Same Hand, Different Game Vol. IX: Connecting Cards

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In poker, sometimes the hand you hold has differing capabilities depending upon the game that you’re playing. What would be a great hand in one form of poker will, in essence, be total junk in another discipline of the game. In this continuing series of articles, we’ll examine particular hands and what strategies a player should put in place because the same hand isn’t always the best in different games.

Connecting Cards – A Valuable Weapon In Your Arsenal

In a perfect world, a poker player can sit around and wait for those big pocket pairs to destroy your opponents. The game of poker, however, is not a perfect world. Not only would your opponents always know what you’re holding when you enter a hand, you’re probably not going to get any action on those occasions that you play. Thus, you have to sometimes get creative and playing connecting cards is a great way to do that.

Connecting cards – and we’re talking about hands anywhere from 3-2, 7-6, 10-9, all the way up to A-K – can be a valuable weapon in your poker arsenal. Because of the ways of hitting the connecting cards (you can be on a straight draw, hit the straight outright or hit a favorable flop that contains two pair or trips), the connecting cards can be outright sneaky when employed properly. There has to be modicums of restraint, however, as you can just as easily lose a big hand as take one down if you do not play the connecting cards correctly.

Texas Hold’em

In early position, it is difficult to do much with the connecting cards. Even if they are suited, they only add about 2% to your chances of winning and, as a good player does, you’d like to raise from that early position. The problem is that connecting cards do not play well out of position. As such, in the early position, you might want to let these go most of the time.

In the middle position, you have a little bit of an easier time. If there has been no action in front of you, it is possible to make that raise to represent a big hand. Still be cautious of a reraise by a player behind you, however; once again, the connecting cards do not play well out of position and really don’t like to see that reraise.

In the late positions (cutoff and button), the connecting cards are a nice hand to mix up your game and attack the blinds. Because of your late position, you will have the upper hand after the flop, turn and river in making your decisions. Your options are best here to play the connecting cards for a raise and, depending on the flop, you still have tremendous options at your disposal.

You are going to have to have excellent post-flop skills to be able to play the connecting cards because, in most hands, you’re going to have to play down to the river for your hand to reach its maximum potential. You also have to have the discipline to, once the flop comes down, recognize how valuable your hand is and whether to bluff if you’ve missed. Misplaying your connecting cards after the flop or turn will bleed valuable chips out of your stack if you do not proceed carefully.

Omaha Hold’em

Omaha Hold’em, and in particular Pot Limit, is definitely the game where the connecting cards have the best workability. If you are able to look down at a 10-9-8-7, for example (and especially if they are double suited), there are a myriad of ways for you to take down a pot. The difficult point once again, however, is that you’re more than likely going to the river when playing the hand.

With this said, board texture and your reading abilities will be a major factor in how you play, or even whether you continue to play, your hand. Sure, you may have your straight nicely built and bet it heavy, but you have to be concerned if the board pairs at any point. Players will sit on their flopped or turned sets and look for that pairing card to make their boat or quads.

Don’t get carried away if you hit trips with your connecting cards in Omaha, either. For example, say the flop comes 10-10-J and you hold the hand we used above as a demonstration. This is a prime spot that someone may be sitting on pocket Jacks in their four hole cards and your hand is already decimated at this point (unless you have the miracle straight flush cards to draw at). If you get extreme action in a situation such as this, you’ve probably run into the flopped boat and it is time to get away.

In Hi/Lo, the lower connecting cards are useful in that they can take down the whole pot rather than split it. Connecting cards like 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4 are especially useful as they can make the Wheel for the straight and also make the low hand. The larger connecting cards can still make a good straight to win a pot, but you might be looking at halving it instead of taking it all down.

Razz

With straights and flushes not counted in Razz, the connecting cards can lose a bit of their value. Still, much like Omaha Hi/Lo, the lower connecting cards can be extremely strong, especially when hidden.

Say you start with connecting cards such as (3-2) 5. This is a tremendously strong opening hand in that you’re three-fifths of the way to making a big low. Even if you draw out a seven and eight on the next two streets, you still have way of improvement even though you have already built a decent low hand.

The bigger connecting cards such as a (J-10) 8 aren’t worth much of a look here. There are very few times you will win a hand in Razz with a Jack high, so this time around it is better to put those cards in the muck and wait for a better offering.

Seven Card Stud

The connecting cards have much the same strength that they have in Omaha. A run of (6-7) 8, for example, puts you in a good position to build to that straight (or flush, if all three are suited). Even if you don’t make that straight or flush, hitting your hidden cards can make a good two pair that may be enough to win the pot.

Once again, this is where noting your opponent’s up cards is necessary. If you have your straight building, look at the other up cards to see if any of your potential outs are on the table. If they are there (or any of your hidden cards), then the potential to draw to that straight is greatly reduced. When this happens, even though your hand has potential, it is best to get away from it.

In Hi/Lo, you have the same concerns as in Omaha Hi/Lo in that you’re looking to take the entirety of the pot rather than split it. The major difference, however, is that you are depending on what cards you receive rather than a community card board. If, by Fifth Street, it doesn’t look good for your hand, it should be shipped to the dealer and you should wait for a better opportunity.

Summary

The connecting cards can be a powerful weapon, when employed properly. I’m not saying to play every connecting hand that you receive (let’s face it, when you have a raise and a reraise in front of you, playing the connecting cards borders on the insane). At the proper time, with the proper board or draw of cards, the connecting cards can win a big pot; if you’re poker skills are sharp, you won’t lose much when you speculate with them.

In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at the cousin to the connecting cards, the one and two gap connectors. These are extremely tricky, as you will see, but there are times you might want to take a look with them to see what occurs.

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Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!

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