Suited Trash Talk

Of all the excuses and justifications that poker players use to explain why they call and see flops with inferior hands, the most oft repeated has got to be, “But it was suited!” No matter how measly, raggedy, or uncoordinated two starting cards are, once both cards are sporting the same suit, they somehow begin to appear playable. Even something like 8-3—one of the ugliest of ugly duckling starting hands—can start looking like a swan to many players when those two cards are suited.

Granted, suited trash is a step up from unsuited trash because it gives you an extra way to win. But is that little bit of added value enough to justify putting more chips in the pot with a hand that is still, for all intents and purposes, garbage?

To answer that question, let’s consider one of the most common suited-trash-playing scenarios: completing in the small blind. If the pot is unraised, if the game is loose-passive, if several players have already limped in, if you have a reasonable expectation that the big blind won’t raise, and if you’re a disciplined enough player that you can let go of the hand after the flop when the situation warrants, then calling half a bet with a hand like 9d-4d isn’t necessarily a bad play.

But that’s a lot of “ifs.” And it ain’t necessarily a good play, either. You’re seeing the flop with nine-high, from the worst-possible position in the betting order. This is a tricky play at best, one that is likely to end in one of three ways. One, you whiff on the flop and check-fold, in which case you’ve wasted half a bet. Two, you get really lucky on the flop and drag a nice pot. Or three, you hit the flop just enough that you want to stay in and see the hand through. It’s the third scenario that’s the most problematic and potentially expensive.

Say the flop is 9-8-2 rainbow. Now you have top pair. But you also have no kicker to speak of. Even if your hand is best right now, you’re vulnerable to overcards. If a ten, jack, or queen falls on the turn not only has your top pair shrunk down to second pair but you’ll need to watch out for straight draws. If a danger card does arrive, how will you know where you’re at in the hand? Will you be able to let it go?

You’re in better shape if the flop is K-9-4. But bottom two pair is not the monster that a lot of players think it is, and you’re still susceptible to being outdrawn, especially in a multiway pot. Even if you get the flop you were hoping for—all diamonds—your nine-high flush is hardly the nuts. Maybe it will win you a nice fat pot, but then again, maybe you’ll get pipped by a higher flush. Few things in poker feel worse, or cost more, than making your flush and losing. And that danger increases dramatically if a fourth diamond shows up on the turn or river. Now anyone holding a single diamond higher than a nine has you dead to rights.

Suited trash hands are the poster children for reverse implied odds. Unless the flop smacks you hard by giving you something like a full boat or a miraculous straight flush—which is often not even possible—as with our example above—the best you can reasonably hope for is to make a hand that is still going to be quite vulnerable. A hand where you’re likely to be faced with some tough decisions in the later betting rounds. A hand that is liable to win a small pot or lose a big one. A hand that is asking for trouble. So if you have the slightest bit of doubt, pass and wait for a better spot. Trash is trash.

Mark Brown
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