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Poker School Online Presents... Pro Tips, With TJ Cloutier
Playing Middle Connectors in No-Limit Tournaments
by TJ Cloutier
In this series of lessons demonstrating how to play particular hands in no-limit hold'em tournaments, we first discussed how to play Big Slick and then graduated to Pocket Rockets. Now that we've covered two of the best hands you can be dealt, let's take a look at the other end of the spectrum, middle suited connectors.
I can almost hear you now saying, "Hey, I see guys playing and winning with middle connectors all the time on TV. Man, just last week Daniel came in for a raise with the 8-7 of hearts from the cutoff seat, and ended up winning a big pot. So, what's all that wrong with playing them?"
Let me tell you right up front, folks, there's nothing wrong with coming into a pot with hands like the 9-8 of spades, but plenty can go wrong from the flop onward. Hands such as 9-8 or 8-7 or 7-6 suited are interesting hands in that they have a lot of potential to be takeoff hands in the right situations. But keep in mind that hands like these are chip burners if you don't play them properly. Middle connectors are cards that you play in side games to try to take somebody off their hand. In tournaments, one big drawback is always staring you in the face: You can't go back to your pocket when you lose all your chips. Of course, if you're the gambling type and don't mind losing everything on a 9-high hand, go for it. Otherwise, follow the general advice in this lesson.
Middle Connectors in Early Position
Hands like 7-6 suited (suited or offsuit) are an absolute no-no in early position in no-limit tournaments because they cannot stand any heat. Always remember that the chips you don't lose on bad hands early on will be available to you later in the event to possibly double or triple up with when you have a good hand. It is hell to lose a lot of chips on lousy hands, finally wake up with a good hand, double up with it, and then find yourself right back where you started in the chip count. And that's what often happens when you try playing middle connectors. You have to consider these things in tournaments, especially when you're thinking about playing hands such as 9-8 or 8-7 or 7-6 suited from up front.
If you also play Omaha high-low or high Omaha, you know that any time you only flop an open-ended straight draw, you don't bet it. You might call a bet, of course, if you have some other outs in addition to the straight draw. Try to implant this same kind of thinking in your head when you play middle connectors in no-limit hold'em and flop something to them. Just remember that if you get played with, somebody probably has a better hand.
You want to play small pots with middle suited connectors, you don't want to play big pots. Therefore you don't lead with drawing hands unless you are prepared to stand a raise. You can call a raise if you have some substantial outs, such as a straight draw, a flush draw, and two overcards to the board. You also can lead if you happen to flop a straight, two pair, or a set. If a good card comes for you on fourth street, then play it strong, but don't get involved early. Give yourself a chance to get away from the hand.
Middle Connectors in Late Position
When two or more limpers have entered the pot, you might occasionally play middle connectors from the cutoff seat or the button. But suppose everyone passes to you on the button and you have the 9-8 suited. What do you do? You fold. Remember that if nobody in front of you has a hand, somebody behind you might have one. Tom McEvoy calls it the "bunching factor," meaning that if no one has big cards in front of you, it is somewhat more likely that big cards are "bunched" behind you.
Some people like to limp with middle connectors in late position, but what are you trying to accomplish when you do that? If nobody has called in front of you and you limp from the cutoff seat or the button, where is the value in the hand? If either the button or the small blind calls, you could be a big dog in the hand. And if only the big blind plays, he's still a favorite over you, even if he only holds a hand as weak as 10-2 offsuit.
Now suppose you have 9-8 in the small blind and everybody has passed. Naturally you call for one-half a bet. If you get raised, of course you throw the hand away. The only time that I see value in middle-connector hands such as 9-8 in no-limit hold'em is when you have been dealt them in the big blind in an unraised pot, or when you call for one-half a bet from the small blind. If the flop comes 9-high, you're not going to play aggressively. You have neither two pair nor a decent kicker. Remember that there are a lot of people who play ace-anything (A-9, A-10, A-8) for the minimum bet in no-limit hold'em. We all know that any two cards can win in poker, but that doesn't mean you should play them.
This Weekend at PSO
Be sure to stop by the PSO cardroom this weekend and qualify for the Memorial Day Special event, being held on Sunday, May 25th, at 2:30 p.m. CST. Qualify for the match by playing the specially marked Memorial Day Satellites under the Hold'em tab in the PSO Card Room. Satellite events are 50 PSO$ to enter and if you place 1st or 2nd, you'll earn a seat in the main event on Sunday. Qualify from now through Sunday.
Also this weekend, we have another 25 Sponsorship Point Buy-in event. The game, as always, is No Limit Hold'em and the start time is Saturday at 2 p.m. This game is a great way to get your SP bankroll up to 500 points, the magic number where you can start cashing them for buy-ins to Live Major Events, like the 2008 WSOP.
See you at the tables!
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