Why suited hold ’em starting hands often matter

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1993) in Card Player magazine.

All this talk about hold ’em starting hands being only slightly better if suited than unsuited amuses me. The fact is, hold’em starting hands are a whole lot better if suited.

I’ll bet I know how the misconception came about. A few players began to use computers to put a hand like

A♣ K♠

heads up against two random cards. It won about 65 percent of the time Then they changed the hand to

A♣ K♣

and ran that against two random cards. Now it won about 67 percent of the time, and they scratched their heads, muttering, “Hey, there’s hardly any difference!” Soon the “secret” was out that a suited starting hand was only slightly better than an unsuited one.

The real truth about suited cards. Unfortunately, this new conclusion was wrong. Here’s the problem. By measuring A-K against just one other random hand, you’re unwittingly selecting an example in which the suited cards are least likely to matter.

Remember: (1) With fewer foes, it’s less important that your starting hand be suited, because you’re more likely to win without a flush; (2) The larger your ranks, the less likely you are to need a flush, because big pairs often win; (3) With small ranks against many foes, a surprisingly large percentage of your profit comes from flushes.

An interesting example. To use a far-fetched example, say you decided to play recklessly. Your opponents held these hold’em starting hands: 7♣ 7♠, Q♣ J♣, K♥ 9♦, A♠ K♦.

If you entered with J-6 unsuited, you’d win just seven percent of the time. But make that J-6 suited and you’d win 12.5 percent of the time (still unprofitable, by the way). The final truth: the more opponents, the more valuable the suits; the lower your ranks, the more valuable the suits, and; on average having suited cards is more valuable than many skillful players think. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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