In a new series examining starting hands, cash game pro Simon Hemsworth looks at the ultimate way to play suited connectors
Suited connectors are great for cash games where deeper stacks allow your hand to see more flops, turns and rivers and hopefully put a cooler on your opponent. If played correctly they are hands where you will be looking to either lose a small pot or win a big pot. Suited connectors can hit boards in all sorts of different ways which makes them much more attractive to play with deeper stacks where there are more ‘nutted’ hands you can make. When we talk about suited connectors we are not exclusively speaking about cards that are entirely connected as hands with one or two gaps (such as 8-6s or T-7s) still have great potential to hit different boards.
However hands that are suited have much more relative implied odds compared to unsuited hands. In this article we will look at how best to play suited connectors at different stages of a hand, with some common examples thrown in to help. We will also consider some of the potential pitfalls of playing these sorts of hands, which could cost you money.
In cash games you can typically open very liberally from all positions with suited connectors. This is unlike tournaments where there are usually short-stacked players that won’t let you realise the postflop potential of your hand. Assuming you are playing six-handed then it’s perfectly fine to open 7-6 suited from under the gun. Generally it’s good to have a wide opening range in cash games and, as we will see, suited connectors have enough good postflop equity to be opening preflop. However, if there are active short stacks in play who could three-bet you and not allow you to call to see a flop it is not a good spot to open a hand like 7-6 suited.
Another consideration is if there were aggressive players to your left. Such players can make your life extremely difficult postflop when you hit only one pair and are left with tough bluff-catcher situations. Suited connectors are great hands to call three-bets with, particularly when deep and in position. Being deeper adds the benefit of being able to profitably see more turns and rivers, which could potentially improve your hand. Also, if you are deeper you can win a bigger pot if you do hit a nutted hand against an opponent with a weaker hand.
On the flop
Your suited connectors can hit the flop in all manner of ways ranging from a complete miss to hitting the absolute nuts. We are going to concentrate on a few specific situations which people frequently get wrong. Firstly there are the occasions when you flop a weak one pair hand. This can often be the downfall of suited connectors if you commit too much money with this type of hand on this type of flop. Let’s look at an example:
- You call a three-bet in position with 8♥-7♥ in position 150BB deep and the flop comes 2♥-6♠-8♠. The villain bets two thirds of the pot…
This is a standard call against almost all opponents. A mistake some players make is to raise here – neither for value or as a bluff – but rather to try to gain information on their opponent’s hand. However, if the villain decides to three-bet this flop it is conceivable they have a big hand like an overpair, a combo draw with a hand like K♠-Q♠ or a bluff, thus giving you very little of the information you wanted. Calling makes more sense as you might be able to get to showdown with your pair of Eights and win. You have good equity with two pair or trip outs, as well as back door straight and flush draws, where if you hit could win a big pot against an overpair. Although just calling can leave you with difficult turn and river decisions if you don’t improve, raising will make your life much more difficult in the long run.
- You call a three-bet with J♦-9♦ in position 100BB deep and the flop comes T♦-3♠-8♦. The villain bets half the pot…
In this situation it is usually best to raise and look to get all-in. You have excellent equity against almost every hand unless the villain happens to have a set or a higher flush draw. These hands are not only unlikely but you will still have great equity against them anyway. The disadvantage of just calling with a hand like this is that if you miss the turn completely then your equity is massively reduced and you will face a difficult turn decision. Also, if you call and hit with a card like the A♦ then your opponent might be able to fold a hand like Q-Q. By playing the combo draw fast you ensure that you always get your money in with great equity but also don’t allow the villain’s bluffs, with hands like A-K, to end up winning the hand.
