Poker Lesson 31

"But they were suited!"

It is time to delve into a popular misconception among many beginning poker players... the idea that having your two starting cards in the same suit, and/or "connected", somehow immensely improves their chances of winning. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Yes, having two starting cards in the same suit is better than having them in two different suits; but no, the difference is not that remarkable. They will not magically turn into a complete flush when the flop hits. The phrase "But my two cards were suited!" is a common lament among losers in hold'em.

Having your two starting cards "connected", meaning in adjoining values such as let's say 7-8, 8-9, 9-10 or 10-J, is also a slight improvement over two cards which are wide apart, such as 10-2 or Q-5. Connected cards improve your chances of flopping a straight or a straight draw – but, like suited cards, they are by many players mistakenly seen as much better than they really are. Not even "suited connectors", such as 7-8 of the same suit, are to be overestimated. Texas hold'em is and remains basically a game about high cards, with few exceptions.

OK, let us put numbers on it, to give you a more accurate estimate of what we are talking about. Here are some pre-flop matchups worth considering:

7 of spades – 8 of spades vs. A of diamonds – K of hearts: 42% vs. 58%.
7 of spades – 8 of clubs vs. Ad-Kh: 38% vs. 62%.
3 of spades – 8 of clubs vs. Ad-Kh: 33% vs. 67%.

(The numbers mean that with all the possible flops, turn and river cards that can appear, the 7-8 of spades in the first matchup will win 42% of the time against A-K in two different suits other than spades. And how do you arrive at these percentages, you may ask? There are two basic methods: either mathematical calculations for all the possible permutations, or having a computer programme dealing a million or more random flops, turns and rivers, and keeping track of which set of starting hands wins in the long run.)

Note in the above matchups that connected cards (7-8) represent no huge improvement compared to non-connectors (such as 3-8 here), and having suited connectors are in turn no huge improvement compared to non-suited connectors. Yes, the odds have improved somewhat from 2 to 1 against winning (for a crap hand like 3-8 off) via 1,6 to 1 and to 1,4 to 1 against for 7-8 suited, but the same A-K off are still the favourite to win by far.

Or maybe you protest that your 7-8 suited happens to be up here against the strongest possible non-pair starting hand? Then take a look at this pre-flop matchup:

7s-8s vs. Kd-10h: 41% vs. 59%.

Your chances now actually go DOWN slightly, since that 10 in your opponent's hand hinders some of your possible straight draws. And how about this match-up?

7s-8s vs. 10d-3h: 49% vs. 50% (with the remaining 1% for a split pot).

You would practically never consider calling with 10-3 off – yet this genuine crap hand is actually a favourite, however slightly, against 7-8 suited. Well, how about if I give you a considerably better hand, still connected AND suited?

Qs-Ks vs. Ad-6h: 46% vs. 54%.

You must keep in mind that ALL hands containing one or two higher cards are favourites against suited connectors. Yes, being suited and/or connected improve your chances somewhat, but not to the point of being miraculous. If you decide to go to war over a pot, you should think "high cards" and "pairs" a lot more often than you should think "suited connectors".