All-in: Cracking aces with suited connectors

In past columns, we’ve analyzed the strength of starting hands, or hole cards, in Texas Hold’em poker. As anyone who understands the game could tell you, a starting hand of pocket aces has the best odds of winning over any other two cards in the deck. But let’s hypothesize here: What if you are fairly certain that you are up against a powerful hand like aces? What is the best starting hand to go up against the monster pair? You may be surprised.

Poker pro Gus Hansen is notorious for playing two cards that many players would typically steer clear of. While some poker sharks patiently wait for “Big Slick” (Ace-King) or a medium to high pocket pair, players like Hansen will sneak into the hand with an arbitrary hand that many would not expect to face. A starting hand of 5-6 suited, as unlikely as it seems, has been argued as the best hand to go up against aces, especially when the money in the pot is right. To comprehend something like this, we need to take a deeper look at suited connectors themselves.

As one may assume, suited connectors are not necessarily a great counter when you are up against one player in a raised pot. This situation changes, however, when there are two or three players vying for the winnings. Add too many players in the mix, and the likelihood of winning reduces again.

Suited connectors are obviously not going to beat aces alone, but the community cards on the board can help make a made hand or a strong draw. By playing suited connectors, like 5-6 of hearts, you have maximized your possibilities with possible outs, or draws, for cards of that rank. You have the possibility of making a straight, and are one step closer to hitting a flush than pocket aces are.

If you flop a made hand, like 2-3-4, your goal is to maximize the rake, or the amount of chips you win. If you flop a strong draw, such as a couple of hearts or an open-ended straight draw, you will need to play cautiously. If an ace hits on the flop, and you are fairly certain you could be up against pocket aces, be wary. Your odds of coming out with a made hand will be quickly diminishing.

Statistics show that middle suited connectors, such as 5-6, 6-7, 7-8 and 8-9, have a 23 percent chance of cracking aces. Flopping a flush or straight can quickly put you in the lead, but if you are paying to see the next card on nothing but a draw, it may get pricey, and it may be in your best interest to let it go.

Sizing up a lower pocket pair to aces, the number of outs and made hands you can make are limited. Pocket kings (against aces) would need to hit one of the remaining two in the deck to pull into the lead. With suited connectors, you have a better chance of hitting two pair, a straight or a flush.

Because poker is a game of chance and luck, as well as math and odds, the starting hand of aces is bound to come your way at some point in the future. Be sure you comprehend the possibilities of your opponents’ hands when the tables are turned. Many poker players will tell you that pocket aces are only good until the flop. Not everyone with middle, suited connectors will call your pre-flop raise while you have aces, but be prepared if you do have a few callers.

Notice the flop. Could someone have a made hand already? Did your aces benefit at all? Good poker players know when to get away from a strong hand when they know they’ve been beat. Refer back to the column on pot odds to get a feel for turning a profit with a strong overpair or a flopped set. It’s not necessarily a strategic move to slow-play a hand that you think will win, especially if straight and flush opportunities present themselves. There’s no shame in buying a pot, even if it’s just to keep suited connectors from cracking your “pocket rockets.”

As much luck as there is involved in poker, it’s still a numbers game. Know your odds and be able to think quickly when making your bet or deciding whether or not to chase your draw. Next time you’re at the felt and look down at 6-7 of spades or 5-6 of diamonds, and if the money’s right, consider going along for the ride.

Never let your play get too predictable. Hansen is one of the most feared opponents at the poker table because his pre-flop raise could be sporting pocket aces or middle, suited connectors. Try your luck with different hands, but, overall, play smart.