Suited connectors, those beautiful little hands which we fall in love with from an early poker age, actually have a lot to answer for!
As pretty as 8♠ 9♠ looks, and as happy as you feel when your 4♦ 5♦ crack aces, they are a deadly hand for your bankroll if you’re playing them wrongly – remembering only the good times and conveniently forgetting the hundreds of times when you missed your draw and were forced to fold.
Let’s take a look at how we can turn these attractive hands into well-played cash-cows, or at least ensure they aren’t the main reason for our –EV at the end of a shift at the tables.
What are suited connectors?
The basics, very quickly; suited connectors. There you go!
How Do We Play them?
There are two schools of thought here really; an old-school approach and a more modern interpretation.
Old-school: to play suited-connectors you need a lot of opponents.
This is the traditional approach, which says that because you have a drawing hand, you need a large field against you to justify the odds of your draw coming in.
If you flop an open-ended straight draw, you’re only about 17% to hit your straight by the river – so you need to make enough money when you do hit to justify the times when you’ll be forced to fold.
Poker nowadays has advanced a lot. Pots are open-raised much more often, 3-betting is commonplace and 4- or 5-betting ranges are well thought out and practiced. The chances of limping in or calling with your pretty little suited-connectors are much fewer, and post-flop play is also more aggressive and accurate than it was before at most levels.
Getting the right price for your draws is not so easy. Simple tricks like re-raising the flop to provoke a check on the turn, thus increasing your odds of hitting, is just as likely to be hit by a re-raise or shove in many games.
The modern school of thought places more emphasis on playing hands aggressively, which means raising with your connectors, and pushing them harder on the flop. Effectively trying to win hands without having to make one!
Cash game play
The first thing to note is that generally in cash games you will be playing deeper-stacked than in tournament play.
This is important because your suited connectors will general be a drawing hand (most flops won’t hit your hand hard enough to be a made hand, particularly in raised pots) so you need the opposition to have big stacks to pay you off when you do hit.
The other point is that short-stacks in tournaments often won’t allow you to see a flop cheaply: Consider your 8♥ 9♥. Do you want to play a big pot or stack off against a short-stacks A♣ 9♦? Well you’re a 66/34 dog in that situation, so you should be avoiding it.
Let’s look at an example to see what we will be facing in cash games…
Ok, so pre-flop in a full-ring game, let’s say $1/2 and everyone has a full buy-in of 100BB. The table is a mix of decent players.
Early position: You are dealt 6♦ 7♦ under the gun. Is this a hand and position to play?
Yes, but very, very rarely. You obviously have to mix your game up, so raising occasionally here is part of your game-plan. If you were playing 6-handed or shorter then you could play this hand more often, but more often is still a relative term. Unless you are an experienced player, just folding the damn things is the best option of all!
What are you hoping for here?
Obviously you’d like to see a flop, so you can’t do this if there is a maniac at the table – or a lively bunch of players to act after you. The best spot is when there is a lull in play and/or you haven’t played a lot of hands recently. You’re less likely to be 3-bet.
Ok, so you bet 3xBB (limping is almost never a good play, unless you plan to represent a huge hand by 4-betting any raise, and suited connectors have a value which means you won’t want to do this with them). Let’s say only the BB calls, and the flop comes
4♦ 9♦ 10♣
This is a pretty good flop for you: you have a gutshot and a flush draw. Now the BB checks, you make a half-pot continuation bet and he 3-bets you. What now?
What you have to realise here is that this flop may well have hit him. A set, top pair/ top kicker or 2 pair are all possible. Of course you’re going to play, but a 4-bet here is not the right play (unless you’re absolutely convinced he’s bluffing, but you don’t really want to stack off on a possible read here).
You have great odds to just call with your 6♦ 7♦: for example, you’re 40% against trip 4’s and 45% against top two pair. These are the spots where you will make more money if you play them correctly. Call and see the turn.
4♦ 9♦ 10♣ (Q♠)
Although this didn’t help your hand, it may well have aided your opponents: KJ and Q10 just hit, and these hands are well within the BB’s range with only your raise before him pre-flop. If it’s KJ you’re now a 4-1 dog in the hand, and against Q10 you’re not much better. The pot is 56 BB and your opponent checks.
You need to know that one of the aims of playing suited connectors is to win big pots and lose small ones, so keeping the pot manageable is your main goal here. Just check behind – although the villains range is much wider than these made hands, you don’t really have a good semi-bluff spot here – he’s caught a part of this
4♦ 9♦ 10♣ Q♠ (8♠)
You make your straight, but it’s the idiot end of it. The villain makes a pot-sized bet. You’re getting 2-1 to call, but where do you really stand?
You’re only really worried about him having the jack, but then so should he be if he doesn’t have it! Aside from your pre-flop raise, you have played the hand exactly the way a drawing hand would play, and you have to give your opponent credit for knowing this too.
Ask yourself what he would be calling with pre-flop, check-raising with on the flop, checking the turn and betting on the river? Basically all the hands in his range which fit in perfectly with this river. KJ, Q10, 44, 99 and even AJ. Some are more likely than others, so you make the call just to keep him straight, but you’re not 100% happy about it – if he’s a good player he’s not just putting you on AA or KK!
As you can see, it’s not as easy as it looks to play these hands, even when you have position. Hands such as the one above are fairly rare nowadays in decent cash games – when was the last time you opened under the gun and had only 1 caller, who even let you have position on him? 2003?
- Early position to middle position, full ring, full stacks – pretty much just fold them! Very occasional open-raises to mix up your game. No calling.
- Early position to middle position, 6-max, full stacks - pretty much just fold them again! Very occasional open-raises to mix up your game. No calling.
