Suited Connectors | Upswing Poker Level-Up #30
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This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with Gary Blackwood. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike Brady (00:00):
It’s time to give your poker strategy a quick Level-Up. I’m Mike Brady and you will never guess who’s joining me today. It’s poker pro Gary Blackwood.
Gary Blackwood (00:09):
Welcome everyone. Today we’re looking at suited connectors. We’re going to discuss how to play them in a variety of situations.
Mike Brady (00:15):
I’m going to run through the entire pre-flop game tree first, interrogating Gary on the best ways to play suited connectors in each common spot. From there, we’ll share four tips for playing suited connectors after the flop.
Before we get into it, I want to quickly mention…
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Alright, let’s get into suited connector strategy.
How to Play Suited Connectors Before the Flop
First off, Gary, how do you play suited connectors when the action folds to you?
Gary Blackwood (01:13):
It really depends on the position you’re in.
Gone are the days where you open every suited connector — and side note, every pocket pair from every position where when you’re under the gun or in middle position. Your low suited connectors like six five suited and five four suited are not pure opens and in full ring games they’ll virtually never be opens. Even eight seven suited isn’t a pure open under the gun in a 6-max cash game, but we can open nine eight suited and above always from every position.
When we get to the cutoff, we’re much more aggressive. We can raise all of our suited connectors all the time, and the main reason for folding these low suited connectors from early position is how dominated you’re going to be versus any callers and they don’t play that great out of position versus three bets. So we have to do a lot of folding when we get three bet, so it’s better to be more passive with them and mix in some low frequency opens as opposed to opening them all the time.
One last thing I want to say, and we’ve spoken about this in the podcast before, is that you want to widen your opening range to target weaker players in the big blind. That very much applies when you’re under the gun with King 10 offsuit and pocket fours, but your low suited connectors not so much. You want to have hands that play well versus the weaker players and your six highs and your five highs don’t play as well as you might think.
Mike Brady (02:22):
Yeah, those lower suited connectors don’t really have great removal effects too, right? It’s a fairly minor factor, but when you have six five suited, you don’t block many of the hands that will call or three bet against your raise. You don’t block pocket nines like you do when you have ten nine suited. You don’t block any strong Broadway suited hands like the King 10 suited and stuff like that.
Moving on, when you’re facing a raise from any position besides the big blind, how do you play suited connectors?
Gary Blackwood (02:54):
I’ll do some three betting preflop and interestingly enough say under the gun opens and I’m in the hijack or in the cutoff, we actually now prefer using the smaller suited connectors as our three bets as opposed to the larger suited connectors.
So a hand like six five suited or five four suited is a much more appealable three bet compared to a hand like nine eight suited or eight seven suited, which virtually never three bet. And the reason for this is that our opponent’s calling range versus our three bet is going to have a lot of hands like pocket sevens, pocket eights, all those types of hands that really dominate our eight seven suited and our nine eight suited.
So we’re much better off having hands that are un-dominated. They’ve got much cleaner outs, much easier to make pairs and two pairs, those types of hands. So the lower suited connectors will work much better for our pre-flop three bets.
We can do some flatting on the button with our suited connectors, but interestingly enough, it’s very much position dependent. We’ll do a lot less flatting button versus cutoff compared to button versus under the gun. The reason for that again is domination issues.
The cutoff is opening hands like Ace eight offsuit, Queen six suited, Jack seven suited and they really dominate our six five suited, our seven six suited and so on, but early position, they’re not opening Ace eight off suit, they’re not opening Queen seven suited and all those types of hands. So again, we’re really focusing on not being dominated and versus under the gun and MP, those six five suited are much less dominated.
Mike Brady (04:12):
It really comes down to not sharing cards with the range you’re up against when you have a suited connector because, when you have eight seven suited, the thing you really don’t want them to have is pocket eights, ace eight offsuit, things like that.
But when you have the five four suited, the six five suited, you’re not really going to be sharing cards as much, so that’s why you’re occasionally going to see a hand like five four suited be preferred to a hand like nine eight suited in a particular situation.
We actually have a great article on Upswing poker. It’s one of our most read ever called Why five four Suited is sometimes better than nine eight suited and how that should impact your strategy. Go check it out if you’re interested.
