Monday, May 10, 2010

Back to Basics: Suited connectors

I'm starting to realize that some of my readers are quite new to poker... or perhaps don't have basics and fundamentals down pat.  In addition to my random strategy posts, I plan on starting a new segment call "Back to Basics."  To most readers, this will be elementary, but I feel it serves good purpose to hammer down fundamentals of pre- and post- flop play.  Perhaps I will learn a thing or two from the comments section, as well.  I can't promise anything, but I do plan on trying to post a new "Back to Basics" every Monday.

As a quick recap of prior posts, readers interested in this series would be best served by reading my thoughts on Poker Tracking / Datamining software, Bankroll Management, Rakeback Agreements, and Pre- / Post- Game Process Parts I, II, III & IV, to have a good footing on terms, assumptions and an understanding of my poker philosophy.

It is my feeling that the reason most losing players are net losers is because they have lost their hand before they've even seen the flop.  I'm not a coach (perhaps I will be in the future :-) ), but I have no doubt that a coach's "easiest" job is taking a losing player and turning him (or her) into a break-even [at minimum] player.  Therefore, the inaugural segment of "Back to Basics" today will focus on pre-flop hand selection (there are many places which talk about pre-flop hand selection; being the lazy blogger that I am, I looked in my bookmark list and could find one of note: Dee's Nutz "Every Decision Counts" entry), particularly focusing on how to play suited connectors.

I've seen far too many losers (henceforth referred to as "donkeys") play suited connectors, no matter the cost.  When facing a 3x raise from any and all positions, they look down and see 7 6 suited or 5 4 suited and think: "I got Ace crackers!  CALL!!!!"  While the donkey mindset is not necessarily always wrong, he is not generally getting the right odds to make that call nor does he understand the how's and why's of the play, thus a leak is sprung from his bankroll / stack.

First: Why do we play suited connectors, and why are they valuable?
  • Suited connectors are easier to fold.  A flop can come as good as 8 4 2 (with your suited connectors being 8 7) and you can fold them, depending on the action...  would you be so prone to do that, holding, say AA?  Depending on the action and your opponent, a flop such as described above could be a very scary flop for AA; over-called pocket pairs flopping sets, etc.  However, you can throw away a top pair, no kicker (TPNK) hand away without a second thought to significant action.
  • Suited connectors have many possibilities.  You can flop / draw to a non-nut flush.  You can flop / draw to a straight.  You can also flop / draw to a straight flush, where your un-made hand is actually equity-wise ahead of all pairs.  (We will get into equity and figuring out your hand equity in a later Back to Basics segment.)  They also hold the standard non-paired hand properties where you can flop 2 pair, or 3-of-a-kind.
  • The point is that with suited connectors (SCs), we have many different options  to potentially (and deceptively) hit the flop, while holding a hand that can be also easily folded.
Second: How much should we pay to play suited connectors?
  • The rule of thumb I generally use is that I am not going to pay more than 1/10 of effective stack sizes called the 5/10 rule (for a good explanation, click link), given the correct conditions (described below).  That is not to say that I am calling a raise of 10% stacks right off the bat; I am simply saying that given a multi-way pot... particularly if I *KNOW* my opponents hole cards (i.e. he holds AA, or KK to take an extreme example), I want to know that I can potentially get 10x my initial outlay for my risk of playing these speculative cards.  What I am touching on in the last sentence is the concept of implied odds, another topic I will also get into in later segments of Back to Basics.

It is my view (and many other "experts," not that I'm an expert by any means :-) ) that suited connectors play very nicely in multi-way pots.  What does that mean?  It means that I want to play my suited connectors if there is at least one caller in the pot already: there was a raise and a flat caller, or a limper and you opt to limp as well.  Why?  Assuming there is no squeeze (we're playing lower stakes poker here, so we're not really concerned about a squeeze play, another topic to be addressed in a later Back to Basics post), you are guaranteed at least 2 players in (addition to yourself) to see a flop.  That, my dear reader, is the definition of a multi-way pot.