- Late position, full ring, full stacks – play them if you’re almost guaranteed to be getting in cheaply, then push them as hard as the flop texture allows. Don’t sit around waiting for them to hit - your odds when up against big hands get wider from flop to turn and river.
- Late position, 6-max, full stacks - as above, but with a little more leeway.
If the pot is limped around to you in late position, feel free to raise occasionally. You’ll take down some pots and have a better image post-flop in those which go that far, allowing you to play more aggressively. That’s when landing a huge pot happens most often, as your hand is well-disguised. However, don’t get caught up in some crazy pre-flop war with the blinds – save that for your genuinely good hands.
In all these situations don’t be scared to let go of them if the betting and or flop texture simply don’t fit. Small hands, small pots unless you flop a real monster, Playing 56s and flopping a flush is not necessarily a ‘real’ monster, just a baby one!
Suited connectors lose a lot of their value in tournament play, including SnG events, as very often there will be shorter stacks facing bigger blinds and willing to go all the way with their half-decent hands. Many half-decent hands are still big favourites against suited connectors Ax hands being anywhere from 50-60% against your 89s, for example.
Let’s look at an example...
27-player SnG, 6-paid, starting stacks of $1500 and the blinds are at $100/200.
There are still 12 players remaining and you’ve just been moved to the other table. You have $3300, almost exactly the average stack.
The player under the gun ($6000) raises 2.5xBB, there is 1 caller on the cut-off ($1800) and you are in the BB again with the 6♦ 7♦ in your hand. What do you do?
Let’s say you decide to call – you figure you’re getting 4-1 or so odds and you like your suited connectors.
The flop comes A♦ 7♠ 9♦ The pot is $1600.
The first thing to note is that the cut-off has just invested more than a quarter of his stack (he should have shoved or folded obviously) and is unlikely to go away now. You have a great draw and bottom pair, and $3000 left. Any sensible bet will leave you pot committed, so do you check or shove?
You’re almost certainly drawing here, as it’s unlikely that neither of the players has an ace or a bigger pair or perhaps both. So how do you stand? Well, if you give seat1 villain an ace, and the cut-off villain something like JJ, you have 22% here.
Let’s look at the different possibilities:
- Option 1: You check, seat 1 bets $1300, cut-off calls. Pot is $4200 and you’re getting 3-1 to call, although shoving will have the same effect. All the money is going in.
- Option 2: You check, seat 1 bets $1300, cut-off calls. You fold. You still have $3000
- Option 3: You bet $1300 making the pot $2900. If seat 1 has missed (perhaps he has the JJ) he can fold quite easily, leaving you heads-up against the cut-off with his ace. How do you fare here? Now you are 40% to win.
- Option 4: You shove.
Do you have any fold equity in option 3 here? Well, yes, you’d still have $1700 left, enough for a shove on your next decent hand.
Tournaments, however, favour the high finishers – only 6 cash and you’re not in a great spot whether you bet/fold or check/fold, you’ll still soon be at the shove-fold stage. So it becomes a reasonably simple shove, as you have between 20 and 40% equity here and the chance of doubling or tripling up, and making a play for first position and the big money.
The earlier you are in a tournament, of course, the more the connectors will play like in a deeper-stacked cash game. Raising from the button or cut-off is fine, even with hands as low as 45s or 56s, if play has folded around to you.
Of course, when the flop hits, be prepared to get out of there if it gets too hot. In tournaments when your stack is gone that’s pretty much it, so don’t go getting all crazy. You miss the flop, you’re mucking to any bet. You hit top pair and you’re also out of there 9 times out of 10.
It’s only when you hit a made hand or a great draw that you’re getting involved, and even then you need to be sure of your odds.
Once the blinds start to rise in the middle of a tournament, the value of your suited connectors drops. You simply can’t be limping and calling and frittering chips away, and you can’t push them too hard as you’ll be risking too big a part of your stack. The best thing to do here is pretty much remove them from your play except as the occasional blind stealing hand. Or, of course, if it’s really cheap to play.
When the blinds get very high, their value is as a fairly decent blindstealer. You can’t sit around and wait for premium hands if you’re on an M of 20 or 25, so you have to pick some spots which are ripe for a wee bit of theft.
The good thing here is that, if you get away with the blinds then all well and good. But if you run into big, big hands then suited connectors actually do reasonably well against them, 78s for example being 5% better off against AA than QQ is, and you’re only a 40/60 dog against big Ax hands. By now you should be looking for those opponents who have tightened their play up and pick on them.
Eventually in tournaments you’ll get down to the nitty-gritty, and here you have a simple fold-shove play left. Shove against anyone you consider to be playing too tight, fold against those who seem to know what they’re doing.
Overall, playing suited connectors is fairly simple
Position is a massive factor in poker most of the time, but with suited connectors this increases. Your hand simply isn’t strong enough to get involved in a raising war, and you lose most of your ability to manipulate the play post-flop if you don’t have position. Playing them in early-to-middle position is only ever a way to mix things up and you won’t get away with this at fast and loose tables.
The dynamics of the table are very important too. Suited connectors work well against passive players, and those who haven’t shown that they understand what’s going on at the table. You’ll get to see more flops against these types, and also get paid more when you do hit. Knowing when you’re playing a draw hand or a blind-stealing hand is important in this respect.
The strength of your suited connectors has to be taken into account. Small connectors have very little value in most spots; bigger flushes and straights hit them hard. However, as we saw in the example above, there are tricky spots whatever our connector are, or what flop they hit. Be aware also that the strength of your connectors doesn’t rise hugely when you drop from full-ring to 4- or 6-max tables. Play them almost the same way.
The texture of the flop should dictate your play so be perfectly willing to muck your hand if things are looking iffy. You can’t get too committed to these hands as they will burn a hole in your pockets if you don’t learn to let them go.
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