Super interesting article kind of goes over a bunch of different spots where these lower suited connectors are going to be preferred to the higher ones.
Jumping forward just then we were talking about playing versus a raise not from the big blind. We separated out the big blind because it’s sort of a totally different animal. So Gary, how should our listeners approach defending their big blind with suited connectors?
Gary Blackwood (05:10):
We’re of course never folding suited connectors in the big blind. Even virtually all of our suited one gappers and two gappers are going to call. So we never ever fold our suited connectors.
What we should be doing with them, however, is using them as part of a balanced three bet strategy from the big blind versus all positions. These suited connectors really help our polarized three bet range by giving us board coverage on low connected flops that we’d otherwise be struggling on.
Think about it, if you’re just three betting with Ace Queen and Ace King and the odd King Jack, when the flop comes down 7-6-5, your range is really, really struggling. So they help us have that board coverage on the lower more connected flops as well.
We’re supposed to three bet hands like six five suited and five four suited around half the time versus an MP open and even more so versus a button open. It is really common. One of the most common leaks that lower stakes players have is their three bet from the big bind is too low because it’s just so easy to just click that call button and see a flop, but if your big bind three bet numbers are lower and we can check them in our HUDs if we’re playing online, it’s because you’re not balancing your value hands with these really high frequency three bets with the suited connectors from the big points,
Mike Brady (06:18):
It’s really nice to three bet a hand like six five suited and force your opponent to fold the weaker off suit combos with which they raised. I mean the cutoff opens especially maybe the hijack, maybe the button. They have all these hands like King 10 offsuit, Ace eight offsuit like Gary mentioned earlier, things of that nature and when you three bet six five suited, you’re going to get them to fold those hands and those hands had 60 or so percent equity against your six five suited maybe more and you’re just winning the whole pot right there.
It’s like you’re robbing them of 60% of the pot. So it’s really an amazing situation. And then your backup option, should you get called, is maybe you’ll hit the flop, you have a suited connector, it plays great. You’re going to flop a lot of great hands like straight draws and flush draws with which you can barrel potentially get them to fold other hands on the flop. You just continue to make them shed hands from their range.
As you raise pre-flop, you just continue to get them to shed hands from their range as you three bet pre-flop as you bet the flop as you potentially barrel the turn and it really balances out your value range because you’re going to be doing the very same thing with hands like Pocket Aces and Ace King.
Gary Blackwood (07:20):
Very much so there’s one final thing that I want to add is that if you’re the type of player who is extremely under three betting from the big blind with those five four suited, you can’t just suddenly three bet 75% of the time and that’s the end of it because you’ll be struggling on how to play your range post flop.
So it’s really important that you’ve got a good solid idea of how to play post flop with a wider range because suddenly if your range is much wider than it previously was out of nowhere, you’re not familiar with that, it’s going to cost you EV before it gains you EV. So make sure that you’re confident in your ability to navigate post flop with some hands that you don’t usually have in there before you start suddenly three betting double the amount from the big blind.
Mike Brady (07:59):
Definitely, we don’t want you to be up a creek without a paddle. We are going to share some quick post flop tips for playing suited connectors later. Those are really just going to scratch the surface.
If you want to dive deep into playing as the three better out of position from the big blind post flop, highly recommend jumping into the Upswing Lab and checking out one of the modules that covers playing out of position as three better on the flop turn and river, we have a bunch of stuff in there.
If you become a member, just ask in the Facebook group or email our support team. We will send you in the direction of those modules if you can’t find them, but honestly they should be pretty easy to find. They’re in the cash games flop section, pretty intuitive stuff.
Moving on, how do you play suited connectors when you have the opportunity to over call pre-flop? In other words, someone raised someone else calls and now it’s on you and you could either call or squeeze or even fold.
Gary Blackwood (08:50):
Let’s start off by thinking about how dominated your range is going to be a lot of the time versus the player that’s open and then think about how even more dominated you’re going to be when there’s an open and a call and think about how extremely infrequently you dominate both players in the pot.
Let’s think about how dominated you are versus the player that’s opened and then think about how even more dominated you’re going to be when there’s an open and a call. Think about how extremely infrequently you dominate either player, let alone both players with a hand like six five suited.
