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On the Value of Suited Connectors
Jeffrey "JGB146" Blake is the owner and operator of Grinderschool. Subscribe today to download and view his over 100 poker strategy videos.
First off, some cold hard truths about suited connectors: They rarely flop a made hand. Since they are usually fairly low in rank, flopping a pair usually gives you 2nd or 3rd pair at best - not something you want to bet a lot of chips on. I wouldn't consider flopping a pair worth much consideration at all, in fact. Thus with these hands we are often looking to flop two pair or better (trips, a made straight, a made flush, a full house, etc). I won't do the math here, but this will happen approximately 5% of the time.
This is why these hands play well in cheap multiway pots. To break even on playing these hands, when we flop our rare hand we need to make 20 times the amount we had to invest. If we limped behind 2 other people, the SB is encouraged to call and the BB will often check. This leaves us with 1BB invested into a 5BB pot. We need that pot to include 20BBs from other people on the times that we hit. With 4 others in the hand, there is a good chance that someone else will hit something as well, making this easier to accomplish. To make the 20BB profit we require can often be achieved via a pot-sized bet (PSB) followed by a 2/3 pot bet (~5BB profit in intial pot + 5BB profit when PSB is called + 10BB when 2/3 PB is called = 20BB). Whatever extra we can make (from bigger bets or profits on the river) is where the actual profit comes from. Another option is to bet 2/3 pot on all three streets (5BB + 3BB + 6BB + 10BB = 24BB). The best choice is probably whichever will get you paid most often. That said, if it will be called, a bigger bet is clearly best.
We've seen then that to make these hands profitable in an "ideal" situation (cheap multiway pot), we must be against opponents who will call bets on multiple streets when we hit. This is fairly unlikely when we hit our flush, and only moderately likely on the other boards we can hit - the only ways 76s gets enough action from someone on a 76x board is 1)x is a high card which an opponent paired (which is fairly likely when a high card hits) 2)x gives their low pair a set (which we don't want, because we're behind when it happens) and 3)we're against an opponent who drastically over-values a straight draw (in which case 25% of the time we still lose!). Things are starting to look pretty grim for suited connectors...
What we didn't consider previously, is that often our opponents will bet/raise some of our power flops, because they look safe and/or draw heavy. AJo definitely wants to bet enough to deny odds for a straight draw on a J67 board. 99 feels similarly on a 762 board. If just one of these raises comes in, we're well on our way to value-town. So things with limping big pots aren't as grim as they appear.
Another argument toward the strength of suited connectors is their value as drawing hands. For instance, when we flop a combo-draw giving us flush and straight outs, or when we flop a pair plus either of our draws, we get enough outs to be only a slight dog against most hands our opponent can call us with (and in many such cases, we are even a favorite on the flop). First, these situations are relatively rare. You'll flop such a combo-draw an additional 5% of the time. Even when you flop them, they aren't as great as they appear. Either our opponent has a hand to go to the felt with us (in which case we're even money, so the situation is around 0 EV) or he doesn't, and we win a small pot that doesn't even make up for the amount we had to invest to play the hand. And situations in which we are flat-called on the flop leave us in a bad spot on the turn when we miss - rather than being 50% to win, we're now down to 25%. Now we definitely want a fold from our opponent, but they are relatively unlikely to grant it; after all, they did call the flop...
What about normal draws, such as a flush draw or an open-ended straight draw? Surely these will occur more often? Of course they will. A bit over 20% of the time you will flop one of these above draws. That's nothing worth getting excited about, however, as again you will either win a small pot, or get into a big pot as a dog (though here you are almost certainly a significant dog when called). With the additions brought by fold equity, we can probably consider this a wash as we did the combo-draw situations. Though at many tables that is a bit of a stretch.
So overall, the expected value of limping suited connectors is dependent on having weak players who will call multiple streets when you hit your hand. That makes limping them in many low stakes games ideal. As you move up in stakes, however, it becomes more and more rare to find enough opponents who will make these calls on multiple streets. Does that mean that at high stakes, suited connectors are worthless? Why do we always see Daniel Negreanu and Brian Townsend playing these hands? Because they are usually playing them differently!
A lot of what we said previously goes out the window if you are raising with suited connectors instead of calling. This is because it is much less likely for a caller to put you on the hand you have. Thus you will get paid off more often on boards that you hit - sometimes from players just making bad bluffs at you. Further, because you raised, you can reasonably represent a much bigger hand. You can frequently get credit for having and Ace or King on an Axx/Kxx board, increasing your equity through significantly increased fold equity. Finally, by raising these hands, you provide cover for the legitimate hands you raise. If you only play big hands, good players can easily stay out of your way. By mixing in other hands, they are forced to either let you win extra pots or to play back at you more often, paying off your bigger hands. So in the end, by raising, you get paid off more when you hit these hands, force good players to pay you off more when you have a big hand, and you pick up more of the pots that you shouldn't have won by representing a stronger hand than you have. Sounds great huh? It doesn't work as well at lower stakes where you're more likely to be looked up by someone who doesn't know to fold his A5 against aggression on an AT4 flop.
The ultimate step in misrepresentation then is to three-bet (reraise preflop occasionally with these hands. Again, this will force your opponent to either give up on more hands or to pay you off with more hands. Further, this is one method of reducing the equity a small pair has to play for set odds against hands you raise and reraise, as you are clearly not paying off a set with a suited connector. Again, this is questionable practice at lower stakes, because players are more likely to call with weaker hands while thinking their hand is good.
Now we understand reasons to limp, raise, and even reraise with suited connectors. There's also a murky idea about why to fold (remember, if you're not going to get called on multiple streets, the limp is often not worth it!). Let's expand a bit on the reasons and situations in which we fold:
1) Against loose opponents when you are the first in the pot: Limping is not an option. You will find it very difficult to make the necessary 20xBB from a limped pot that does not benefit from having several extra limps in to build it. Your flop bet will only serve to make it as large as it would have been to start if more players were in; It's as if you were missing an entire street of betting! Further, with only you in the pot, it becomes very easy for someone left to act to raise, putting you in a tough spot and usually resulting in at best a loss of the blind you paid, sometimes much more.
2) When folded to us in the small blind: Again limping is not an option. We won't make enough of a hand to continue very often, and we'll be playing out of position to boot. Raising is not much better, as people expect loose raises in blind versus blind confrontations, so we are not likely to get the level of respect required to make this play +EV. If, however, we have a very tight image, a raise could be a good play.
3) When raised against our blinds: In a raised pot that is not multiway, it is going to be significantly harder to make the required amount for profit (if we have to call 2.5BB, we have to win 50BB - half our opponents stack! - in order to break even on the call). Further, you are not likely to get the respect we want here because we called rather than raised preflop and because if we reraise, we fall back to the loose blind expectation. And once again, we would be playing out of position here, which is bad for suited connectors (as they benefit significantly from pot control capabilities - see upcoming article on positional play).
4) When out of position in general - again, suited connectors benefit drastically from being played in position. This will be covered more in the upcoming article, but positional factors (such as pot control, seeing your opponent's decision, closing the action, and taking a free card) apply very strongly when playing suited connectors.