How To Play Suited Connectors and Small Pairs Pre-Flop: Poker's Rule of 5 and 10

Suited Connectors and Small Pairs Need High Implied Odds To Be Played Profitably.
The Rule Of 5 and 10 Makes Playing These Hands Simple!

Playing high 'implied odds' hands such as suited connectors and small pairs pre-flop can be very profitable in poker. Yet so many players get the play of these hands wrong and end up losing more chips than they win. This article provides an introduction to the best way to play these speculative, yet protentially very profitable hands by introducing the ‘Rule of 5 and 10’ to your poker game.

I start with an explanation of why suited connectors and small pairs are great hands pre-flop and the circumstances required to play these. Implied-odds concepts are introduced as part of this. I'll then describe the rule of 5 and 10 and show how this can help with your decisions. Finally, other factors such as position and player tendencies are introduced into the thinking process.

New Player's Intro - What Are Suited Connectors?

Suited Connectors are hands which are both the same suit and next to each other in rank, for example 4 and 5 of clubs or 9 and 10 of hearts. These hands have the ability to hit straights in 2 directions (2-3 or 3-4 suitedwould limit your chance of hitting so many lower straights), and can also make flushes. The reason that suited connectors are powerful is that your opponents will often find it hard to 'put you on a hand' - for example when the flop comes 6-7-10 it looks pretty 'safe' for someone holding a pair of queens... it could cost someone a lot of chips before they figure out that they are beaten.

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Another advantage of playing these hands is that you can set up a lot of profitable semi-bluffing situations. For example if you hold 6-7 hearts and the board comes Q-4-5 with two hearts you do not (yet) have a made hand. However the chances of aggressive betting leading your opponents to fold, combined with the large number of 'outs' you could hit if you are called make this a profitable spot over time.

Gaps: Suited Connectors can have gaps, for example 7-9 of spades would be a 'one-gapper' while '7-10' would be a two-gapper. These require you to hit specific cards on the flop more often to be playable, and are not so powerful as their connected equivalents. I recommend new players build some experience playing the connected and suited versions of these hands before mixing in some gaps and unsuited but connected cards - these are trickier to play after the flop.

Discipline: The biggest risk with new players and these speculative hands involves going too far with them when they partially hit the flop. A great example would be playing 8-9 suited and hitting a 9-J-A flop 3 suits). Some newer players might get stubborn and call bets here with their pair of 9's. While there are occasions this hand is good, when the pot gets big this will not be very often. If you find it hard to fold weak hands after the flop then I recommend working on this part of your game before you introduce suited connectors into your starting hand range. 

Small Pairs In Poker - The (Well) Hidden Benefits!

suited connectors small pairs pre flopThe reason that suited connectors are good poker starting hands is that, for a small bet, they can hit a well-hidden ‘monster’ on the flop – one which can enable you to take the whole stack of an opponent with an over-pair such as kings. Sure, you will miss the flop and fold most of the time – but this is more than made up for by those times you hit a straight or small flush.

Small pairs play in a similar way. For every 8 times you miss the flop, once you will hit trips and stand to gain a big payoff. Of course the advantage with a pair is that a bet on the flop might win the pot those times when you miss – assuming your opponent has also missed. There are a couple of points to consider when deciding how aggressively to play your flopped set, including who had the betting lead before the flop, how aggressive your opponent(s) are, and whether the flop looks like it would hit a lot of the hands people usually play in Texas Holdem. If you hit your set of 7's on a flop of 7-Q-A then there is a much better chance of an opponent having something to pay you off with than with that same set on a flop of 2-7-Q.

Once again, if you miss then your default should be to check and fold on the flop when there is betting action ahead. Once you gain experience in hand reading and making moves ('floating') then you will find situations where your small pair is playable after the flop. Until that time you should avoid paying opponents off those times you are behind.

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Implied Odds - The Concept At The Heart Of Playing Speculative Hands

Poker is a game of betting, if you take risks where you have a positive expectation (you'll win more than you lose) over time, then you will end up with the money. There are many different kinds of odds in poker - the important one here is 'implied odds' which describes the chips you can win on future betting rounds compared to the cost to play the hand now. 

