Suited Connectors and Pocket Pairs
written by: John
A common pitfall in poker is playing hands that look good, but in fact are not as valuable as we make them out to be. Many of these devils come in the form of A-Q to A-X, two high face cards, suited connectors or small pocket pairs. Sure, these hands can be profitable at times, but only as long as the player who is holding them realizes the real value of these hands as opposed to only their potential. After all, any two random hole cards can and will connect with the flop at some point; but that doesn't mean they need to be treated as a monster.
Out of all these common 'trouble' hands, suited connectors and small pocket pairs tend to be worse. Not because they are more overvalued then high face cards or ace-rags, but because these hands tend to hold up less often and get more players in trouble when they actually connect with the flop in some way.
So, what we have done below is provide some general guidelines or things to consider when playing these tempting, yet troubling hands.
How to Play Suited Connectors in Hold'em
We can all probably agree that suited connectors look lucrative because these hands can turn into straights, flushes or better yet, a straight flush.
However, if you were to look at the math, the odds of flopping a straight on the flop with two connector hole cards is about 76 to 1 and a flush is about 117 to 1. So in short, it is highly improbable that you will flop either of these hands and almost a guarantee that you will never have the odds to consider 'mining' for these pre-flop. So, how should you go about playing suited connectors?
This is the simplest answer: as cheaply as possible. What this means is that you will want to avoid getting overly aggressive with these hands and are looking to limp behind other limpers in most cases or raise to potentially steal blinds from the button. In either case, you will want to be sure to play suited connectors in position to make this play as profitable as possible.
This is rather easy to understand. Suited connectors are not monsters, therefore do not need to be raised or re-raised. They simply need to be played pre-flop with caution. However, pre-flop is not the only spot where suited connectors cause trouble. Many players tend to find themselves in sticky situations on the flop as well.
For example, let's say that it has been folded to a player who is sitting on the button with 7-8 suited and the blinds are 50/100. This player decides to raise it to 150 in attempt to steal the blinds. The small blind does fold but the big blind decides to call and both players go to the flop.
The flop is 5-8-Q giving our player on the button a pair. Now, in a situation such as this, it is possible that a pair of 8's is ahead but if it is, it will only be by a little. But overall, it is too likely that your 8 is behind either because your opponent has a queen, pocket pair or because they have a better 8 then you. If the opponent in the big blind checks it, it may be safe to c-bet the flop in hopes to continue the aggression and take the pot. If played back at or flat-called, this player on the button should lose all interest in their hand.
But, most players do not play like that. They figure that since they have a piece of the flop that their hand is strong when in fact, that couldn't be farther from the truth. This leads many players to be overly aggressive with their medium to bottom pairs only to be second best whether it is by showdown or by stacking off. The bottom line is, is that these hands are not profitable enough in the long run to make up for the times that you play them poorly. So don't.
Oh, and before we forget, it should be mentioned that these hands need to be played with extreme caution in the event that you do catch a flush on the flop, turn or river since most of the time you will a smaller flush in comparison to what is possible. This is another prime example of being '2nd' best.
In short, players should think of suited connectors as throwing a haymaker in boxing or a Hail Mary in football. When you connect, great, you'll probably knock the guy out, score a touchdown or stack off against an opponent to double up. But by thinking these plays or hands are actually more valuable than what they really are will more often than not lead a player to being beaten.
Pocket pairs are a little bit of a different story than suited connectors because they will prove to be more valuable, more often. This of course isn't to say that players need to go buck wild with these kinds of hands either. Similar to suited connectors, there are better ways than others to go about playing pocket pairs in poker.
If you look at the odds of flopping a set, you will be looking at a probability of about 8 to 1. So what this means is that every 9 times you see the flop with a pocket pair you should flop a set at least once.
So, a player should focus on seeing a flop with a pocket pair just about anytime they have the odds to do so (9 to 1 or better pot odds) or if the pot odds are offering like 4 or 5 to 1 and the players in the hand are deep stacked enough that if the set is hit, the player with the set will be paid off. This is known as implied odds.
For example, if you had pocket 6's in the cutoff, the blinds were 25/50, and everyone limped to you in a full ring game, there would be $75 in the pot from the blinds and $250 from everyone who limped in. This would be a pot of $325 giving you a little better than 6 to 1 if you decided to make the call. If everyone had at least $200 or so in their stack, you can imply that the difference between the 6 to 1 pot odds and what you need to justify calling will be made up in the event that you hit your set.
Now, it is also ok to raise with pocket pairs if you are in late position and are the first player to act. If you take the blinds then great, no complaining there and if one of the blinds call than you still have an 'ok' hand to play post-flop whether you hit a set or even an over pair.
But, even as solid as these hands tend to be, they still are over played similarly to suited connectors. This is often because players feel as if they already have a 'made' hand and are unwilling to let it go. This is obviously bad since small pocket pairs are really only good for set mining and if you miss your set, you are probably behind and will be 2nd best at showdown.
Just like suited connectors, if a player was to miss their intended hand on the flop they are better off letting their hand go. If they played well pre-flop and invested as little as possible in their hand, they are not losing much by folding and will retain the little bit of profit they have gained from when they do manage to hit their hands on the flop.
This simple rule-of-thumb will suffice in most cases:
No set, no bet.
Playing Suited Connectors and Pocket Pairs in Poker
Playing suited connectors or small pocket pairs can definitely be profitable if played correctly but if over used or over played they can prove to be fatal to a player's stack. It is important that players keep in mind not to over value these types of hands and play them in a profitable manner which is typically as cheap and cautious as possible to keep them profitable over a long period of time.