Suited Connectors and Small Pocket Pairs by Phil Gordon

We’ve all seen situations unfold on TV where a hand like 7-8 suited or pocket 5s manages to crack some big pocket pair like Aces or Kings. We sit back in the comfort of our living rooms and say, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!”

While it is true that these hands can sometimes take down monster pots, the fact is, playing these kinds of marginal hands can often lead many players – especially newer ones – into a big trap. They start playing suited connectors and small pocket pairs much too frequently and, eventually, find themselves in situations where they’re forced to make tough decisions for lots of chips.

I suggest that you stay away from suited connectors altogether − especially if you’re a newer player – as I truly believe these are overvalued holdings. But if you do feel the need to play these kinds of hands, the first rule to remember is to always play them when you have position. If you limp or raise from early position with suited connectors, it’s simply a bad play.

Another point to consider is that you’re going to be investing a lot of chips after the flop if you’ve got a flush or straight draw. You’re not playing hands like 7-8 to fold when the flop comes 5-6-T, but you will only make your hand about a third of the time. When you don’t complete your draw, you might be able to push an opponent with a moderate holding out of the pot, but someone with a strong hand or a better draw isn’t going anywhere.

One especially dangerous hand to be wary of is 9-8, both suited and unsuited. Why? Well, let’s say you see a flop and it comes 10-J-Q. You’ve hit a straight and someone bets into your made hand. Many players are going to push all-in here, but that can be a costly mistake because there’s a good chance that someone else in the pot is holding a hand like A-K and will walk away with all of your chips.

Personally, I think you’re better off making a hand with something like 5-6 or even 4-5, because you’re less likely to be putting a lot of chips into a pot with the second-best hand. Playing 9-8 is simply a recipe for going broke.

When it comes to small pocket pairs, you have even less wiggle room. Basically, your only option is to get lucky and hit a set on the flop. I see a lot of players raising pre-flop with these hands because they think they have the best hand at the moment – and maybe they do. But this can sometimes be a huge mistake. You’re draining all the value out of these hands, because they pay off most when you flop a set and are able to bust someone.

If you are going to play a hand like pocket 5s, my suggestion is to once again only play when you have position − limping or raising from early position is bound to get you in a heap of trouble. Try to get in cheap and hit your set. If you don’t connect with the flop, do your best to keep control of the betting and force people out of the pot if it doesn’t look like they hit their hand either.

Suited connectors and small pocket pairs are just dangerous hands to be playing, no doubt about it. You might look like a genius when you flop the nuts and somebody pays you off, but the odds say that’s just not going to happen too often. The more likely scenario is that if you play these kinds of purely speculative hands more than you should, it’s going to lead to nothing but a huge drain on your bankroll.

Phil Gordon