It might feel really tempting to overcall, but these low suited connectors can get you into a lot of trouble because of those domination issues that we’ve spoken about a lot already today. So you can just go ahead and fold these hands and start to continue with the higher nine eight suited, ten nine suited, Jack 10 suited type hands instead.
Mike Brady (09:39):
Great advice. I think the one exception is if you’re maybe in a very loose live game where players are kind of in there with all sorts of random garbage and they’re also willing to put in a lot of money when they hit just a marginal piece after the flop. For example, if I know a guy is going to stack off with some marginal top pair or some marginal middle pair when I hit the straight with six five suited, I might flick in the call depending on the pre-flop price.
Just be really careful. Your default strategy should be what Gary just said even in those low stakes 1/2 games. But if you identify that the opener or the caller or both of them are players you really want to target, you really want to play pots with them because they’re just dusting off money post flop, probably not too bad to just hop in there.
Continuing on our way through the game tree. When you raise and face a three bet, how do you play suited connectors?
Gary Blackwood (10:30):
Passively out of position. Take it from somebody who has learned the hard way over the past 10 years repeatedly calling three bets out of position with six high and seven high does not help your results. There will be some instances where we want to call out of position, but for the most part we want to play really quite passively. We want to be opening and folding versus three bets.
Let’s focus on the stronger parts of our range like the suited Broadways, the pocket pairs, those types of fans that flop much better than seven six suited will out of position. When we’re in position we can play a lot more calls of course, but it’s interesting to note that again, we really want to focus on not being dominated. A perfect example if we open under the gun or a middle position and we face a three bet from the small blind for example, our low frequency opens with hands like six five suited and five four suited are always calling but hands like ten nine suited are mixing folds half the time and calling half the time.
And this is purely down to how many hands the small blind has that dominate us here when we have ten nine suited and how much cleaner our outs are going to be when we have an undominated hand like six five or five four suited. They’re just never dominated by hands that the small blind has, so they’re much more appealable to continue with.
Mike Brady (11:32):
They are obviously dominated by the bigger pairs, but every suited connector is dominated by the bigger pairs, right? It really comes down to when you raise ten nine suited in the cutoff or in the hijack and then the small blind three bets you. A good chunk of their range is maybe a King nine suited, a King 10 suited a Queen 10 suited, a Jack 10 suited. They have all these hands that directly dominate you. You can easily both flop top pair and lose multiple bets against them, whereas that’s just not going to happen when you have six five suited.
They’re not three betting king six suited really unless maybe you open button and they’re loose and they three bet the small blind or something. So you don’t run into that brutal pair versus pair domination scenario. It’s just going to come down to can you nail that flop with the six five suited when you know you’re not sharing cards with them and you can potentially win a big pot against the top end of their range.
One last pre-flop spot to cover. Suppose you’ve three bet with a suited connector and your opponent four bets. What’s the right approach?
Gary Blackwood (12:29):
In theory, we actually do so much calling here. We’re so rarely folding our suited connectors versus a four bet and again, it is just down to being un-dominated and having clean outs and flopping good equity.
There are some spots where it’s not that appealable to call and again it’s really few and far between. Say under the gun it opens and we three bet from the big blind and then under the gun four bets. One, under the gun’s four bet range is really, really strong here than other four bet scenarios, two were out of position that’s of course harder to play and three talked about it a lot today, but domination is key under the guns four bet bluff range actually contains some hands that dominate us hands like Ace nine, Ace eight, Ace seven suited are in theory four bet bluffs in this spot.
So a hand like eight seven suited isn’t really appealable to flat a four bet in this very specific example, but for the most part we very much want to be calling four bets with our suited connectors.
Mike Brady (13:20):
I should jump in with the caveat that that is assuming your opponent is using good four bet sizes. If you’re playing live or maybe even if you’re playing some softer online games where your opponents might not know the proper four bet sizes or might just be very unbalanced with their four betting and they just make it way too huge and your pot odds just aren’t that great, you can just ditch these hands. You don’t have to kind of play right into your opponent’s hands by putting in a bunch of money with six or seven high pre-flop.
So keep an eye on that four bet size if they’re making it kind of the proper size. And you can listen to our last episode on pre-flop raise sizing if you’re not familiar with the proper four bet sizes, but if it is on the really, really big side you can just air towards folding and stay out of their way.