- You raise 6♠-5♠ preflop from the cutoff and are called in the BB by a villain 100BB deep. The flop comes 8♠-9♥-T♠. The villain checks, you bet two-thirds pot and the villain raises…
On this occasion you have flopped quite well with a flush draw and a gutshot. Some people would make the mistake of three-betting this flop and then getting all-in at this point. The better play would be to just call and see a turn card. This is because this is a flop that smashes the range of a typical opponent calling out of the BB. Flopped straights, sets, two pairs or superior combo draws are all well within the villain’s range and you are in very poor shape with 6♠-5♠ here. If you call you could still hit one of your draws on the turn and potentially get value from straights, two pairs or trips. However, caution should be advised as cards that improve your hand could also improve the villain’s hand.
The turn and river
These are the spots where you should be looking to either extract value with big hands or find situations to bluff/semi-bluff. Also, if you have called the flop with a weak one pair hand and haven’t improved by the turn or the river it’s usually a good idea to fold your hand to further aggression. Sometimes with suited connectors we will get a turn card that gives us more outs so let’s consider a good turn semi-bluff spot:
- You call a three-bet with J♣-T♣ 120BB deep and see a flop of 4♣-5♣-7♠. The villain makes a standard c-bet to which you call. The turn is an 8♠ and the villain bets…
In this situation a shove would be a very effective play for a few reasons. Firstly, the only feasible hand the villain can really be betting is a hand with a Six in it, which is difficult to have as the preflop three-bettor. If for some reason the villain is betting again with a hand like an overpair then our shove should look very credible, and we can certainly have a Six in this situation. Either way a shove should get lots of folds with hands that don’t have a Six in them. If the villain does have a value hand then we have plenty of outs with a gutshot and a flush draw. Though calling the turn is not a bad play with such good equity, the difficulty arises when we miss our hand and have to fold to aggression.
Sometimes it is best to call flop and turn with a combo draw and then bluff the river when you miss. Consider the following:
- You call an UTG raise on the button with 9♦-7♦, see a flop of A♦-Q♦-K♠ and call a c-bet. The turn is the 7♣ and you call another bet. The river is the T♣ and the villain checks…
The preflop and flop plays are somewhat standard, although three-betting preflop or raising the flop could be advantageous against certain opponents. The turn play is more debatable. Although you pick up a pair, quite often your two pair or trip outs can be dead against the villain’s flopped set or Broadway. On the river this is a mandatory bluff spot. There is a very small chance that your pair of Sevens is good but that’s unlikely. Usually in situations like this the villain is checking to try to get to showdown. It’s very unlikely he has a Jack, but we can credibly represent one. A bet of somewhere around two-thirds pot will likely get the job done. You want to bet an amount that you would typically bet with a Jack in this spot.
Real life example: Thinking beyond the flop
In this famous hand from High Stakes Poker Daniel Negreanu is having a bad session and thinks his luck might be turning around when he flops the nuts with T♥-9♥ on a Q-8-J flop. However the board pairs on the turn and gives Erick Lindgren quad Eights. This is a good example of how you should not be caught up on how great the flop was for your hand and must re-evaluate each street as the board (and therefore the players’ ranges) change. The way the hand goes down it is very possible for a straight to no longer be the best hand on the river. When Lindgren goes all-in it’s incredibly unlikely a straight is the best hand and becomes a mandatory fold.
Negreanu, aided by some clear frustration and sense of injustice, is still thinking about how great his hand was on the flop instead of thinking rationally about how it’s now clearly the second best hand on the river. Negreanu ends up making a crying call and loses a huge $233k pot.
Lessons to learn
The beauty of suited connectors is their ability to hit lots of different board textures and give you situations where you can hit a very strong hand to win a pot from a weaker one. They play great in cash game poker where stacks are deep and you can benefit from having lots of outs to hit on turn and river cards. The high equity you can flop also allows you to play big draws fast.
Caution should be taken with such hands when stacks are more shallow, such as in a tournament. You must be willing to throw away your hand when you do not hit the flop, turn or river sufficiently to continue and not bluff in bad spots just because you missed.
Care should also be taken to evaluate exactly how strong your draw is on different boards. Just because you have a pair and a flush draw it does not mean you must always want to commit lots of money to the pot. An evaluation of how a certain board hits your opponent’s range as well as your own is essential.