Personally?  I'm sometimes limping suited connectors when facing a limped pot, sometimes raising suited connectors (usually from in-position), and sometimes folding suited connectors in the situations not favorably described above.  Why?  It adds deception to my game- my raises are not necessarily broadway (AK, KQ, etc.) cards nor pairs; my opponent must put me on a wide range of hands.  For the reasons described above, I'm usually over-calling suited connectors in conditions where I'm facing a raise with a flat caller, or with a smaller percentage of the time (opponent dependent), 3-betting the original raiser (and folding to a 4-bet).

A few quick hand examples of an appropriate overcall with suited connectors to leave you with:
BTW, as an aside, I was debating blocking out the results (because the results are not the point), but will show this hand in its entirety.

Full Tilt Poker $0.02/$0.05 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official Hand History Converter

BB: $4.45
UTG: $4.15
UTG+1: $10.08
UTG+2: $5.00
MP1: $2.00
MP2: $3.17
CO: $4.94
Hero (BTN): $7.44
SB: $9.60

Pre Flop: ($0.07) Hero is BTN with 7s 8s
UTG calls $0.05, UTG+1 raises to $0.22, 1 fold, MP1 calls $0.22, 1 fold, CO calls $0.22, Hero calls $0.22, 2 folds, UTG calls $0.17
I get 1, 2 players calling before me and then UTG comes along for the ride - we see a flop 5-way!  AWESOME for 87s.

Look at my potential winnings (also known as implied odds); anywhere from $2.00 (MP1) who is *NOT* getting good odds to call with whatever hand he has, all the way to $7.44 (me, since UTG+1 has me covered), and some combination in between.

Flop: ($1.17) 8h 7c Qd (5 players)
UTG bets $0.05, UTG+1 raises to $0.90, MP1 folds, CO folds, Hero calls $0.90, UTG calls $0.85
GREAT GREAT FLOP!!!  I know exactly what UTG+1 has - an overpair or AQo... (crappy luck for me if UTG+1 has a set of Queens) based on his bet sizing / raise; I'm going to assume KK or AA though.  I have position and don't want to slow him down one bit.  I also want UTG coming along for a little extra juice.  Moreover, I'm going to be extra careful because the board pairing (non- 8 or 7) could spell disaster for my hand.

Turn: ($3.87) 3c (3 players)
UTG checks, UTG+1 bets $3.87, Hero raises to $6.32 all in, UTG folds, UTG+1 calls $2.45
The 3c is as safe of a card as I can get.  It is a non-paired turn, meaning that UTG+1 is drawing to 6 board pairing outs (3 Queens left, and 3 3's left) + 2 Kings / Aces (or 3 Aces + 2 Queens) or whatever he has.  I'm actually hoping he has KK or AA because he has 3 less outs cards that way.  I have an 80% edge here, whereas on the turn I maybe had 60-70% equity...  I have no qualms about getting it all in here because he's committed to the pot.

River: ($16.51) Jd (2 players - 1 is all in)

Final Pot: $16.51
UTG+1 shows Kh Kd (a pair of Kings)
Hero shows 7s 8s (two pair, Eights and Sevens)
Hero wins $15.41
(Rake: $1.10)

Another example:
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official Hand History Converter

CO: $33.55
Hero (BTN): $83.65
SB: $57.20
BB: $247.80
UTG: $55.70
UTG+1: $49.50
UTG+2: $34.60
MP1: $17.70
MP2: $123.80

Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is BTN with 7d 9d
1 fold, UTG+1 raises to $1.50, UTG+2 calls $1.50, MP1 calls $1.50, 1 fold, CO calls $1.50, Hero calls $1.50, 1 fold, BB calls $1

Flop: ($9.25) As 6s Kh (6 players)
BB checks, UTG+1 bets $5.50, UTG+2 folds, MP1 folds, CO folds, Hero folds, BB folds

Final Pot: $9.25
UTG+1 wins $8.80
(Rake: $0.45)

Here's an easy fold:
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official Hand History Converter

BTN: $22.00
SB: $35.45
BB: $60.20
UTG: $103.95
UTG+1: $43.75
UTG+2: $64.55
Hero (MP1): $82.15
MP2: $31.20
CO: $20.85

Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is MP1 with 6c 7c
8 folds
Terrible position, coupled with no limpers.

