Coaches Ed Miller and Doug Hull host this episode of the Red Chip Poker podcast all about playing speculative hands. Those suited connectors, suited gappers, baby pairs and the like go under the microscope. The practicalities of expanding your preflop range are explored in depth. Let’s get started!

Don’t Be The Player the Game Forms Around

Hull starts by relating a story about a student who found players would leave their tables to play versus him whenever he sat down at his local poker room. He wasn’t as concerned with saving money as saving face. So Hull puts him on a strict ABC poker diet of premium hands preflop. The student complains about the plan after folding for 15 card-dead orbits in a row, but admits he’d have lost thousands without it.

The next question is often, “What hands do I add in there?”

Featuring: Miller and Hull

Preflop Ranges are Malleable

Miller jokes that he always wants to skip writing the preflop range part of his books. Too many players want to use a list of starting hands in each position as their playbook, but thinking about poker this way leads to problems down the road. This is particularly true in regards to playing too nitty, and not mixing it up with more speculative hands.

A preflop range cannot be set in stone for many reasons, but there are two big ones:

  • Stack sizes will vary, and influence your range
  • Player type and actions will vary, and influence your range

There is no such thing as a perfect preflop strategy. Miller’s recommendations may vary slightly with the weather, because there is no hard and fast ‘correct’ preflop opening range.

Suitedness and Speculative Hands

Hull points out that Miller has a lot of pairs and suited connectors in his speculative hand range, rather than hands like K9o, Q8o, or things like that. He asks Miller what the “magic of suitedness” is for him.

First, Miller has a qualifier: You must be in a respectably deep-stacked game, with at least 100bb or more, in order to see the value in playing speculative hands.

He then debunks the argument that because you will flop a flush such a minute percentage of the time, the suitedness does not matter so much.

“Being suited is powerful,” he says, for a few reasons:

  • The rare times you do hit your flush, you are often enough in a position to win a big pot.
  • Fold equity — Hull points out that with flush draws on the flop, you can bet and barrel turn with 20% fold equity on the next card. Coupled with the idea that they just might fold, this is a ninja poker move.
  • These are bluffing hands. Mixing it up with suited cards, taking aggressive lines in good spots when you miss… these things increase your profit. You can always fold if the aggression comes back in a serious way. 76s is a bluff when opened preflop. It gives you the opportunity to represent a big hand, get folds, and if called, at least have equity with the straight and flush draws… even if they are back-door.
  • When backdoor flush draws get there, stacks can be had. Nobody sees them coming, and if you’re pulling the miracle card on the river, you can often expect to be paid off.

How to Play Baby Pocket Pairs

Hull says that lots of players ask him whether it’s OK to play baby pocket pairs with a fit-or-fold set-mining mentality.

Miller first points out that players should be keen on separating baby pocket pairs from suited hands, despite them constantly being grouped together in poker strategy books. Just because both hands “need to improve” does not mean they play the same strategically.

In fact, baby pocket pairs are basically the opposite of suited connectors. They don’t have equity — they either smash the flop or quickly become third or fourth pair, and you’ve got nearly no outs.

In short, small pairs are not bluffing hands.

Hull points out that even if you have 34s and flop a pair, you have outs to two pair and trips, possibly with additional backdoor draws. Compare that to pocket 4’s on a AQ9 board, where you’re basically drawing to two outs.

“No set, no bet,” is one age-old poker adage that Miller can actually get behind. Normally he’s not a fan of these set-in-stone strategic “rules”, because when they’re wrong they’re often really wrong. But when it comes to pocket pairs, Hull and Miller agree — smash the flop or go home. Again, not a hard-and-fast rule, there are always exceptions.

Position When Playing Suited Connectors

One way $1/$2 and $2/$5 NLHE players can get more suited connectors in their open range is to look for opportunities to raise a few limpers from late position with a speculative hand like 98s. Now you’ve got position, you’ve got initiative, and you might have already bought out the people in the pot behind you.

When playing these suited connectors, make sure to raise preflop. Because this is a bluffing hand, you need to start telling the story of your monster hand immediately.

Miller points out that you need to be sticky on the flop with your suited connector bluff hands. He sees too many people raise suited connectors pre, flop 2nd or 3rd pair, and fold to aggression. He recommends a stickier check-call-on-the-flop line. Remember, it’s really hard for people to make a hand. They might have overcards or a draw. Maybe they had the pocket threes that didn’t improve. Don’t lay down and die on the flop if you’re adding suited connectors into the mix.

Showing 11 comments
  • ralph

    James, Doug and Ed I am a break even 1-2 and 2-5 player and im less nitty than i was, say, 1 month ago. I really enjoyed todays podcast.You helped to to start realizing that I should be playing more of my drawing hands instead of folding to that cbet, esp in position. will be giving it a whirl in tonight’s upcoming game. I particularly enjoy the low limit content, and those podcasts that help me break out of my old man coffee style. thanx again, r

    • You’re very welcome Ralph! Glad to hear you’re improving your game – keep up the good work!

  • Keith

    Iv’e listened to all your podcast and really appreciate them. Great content and advise. Keep up the good work.

  • BBostonBoy

    You guys really make sense! Still digesting pokers 1percent, but this is way easier to implement. Thanks

  • Arlene

    Will practice being less “Nitty” and not folding as easily to the flop raise!

    • Awesome! Enjoy, take notes, and study hands after sessions to see if your lines were best =)

  • rich h

    I will use this suited connector strategy tonight at the card room. I enjoyed Ed’s book The Course too.

  • Christopher S

    I enjoyed the subject on speculative hands. I never realized that the suited connector you should consider as a bluffing hand when you pick up fold equity on every street a high percentage of the time. I study a few subjects from this website then play live $1/$2 and anyone thinking about investing in definitely has the right idea. A $40 investment is nothing compared to the buy-in you will put on the table. The $40 investment will boost your intelligence in poker and even have you consider actions you wouldn’t normally think about doing. Not only your intelligence but I notice my win rate increases every time I study a new subject from this course. Your $40 will not be wasted here with I can guarantee to anyone willing to try redchippoker that if you watch the subject on this website “how to study poker” and you study hard and you are actively learning that you will learn so much from all of the coaches on this website. I’ve been studying and playing poker for 4-6 months and I am confident this is some of the most reliable tested material on the web today! Give it a shot and expand your poker mind! Big Thanks! to all coaches from redchippoker giving back to the struggling poker community trying to make it as profitable players.

  • Taylor

    I have listened to your podcast on speculative hands because I want to expand my hand range. I believe I have successfully established myself as a TAG in the card room. I have a very slow and low win rate. When I win it is normally 100 to 300. (I play 1/2) and when I lose it is normally less then 300. I keep track on my winning and losses. So I see the ups and downs and so far I am up for the year. But it takes hours. Then I notice that others are building stacks. I want those stacks. So I have started with the speculative hands. So far I have noticed a lot more up and down movement in the my stack. But I am playing more hands. My question is how can I reduce this stack movement so that I can keep it moving up more and down less and still play these hands

  • Billy M

    In the section Position When Playing Suited Connectors, Doug says “You might say to yourself, ‘if I limp, then I got a low SPR’ . . .” but I think he meant ‘if I limp I’ll have a high SPR’,” which is what one would normally want with drawing hands. His point is otherwise correct, i.e., to represent betting a NIT range as a bluff.

    It’s easy to get low SPR and high SPR reversed, mentally ~ I’ve had to fight that tendency myself.