98s vs 54s

Why 5♠ 4♠ is Better Than 9♠ 8♠ (And How That Should Impact Your Strategy)

Since the advent of preflop solvers, poker players have discovered some very interesting things about preflop strategy.

One particularly interesting and useful discovery has to do with suited connectors.

In certain scenarios, low suited connectors (like 54s) are preferable to higher ones (like 98s). You’re about to learn why, and how you should adjust your preflop strategy in light of that fact.

Why Are Some Suited Connectors Better Than Others?

The value of suited connectors in relation to each other boils down to a couple of key concepts:

1. Implied odds

Implied odds refers to the amount of money that you expect to win (or lose) on later streets if you hit your hand. This concept is especially important in No-Limit Hold’em, as it’s a big bet game in which any player can go all-in at any time.

2. Domination

Domination refers to the instances in which two or more players share a card of the same rank, but one of them has the higher kicker. For example, if you have A-J and I have A-9, you have me dominated.

Keeping these concepts in mind, let’s explore the situations in which 54s is better than 98s.

When is 54s Better Than 98s?

54s is typically a better hand to play when 3-betting and calling 3-bets. For example, take a look at the cutoff vs button 3-bet range from the new Advanced Solver Ranges in the Upswing Lab:

co vs btn 3-bet range

Cutoff vs Button 3-Bet Range from the Upswing Lab (Advanced Solver Ranges)

As you can see, 54s is always a call versus the 3-bet while 98s should only be called half of the time.

This happens because of the two reasons explained in the previous section: implied odds and domination.

Why 54s Has Better Implied Odds

Imagine that you are on the button and the player in the cutoff raises. You choose to 3-bet 9♠ 8♠ and the cutoff calls.

The flop comes Q♠ J♣ 6 and the cutoff checks. You c-bet small (33% pot) and face a call.

The turn is the 7, giving you four additional outs to a straight. The cutoff checks and calls your medium-sized (66% pot) bet.

The river is the T, completing your straight. The cutoff checks, you go all-in, and the cutoff folds.

There’s a key factor that will make it very tough to get paid off with 98 in this type of situation. Give the Q♠ J♣ 6 7 T board another look and see if you can figure out why your opponent will be reluctant to call…

…okay, ready?

On boards that contain Q-J-T, your many combinations of AK also make a straight. This severely cuts the implied odds of your 98s because AK is ever-present in your 3-betting range, and your opponent knows this. Therefore, he has to play more passively on these boards by folding a lot of his marginal made hands, making it tougher to get value out of your straight with 98s.

Compare this to having 54s in the exact same situation on the (Q♠ J♣ 6) 7 turn:

  • Your implied odds are better.
    When you hit a 3 or an 8 on the river, your straight will be well-disguised and your opponent will be more likely to pay you off. He may even put you on a missed AK and call very light.
  • You will get to bluff effectively on certain rivers.
    When the river is an A, K, or T, your opponent may fear AK, allowing you to make very profitable bluffs with your 5-high.

That explains implied odds. Now, let’s talk about domination.

54s Will be Dominated Less Often Than 98s

When you 3-bet, your opponent’s calling range will often contain many suited 9x and 8x hands (A9s-T9s, A8s-T8s). This means that, when you hold 98s, you will be dominated fairly often and end up losing bigger pots on average.

When holding 54 suited, on the other hand, you will be dominated by only a few hands with which your opponent might call (65s, A5s-A4s). The boards that hit your 54s simply won’t interact much with your opponent’s 3-bet calling range.

The Same Concepts Apply When Calling 3-Bets.

When holding 98s, you are more likely to be dominated by hands that 3-bet and contain a 9/8. This is an especially big problem when you’re up against a loose 3-bet range that contains hands like Q8s and J9s.

The boards that you will hit with 98s present problems related to implied odds. When you see a Q-J-T board and get all of the money in, you will often find yourself being coolered by AK. Additionally, the boards that you do smash (like 9-8-4 or J-T-7) will usually be very scary for your opponent, and he will play less aggressively with his range as a result. Both of these problems drastically reduce your implied odds.

These domination and straight-over-straight scenarios happen much less often when you hold 54s. Sure, if the board runs out 8-7-6 and your opponent has T9, you’re cooked, but that won’t happen often since most of your opponents will only play T9 when its suited (whereas they will always play both the suited and offsuit versions of AK).

Final Thoughts

All this being said, 98 suited is still pretty awesome because it can make strong hands relatively often. You should oftentimes include it in many of your 3-betting and versus 3-bet ranges. It’s just not quite as awesome as 54 suited.

That’s all for this article! This was a fun topic to cover and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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When’s the last time you were on the right (or wrong) end of a straight-over-straight scenario?

Let me know in the comments below. Feel free to leave any questions or feedback as well and I will do my best to answer.

Til’ next time, good luck, grinders!

What to read next: What Top Poker Pros Already Know About 4-Betting.


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Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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