Here is a simple example to explain the concept. You and your opponent each have 100 chips, and your opponent will always go all-in on the flop whatever his hand. It costs you 1 chip to play - so you could play pretty much any hand pre-flop here, since those times you hit a strong hand you will win 99 more, your implied odds are 99-to-1. if you miss, then you can fold and wait for the next hand. Your implied odds are so huge, that you could play just about anything and still have a postive expectation over time.

In real games things are not that simple. Opponents will fold sometimes, you will miss your hand most of the time and everyone can have different sized chip stacks. 

This means that you need to be able to calculate your implied odds on a situation-by-situation basis, and play your suited connectors, small pairs or suited aces only when you have the potential to win enough chips to cover those times when your hand misses and you end up folding. There are 3 things you need to take into account when making this decision:

- How many chips does it cost to play and how many chips could you reasonably hope to win when you hit? 

- How often do you expect to hit your hand?

- How often will you hit your hand and win only a few chips, or end up losing a big pot (for example when your set loses to a flush or higher set)?

Here is an example of the basic thought process - below I will introduce a handy 'rule' you can use to judge these situations:

You start with a pair of 3's and see a small raise ahead of you. Your pair has 8-to-1 odds of becoming a set on the flop, so this is the minimum 'implied odds' you need to call. The bet is $2 and you see that your opponent has $17  remaining in his stack and you have more. Since you could win more than 8 times your bet, you might think this is a profitable call - not so fast though. While the chips are available you will not win them every time, your opponent may be raising 'light' and will fold on the flop when you bet, and a very small percentage of the time you will hit your set of 3's and lose the pot anyway to a better hand. You would need your opponent to have a minimum of $25+ to profitably call with a pair here, to make up for those times you do not get paid. This is 12-to-1, and should be a minimum requirement. If you hold suited connectors or a suited ace then even bigger implied odds are required - I like to have at least 20-to-1 for the more speculative hands. 

One last point, you should not generally add together the chips of 2 or more opponents when calculating your implied odds. Sometimes you will enjoy stacking two opponents at the same time, however this will not happen very often at all!

Suited Connectors And Small Pairs Pre-Flop - The Rule Of 5 and 10

The ‘Rule of 5 and 10’ is a great way to ensure that you have the correct implied odds to play these hands without having the complication of working out the math each time - this is very simple to implement. The idea is this:

  • If the raise (or call) pre-flop is less than 5% of your stack then you should usually play.
  • If the raise pre flop is more than 10% of your stack you should usually fold.
  • If the raise is in-between these amounts then use your judgment!

This rule makes perfect sense in terms of the implied odds – with 5% or less you have the potential to make 20 times your initial investment when you hit hard. With 10% you can only make 10x (and since you will not always get an opponent’s entire stack this includes a margin of safety).

The ‘judgment’ in between should take into account a few factors. Firstly your position at the table. If there are still several players left to act, any of whom might raise, then you would be less inclined to play than if you were in late position. If the pre-flop raiser is wild and unlikely to fold after the flop you would be more inclined to play (since you are more certain of getting paid-off the times that you do hit).

Suited Connectors And Small Pairs Pre-Flop - Player-Specific Factors

Your own table image can also factor in deciding whether you can profitably play suited connectors and small pairs. If you have a ‘loose’ image yourself you are more likely to get paid-off. That is your implied odds with suited connectors and small pairs are higher because your opponents are less likely to believe you have a hand. If you are ultra-tight then the opposite may well be true, someone who folds 20 hands in a row is unlikely to win a big pot against observant opponents if they suddenly wake up and start betting. 

To summarize, suited connectors and small pairs are great hands pre-flop when the stacks are deep in relation to the blinds and antes. This is due to the implied-odds – the extra bets you will win those times you hit a big hand. The ‘rule of 5 and 10’ is a simple way of ensuring that you have the implied odds to play. Judgment based on position and player tendencies will further assist in making sure your play is profitable.

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