Poker players, it seems, are no less susceptible than anybody else to group-think. An idea gains traction, and eventually is accepted as gospel, just because everybody thinks it, or says it.
There are plenty of examples, and I might write about some of them in the coming weeks. Today’s is one of my pet peeves: “I can play this suited connector out of position because the stacks are deep.”
Sometimes there’s also mumbling about “multi-way pot.” This is a myth which I am about to debunk.
SUITED CONNECTORS DON’T PLAY WELL OUT OF POSITION
Let’s use as an example a 1/2 no-limit hold’em (NLHE) game. There’s a limp for 2, then a late-position player makes it 10. It folds to you in the small blind, and you have eight-seven of diamonds (8d7d). You call because, “suited connectors are pretty and fun to play” (I’m quoting a well-known poker vlogger here). The limper calls, and you go to a flop with 32 in the pot.
Of course, most of the time, your 87s will completely whiff the flop, you’ll check, fold, and not think much about it. But remember, you’re down 4.5 big blinds (BBs) that could still be in your stack.
Then there’s the “kinda graze the flop” scenario. Suppose you get a flop of Jc-7s-2d. You and the limper check, and the preflop raiser bets 20. You’ve got middle pair, backdoor diamonds, and a “backdoor straight draw.” It takes a special kind of optimism to give yourself a “backdoor straight draw,” but who am I to rain on your parade?
You call the 20 and the limper folds. With 72 in the pot, the turn is the Kh. You check, the villain bets 45. You fold. 14.5 BBs down the tubes. A key problem in this hand is you were out of position. You had to check on the flop and the turn, giving up control to the preflop raiser. Had you been the button, you might very well have won the hand by c-betting or delayed c-betting. Out of position, your hand was too weak and too awkward to win.
But here’s what I came to talk about—the flop is Ks-5d-2d—the flop you’ve been waiting for—you’ve got a flush draw and some backdoor straight possibilities. Again, you and the limper check, the villain bets the same 20. Again, you call and the limper folds.
The turn is an exquisite Td, giving you the flush. You check, the villain bets 45, as in the previous example.
But wait a minute. We didn’t discuss a crucial piece of contextual information—how deep are the stacks?
Suppose the preflop raiser started with 75 and was all-in with his bet on the turn. Easy game; you call with your flush, the dealer puts out a river card, and we see who’s won. It’s probably you.
But 75 is a pretty short stack in a 1/2 game. Let’s give your opponent some more chips. Instead of 75, they started with 200—100 BBs—and you cover them. Now they bet 70 on the turn, and you check/raise all-in. The effective raise is 125 more. They call or don’t, you win or you don’t, but the hand plays itself. Your check-raise is relatively small, and they’re likely to call with (for example) AK, particularly if they have the ace of diamonds.
WEAK SUITED CONNECTORS DO POORLY WITH DEEP STACKS
Now, let’s make the game interesting. You and the villain have been beating up this game for the last three hours. You have 500 in your stack (250 BBs) and they cover you.
On the turn, you make your flush. You check, they bet 70. You cleverly check-raise to 180. He thinks briefly, and then announces he’s all-in. It’ll cost you another 290 to call. You are in a miserable position. If your opponent has AdKc, you have them drawing at only 7 outs. If they already have a higher flush, you’re drawing dead. You have to call 290 to win 720, about 5:2 odds.
You can also imagine a similar scenario, but instead of jamming on the turn, your opponent calls. Now the river is a blank (ace of spades), pairs the board (deuce of hearts) or a terrifying fourth diamond (six of diamonds). Now what? You’re first to act, deep stacks behind, and you’ve no idea if you have the best hand.
Note the big trouble with this hand happened when the stacks were deep. Shallower stacks made your decisions easier, usually by ending the hand because somebody was all-in.
THE PERFECT STORM
As you can see, the combination of a strong (but non-nutted) hand, deep stacks, and poor position creates a situation where you’re betting piles of chips with no idea of whether you’re good. Or you’re folding after investing a lot in the pot, in the exact situation you thought you were hoping for when you called preflop. The technical term for this situation is “reverse implied odds.” It’s the idea that making the hand you’re seeking will cause you to lose, rather than win, a lot of chips.
But suited connectors flop a flush draw almost as frequently as pocket pairs flop a set. Which means you and your connectors have to make it to the turn for the smallest amount possible, then try to collect your prize, from out of position, without putting 250-300 BBs into a pot with an 8-high flush.
Contrast this, with calling preflop in the small blind with 88. Now you flop a set or you don’t. If you do flop a set, it’s strong enough that you’re happy to check-raise and play for stacks from the flop. Once you raise the flop, you’re shortening the stacks immediately, mitigating your positional disadvantage. Depending on stack depth, you can be all-in on the turn, or at least get so much in that the river plays itself. Flopped sets have good, implied odds; medium/small, suited connectors don’t.
There is a time and place to play 87s, but early position, when the stacks are 200 BBs, is not it.
Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com