Gary Blackwood (14:04):
Very much so. And one last thing I want to add here is that if you’re up against really bad, really weak, really passive players live, online, it doesn’t matter. You can just live your life by folding to the four bets with six five suited and not losing any sleep over it. It’ll be much better for you in the long run if you’re just folding these hands when you know your opponent’s got Aces, Kings, Queens and Ace King.
If your opponent has hands like Ace 10 and King Jack and Ace four, like they should have, then these hands play really well versus three bets and four bets, but versus the really tight, really weak, really passive players who have got nutted hands in their four bet ranges only. You can just go ahead and fold the six five suiteds.
Mike Brady (14:41):
We’re all about making the right adjustments here on the Level Up podcast. When you know what your opponents are doing, you can always adjust. You don’t have to have your strategy set in stone. In fact, you shouldn’t.
Postflop Tips for Suited Connectors
Moving on to post flop now. I’ve asked Gary to prepare four tips for playing these suited connectors after the flop. Let’s jump into number one, take it away Gary.
Gary Blackwood (15:03):
Tip #1. Let’s start off with single raise pots. You want to play your flopped combo draws really aggressively both as the pre flop caller and the pre flop raiser.
They’re great raising candidates. Check raising candidates, C-bet candidates because they’ve got so much equity, they’ll also help you attack boards which are quite good for you as the pre-flop caller. These low boards like 742, 853, your suited connectors flop a lot of straight draws, a lot of gut shots, flush draws sometimes both. It’s really nice to play these types of hands aggressively to balance all the strong hands that you’ve got in your range as well.
Tip #2. Another thing that’s really important is that we play aggressively in single raised pots with our flopped straights. A lot of our flopped trips, a lot of our good two pairs. The pot is small and we want to build that pot by playing aggressively with the stronger parts of our range.
It’s really important though that we understand in single raise pots when the stack to pot ratio is really high and the ranges are a little bit wider. Some of our flopped two pairs might not be as strong as they look. If we’ve got six five suited on 865 flush draw or 765 flush draw, check raising there is a little bit dicey because there are so many hands that will beat us by the river with bad run outs. But on 762 for example, our seven six suited is a much better spot to check raise. We want to play aggressively in that spot and we want to try and build the pot as quickly as possible.
Mike Brady (16:17):
You definitely got to keep in mind those potentially bad turns and rivers and there are a lot of bad turns and rivers on the 765 when you have six five. So you’re not super pumped to bloat the pot with a check raise or a raise in position.
Gary Blackwood (16:31):
Tip #3. Postflop tip number three for us here is that we don’t need to play our flopped monsters so aggressively in three bet pots. The pot is already so bloated and the stack to pot ratio is lower and we can stack our opponents when we just call a c-bet.
So in a single raised pot, if we call a c-bet with seven six on 762, there’s going to be 8, 9, maybe 10 big blinds in the pot. And it’s really hard for us to play for the other 95 big blinds in our stack. But if we’re playing in a three bet pot and we just call a c-bet with seven six on 762, there’s going to be around about 40 big blinds in the middle and it’s much easier for us to get the last 80 big blinds in on the turn and the river. So don’t just automatically fast play.
Let’s think about the situation. Let’s think about how deep we are, how shallow we are, the stack to pot ratio, how much wider ranges can be in single raised pots, how much narrower they’re going to be in three bet and four bet pots. And why we want to play more passively with flopped two pairs on certain boards because of the texture and how bad the runout can be.
Mike Brady (17:27):
Especially in those three bet pots. When you have a two pair like seven six on 762, a lot of your opponents range, say they have three bet pre-flop and you’ve called, they’re going to have a lot of over cards and of course if they just have an over pair and you raise the flop, you’re going to stack them, but there’s a good chance you’re going to stack those over pairs anyway, right?
But if you just call their c-bet on 762 with your seven six, they might catch up just enough to stack off. Maybe they have Ace King in the turn is a King. That’s kind of the dream scenario. Maybe they have the Queen Jack pre flop three bet that now turns a Jack and goes for more value.
