Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
“I wouldn’t have played ace-seven if it hadn’t been suited,” Bill explained to me. He had just raked in a huge pot with the nut flush.
“I see,” said I. But I really didn’t see, not at all. He had jumped into my hold ’em pot pre-flop, calling a huge raise. His ace-seven was unprofitable, measured in the long term, whether the cards shared the same suit or not.
For readers who don’t understand the terminology, when two-card starting hold ’em hands contain different suits, we typically refer to them as “unsuited” or having “mixed suits.” When the suits match, we call them “suited.”
The concept of suited starting cards in hold ’em is misunderstood. So, we’ll investigate it in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: Isn’t being suited in hold ’em a big advantage?
It can be, when you need a flush to win. But the mathematics of being suited isn’t what most players think.
Question 2: What do you mean?
Well, it’s 3.25-to-1 against beginning with two suited cards. That’s a little misleading, because it includes the times you have a pair. And pairs, of course, are never suited. They happen once every 17 deals on average, so it’s 16-to-1 against being dealt a starting pair.
Question 3: In that case, what are the approximate odds against being suited, assuming you don’t have a pair?
If you don’t have a pair, then the odds aren’t “approximate,” they’re precise. Any non-pair hold ’em starting hand is exactly 3-to-1 against being suited.
Actually, it’s very easy to understand, when you think about it. You have one card and, let’s say it’s a spade. The next card, if it’s of a different rank, can be a club, a diamond, a heart, or another spade. That’s three non-spades and one spade, so obviously the odds are 3-to-1 against any non-paired hold ’em starting hand being suited.
Question 4: How often will you make a flush, if you begin suited and stay to the showdown?
Well, first of all, flopping a flush won’t happen often. Specifically, it’s 118-to-1 against flopping a flush when you begin with suited cards. But, after the flop, you can make a flush on either the fourth card (turn) or the fifth card (river), when two of your suit flop. And if only one of your suit flops, you can still catch a so-called “runner-runner” flush by connecting on both the turn and river.
By the way, it’s 16.3-to-1 against catching exactly three more of your suit on all five board cards. That’s an important figure, because often you want exactly three, not four or five more of your suit. Surplus cards of your suit give opponents the chance of beating your flush by holding a single higher rank of that suit. Unless you hold the highest ranking card possible of the flush, more than three of your suit on board is potentially costly.
Question 5: How much more likely are you to make a flush with suited starting cards vs. unsuited cards?
Keep in mind that there are two chances to make a flush when you hold unsuited cards. It requires at least four matching suits on the five-card board, though. I’ve heard it argued that there’s little advantage to holding suited ranks relating to flush-making.
I guess it centers on what we mean by “little advantage.” You have about a 6.5 percent chance of ending up with a flush (including a straight flush) when you begin suited and stubbornly stay to see the river. You have a bit less than a two percent chance if your cards are of mixed suits.
Question 6: When does being suited matter most?
Suited starting cards matter more when many opponents are active in the pot. That’s because, with so many competing, you’re more likely to need a flush to win.
In hold ’em, remember that a starting hand being suited never should be the primary reason you play. It’s a bonus. Sometimes it’s enough to tip the scales in favor of playing. Usually, if you win the pot it will be with something other than a flush.
When you find yourself playing lower-ranking cards (usually in a late position or a blind), being suited has more value. Why? It’s because you’re less likely to win another way, such as with a big pair or even just high cards. So, flushes make up a bigger portion of your wins than when you hold, say, ace-king – which has better chances of winning, anyway.
With high cards, you may not need the flush. If you would have won without it, the flush is irrelevant, sort of. I say “sort of,” because a flush might make it more likely that you won’t fold a winning hand and also more likely that you’ll wager and win extra.
But, in general, the lower your two ranks, the more important it is that be suited.
There are many more aspects to suited starting hands than those. Sometime, we’ll probe more deeply. Not now. — MC