A player recently asked me, “When playing low limit hold’em like $2-$4 or $3-$6 I usually play tight, aggressive poker, but that approach seems to backfire sometimes when I’m at a table where four and five players see the flop each hand. It seems that big pocket pairs or top pair is often not enough to take it down. So I’ve loosened up a bit on starting hands that can turn into straights or flushes. I’m playing high connectors and suited cards that I would usually throw away … and I play them from pretty much any position.”
I explained that unless you’re at a fairly passive table you shouldn’t play connectors from early position because you have no idea how many opponents you have, nor do you know how much it will cost you to see the flop. Connectors need help from the flop, and even flopping a pair is usually not enough to take the pot, unless your connectors are big ones, such as A-K, K-Q, and Q-J. Even then, if an ace flops when you have K-Q, or an ace or king appears when you have Q-J, you may be looking up at a bigger pair.
Fixed-limit hold’em is a game of big cards, and those are the kinds of hands most reasonable opponents play. But connectors have value, although it’s determined more by the community cards that are dealt than from any inherent value associated with the cards you’re holding. The flop has to help your connectors in order for them to gain sufficient value to contend for a pot, particularly when three or more opponents are active.
It’s best to see the flop at the lowest possible cost. It also helps to know just how many opponents will take the flop with you. While a hand like Q-J can win by making top pair. Lower connectors gain their value by making straights or flushes, and because those are long-shot hands, it pays to play them against a large field so you have throngs of players willing to pay you off if you get lucky.
Acting late in the betting order also allows you to toss these hands away if the pot is raised. Because a raise is likely to restrict the number of opponents you’ll play against even if you do get lucky this time, you probably won’t win enough in the long run to offset your cost of playing the hand. Play connectors from late position, play them on the cheap, and make sure you have enough customers already committed to taking the flop so you can get paid off handsomely whenever you make your hand.
That same player also said, “I’m trying to get in cheaply and see the flop. If I hit it, great. If I don’t, then I’m done with the hand. The only problem is this: If I catch a piece of the flop, say middle or bottom pair. I don’t know what to do. I seem to be loosing a lot of money when that happens.”
This is a common conundrum faced by many players, and I suggested that if he plays smallish pairs against a large field, he really has to hit his set to have a playable hand. The odds against flopping a set are 7.5-to-1. Failing to make a set generally means tossing that hand away, particularly when the board contains two overcards and there’s a bet into a field of three-or-more players.
Many players can’t seem to release hands, especially hands like small or medium sized pairs that may have been in the lead before the flop but are now staring up at an overcard or two along with a bet and a call from some opponents. As long as this player can get away from smallish pairs that are not helped by the flop, and can see the flop with connectors on the cheap against at least three or more opponents, his strategy should work.
But he, like all of us, needs to avoid the all-too-common affliction of self deceit and be prepared to toss away his small pairs and connectors in the face of an unhelpful flop much of the time.