Final Pot: $0.50
BB wins $0.50

A limped pot where I flop very good:
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official Hand History Converter

BTN: $17.20
SB: $20.85
BB: $49.00
UTG: $31.20
UTG+1: $81.85
UTG+2: $19.50
MP1: $32.75
Hero (MP2): $116.55
CO: $53.45

Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is MP2 with Td 9d
1 fold, UTG+1 calls $0.50, 2 folds, Hero calls $0.50, 3 folds, BB checks

Flop: ($1.75) 8s Qd 6d (3 players)
BB checks, UTG+1 bets $0.50, Hero raises to $2.50, BB folds, UTG+1 folds
I flopped a diamond flush draw + double belly buster straight draw (Jack or 7).

Final Pot: $2.75
Hero wins $2.65
(Rake: $0.10)

Finally, I leave you with a terrible play by my opponent.  Can you spot the errors?
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
The Official Hand History Converter

CO: $49.20
BTN: $26.50
Hero (SB): $106.55
BB: $30.25
UTG: $15.00 - He's an 18/7, BTW; this is not a play I expect from that type of player.
UTG+1: $77.95
UTG+2: $92.40
MP1: $20.30
MP2: $330.05

Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is SB with Th Ts
UTG raises to $1.75, 6 folds, Hero raises to $5.50, 1 fold, UTG calls $3.75
I like the raise here, but with $13.25 behind, but when you make the call of my 3-bet, you're essentially committed, no matter the flop.  Not to mention that you only have $15 total to win if you hit your flop perfectly.  This is a CLEAR violation of the 10x rule!

Flop: ($11.50) Js 7h 6c (2 players)
Hero bets $9.50, UTG calls $9.50 all in
You're calling a 3-bet pre-flop and a flop shove (what other move can I make here; $11.50 in the pot and my opponent has $9.50 behind.  It's either all or nothing at this point.

Turn: ($30.50) 4c (2 players - 1 is all in)

River: ($30.50) Kc (2 players - 1 is all in)

Final Pot: $30.50
Hero shows Th Ts (a pair of Tens)
UTG shows 8s 6s (a pair of Sixes) - This is a prime example of how NOT to play SCs!!!
Hero wins $29.00
(Rake: $1.50)

Good luck playing your suited connectors.  I hope these series of posts help you.

If you have a good Back to Basics topic that you would like covered, or would like to write a Back to Basics entry yourself, please leave a comment or send me an email (contact information on the right side of this blog).


  1. The more I think about this the more wrong I think it is. If you let a lot of hands in then your often times going to end up against a better flush draw.. I think you can get into big trouble with low connectors if you do this.

    I know they play well in multi-hand pots but when you have to call off your entire stack in an NLHE game I am not sure it's as profitable.

  2. Suited connectors are dependent upon the opponent, stack sizes, position, and what percent of stacks you're going to invest to see the flop.

    The flip side is being able to get away from them if you don't hit hard, not getting yourself milked looking to hit a draw, or being able to take it away with a float/lead.

  3. I'm catching up on my blog reading from being away last week -- This sounds like a fun series -- I look forward to the next one.

  4. @Waffles - I just realized I never responded to your comment "If you let a lot of hands in then your often times going to end up against a better flush draw.. I think you can get into big trouble with low connectors if you do this."

    While I agree with you that there is always the possibility to wind up in a situation where your flush is second to a better flush, the total hand combinations is not that high; There are 9 cards to make a better or worse flush combination, or 36 ways. Depending on how high your flush is, you can discount many of those combos. In addition, as fairnbalncd said, it is dependent on your opponent and situation. A lot of the possibilities of better flushes can be discounted because a tight opponent is likely to never play K3s, for example... nor is he to play A5s for a raise.

    Clearly, part of poker is putting your opponent on a range of hands. If your opponent's range is weighted towards a better flush than you, and he's giving you a ton of friction then you likely need to fold your flush. If your opponent's range is weighted towards a set or overpair and he's giving you a ton of friction, you are likely good with your middling flush.


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