So you kind of give them that opportunity to catch up a little bit. There are some slight downsides like maybe they have pocket Jacks and the turns a King and now they’re scared. But overall the benefits outweigh the downsides when it comes to slow playing those hands in the already bloated three bet pots
Gary Blackwood (18:13):
Very much so, and you want to just let them bluff, they’ve got the Queen Jack the turn’s a King and they want to blast off. Let ’em go ahead and do that. You’re absolutely right
Mike Brady (18:21):
For sure, give them that rope.
Gary Blackwood (18:23):
Tip #4. Okay, moving on to our final tip, and this is really important for all parts of poker, not just what we’re talking about today in the form of suited connectors, play your range and not your hand.
Say for example, you three bet pre flop middle position versus under the gun with six five suited and the flop comes down King Eight Deuce rainbow. It’s a really bad flop for your hand, but it’s a really, really good flop for your range. So you want to c-bet here with every part of your range, whether it’s top set or Ace King or six five suited, it’s a really good board for your range. Let’s recognize that this is a good board for our range, despite it being a bad board for our hands and continue to c-bet, this concept very much applies as the preflop caller as well.
Say the cutoff opens and we flat on the button with seven six suited and the flop comes down T32. This is a good board for our range, not great board for our hand. We’ve got seven high, but the cutoff is going to have to do a lot of checking and when it’s a good board for our range, we get to stab much more liberally, which means there’s going to be much more air in our range. And on a board like T32, we can use hands like seven six suited.
On the flip side, if we flat an open button versus cutoff and the flop comes down KQ2 and our opponent checks to us, that’s a really bad board for our range. So seven six suited is just never going to stab in this scenario. But let’s think about the scenarios where the board is really good for our range. We’ve got nice back doors. Our opponent has to do a lot of check folding and let’s be aggressive in that spot. Always focus on what your range wants to do, not your hand, and you’ll end up winning a lot more pots with eight high and seven high than you currently are.
Mike Brady (19:49):
To piggyback off of that, I’ve noticed a lot of post flop sims that will actually end up using these low suited connectors as just total no equity savage blast offs on the turn and river like these boards where maybe you three bet or maybe you’re in position as the pre-flop raiser in a single raised pot. And the flop comes really, really good for your range where all of your abundance of high card hands really connect well, like say an Ace King King or an Ace King Queen type flop.
You might be surprised how often a hand like six five suited no draw, sometimes not even a back door just wants to bet the flop, barrel the turn, bomb the river because it’s the bottom of our range and we can very much represent the top of our range and we need to balance that out. And these low suited connectors are pretty good hands to do it with.
Gary Blackwood (20:34):
You’re absolutely right. And let’s take one of the examples that we looked at earlier. If you three bet pre flop middle position versus under the gun and the flop comes down K82 rainbow and you’ve got six five suited and you c-bet the flop, your opponent will call your c-bet with nines, tens, jacks and queens, but they’ll fold fours, fives, sixes and sevens. So when you’re barreling the turn six five suited is a much nicer bluff for you than a hand like Queen Jack or Jack 10.
And the reason for that is your six five doesn’t block any hands you’re trying to make your opponent fold, but a hand like Queen Jack is blocking pocket Queens. It’s blocking pocket Jacks, Jack 10 blocks the same types of hands.
So Mike, you’re absolutely right, you want to use some of these hands as complete blast offs in certain situations. And again, it really comes down to thinking about our blockers in this specific scenario, K82, six five doesn’t block any of the hands you’re trying to make fold, but Queen Jack blocks a lot of the hands you’re trying to make fold. So these suited connectors are key for blasting off in a lot of situations
Mike Brady (21:30):
And if you really want to study up before pulling off this move, I know it can sound very daunting to just take a hand like six five suited to the house on K82 or whatever. I highly recommend jumping in the Upswing Lab, second time I’m mentioning it, but there’s a ton of stuff on turn play.
Gary just made a great module about turn barreling. So basically after you’ve c-bet the flop, how do you play the turns? What hands do you continue to barrel with? We also have some modules on river barreling and a bunch of different things of that nature.
So you can really use the Lab study up on when you’re supposed to make these plays, how often you’re supposed to make these plays so you can actually take it to the table and be confident and not feel like you’re just haphazardly implementing this tip that we brought to you today on the Level Up podcast.
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