You’re playing $1-$2 no-limit at your local casino. Everyone folds to you in middle position, and you limp in with . Another player folds, and then someone with about a $150 stack raises to $10. Everyone folds to you. You call, eager to see what prize the flop will bring.
Does that story sound familiar to you? If it does, then I fear I’m the bearer of bad news. Suited connectors are costing you money!
Most players play suited connectors too often. And not-so-suited connectors. And suited not-so-connectors. We can be inclined to play any of these hands if we’re antsy to see some action.
Sometimes suited connectors are fine to play. But often they’re not, and it pays to know when is when. They’re fine to play if and only if your primary plan with them is to find a place to steal the pot. If you’re going in thinking “let’s get lucky and hit the flop hard and stack these donkeys,” I think you’re making two mistakes. First, you’re overestimating how often you’ll hit the flop hard. You’re a huge underdog to flop two pair or better, which means most of the time “hitting the flop hard” for you will mean flopping a draw. Draws can be good hands, but a lot of their value comes from stealing equity.
Second, you’re overestimating how much you’ll win on average when you do hit the board hard. Say you have , for instance, and flop . That’s a decent flop, but not a great one. Why? Because everyone and their brother will notice if a third heart comes, and they’ll be cautious, so you’ll rarely win a monster pot by making your flush. And when you do play a big pot, you’ll find yourself against a bigger flush fairly often. Your big pot-winning chances are generally better if you make a straight than if you make a small flush.
The bottom line is, small card hands (excluding small pocket pairs) aren’t that great at winning huge pots. Sure, they win huge pots sometimes, but A-K wins huge pots sometimes too. When you play a small card hand, you should be thinking, “Maybe they’ll let me slip into the pot and then steal it.”
I play a lot of hands on the button. I avoid stuff like J-4, but I often play hands like T-8 offsuit or 6-3 suited. I’ll raise preflop with them. Sometimes I’ll even call a raise with them (usually only if the raiser is the only other player in the pot, and the raiser is someone I feel I have control over). My plan is to try to find a spot after the flop to steal. Maybe it’ll be as simple as raise preflop, bet the flop, and win. Maybe it will be a more complicated steal that relies on a read of weakness. Maybe I’ll flop a draw and try a big semibluff. Having the button is flexible and lets me formulate new plans on the fly. But the majority of the pots I win playing these hands I win by stealing, not by making a big hand.
In fact, when I do accidentally make a monster with one of the trashy hands, I often end up just “stealing” the pot anyway. The harder I hit the board, the less likely it is that my opponent hit it too. You can’t win a big pot without your opponent’s cooperation.
I don’t touch any of these hands out of position. And while 9-8 suited is better than T-8 offsuit or 6-3 suited, it’s not so much better. I usually don’t play 9-8 suited out of position either. It’s harder to steal when you don’t have position. It’s harder to play your draw when you don’t have position. It’s harder to win a big pot when you don’t have position. You don’t make your money playing out of position. It’s that simple.
Let’s go back to the hand I started the column with. You limp in with 9-7 suited, a player with position and a $150 stack makes it $10 to go, and you call. This is a bad situation for 9-7 suited. You’re out of position, so it will be hard to steal. If you do happen to hit the hand, most of the time you’ll have nothing more than a weak bottom or middle pair. If you flop a flush draw, it will be a small one that could get you stacked by a bigger flush. And even if you do happen to make a big hand and get paid, you’ll win only $150 on your $10 investment. That’s a decent score, but it’s not enough to make up for all the small and medium losses. When you strip away the hopes and dreams of flushes and straights, all you really have is a mediocre hand out of position.
So what would I do with the in middle position? I’d fold it the first time around. If something came over me and I happened to throw $2 in the first time around, I’d definitely fold it to the raise. And then I’d wait for the button to come around to me again before thinking again about playing any of those little suited cards.
[This article appeared originally in Card Player Vol. 21, No. 7.]