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?”
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.