaphors).
But regardless if the button straddle can be justified by the person using it, it really changes the game for the other players, especially if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be one or two places directly to the left of a person using the button straddle every damn time he has the button.
Now, in that game at Bally’s I mentioned at the beginning of this post….the one where I promised a rant about the button straddle….guess who was sitting two seats to the left from a guy who button straddled every damn time?  Right, yours truly. 
That was definitely one of the factors that made the game that night so frustrating, as I said.  I had to deal with the button straddle every time I had the big blind.  With the cards I was getting, that meant throwing away pretty much every big blind hand I got, because I just wasn’t going to throw in an extra three bucks if there were 7 people after me with a chance to raise.
I dunno.  To me, being the big blind once every orbit is penalty enough.  Why make it so much worse by allowing this stupid bet, especially the way its enacted at Bally’s?
And that’s why I hate the button straddle.
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Why I Loathe The Button Straddle
Why I Loathe The Button Straddle
Reviewed by asiana
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Rating : 4.5