Ace-Queen Part 2: The True Value

Doyle Brunson

Part two of a three-part article on the biggest trouble hand in poker. This article will turn A-Q into a long-term winning hand for the serious player.

In part one of this three-part series I discussed the statistical strength of A-Q, and began to look into where it stands at a full table. Here in part two I'll get into more depth on its full-ring-game status.

A-Q's Sticking Points

I'm going to run some scenarios by you here. I'm not worried about getting exact with math - these are meant to be generalizations.

If you raise A-Q pre-flop, you will be up against four different categories of hands:

  1. Hands that have A-Q dominated
  2. Hands that A-Q dominates
  3. Coin flips
  4. Rags

1. Hands that have A-Q dominated: AA, KK, QQ, A-K

The Champ!
Allen Cunningham used A-Q to knock out 5th place finisher Justin Bonomo in last night's WSOPC Las Vegas.

We can put our A-Q win rate at 0% for AA, KK and QQ. You should be raised out of the pot pre-flop. If you do somehow see a flop, you lose somewhere around 90% the time on average. The big pots you win will be canceled out by the big pots you lose when flopping A-Q against aces or queens.

With A-K it's a little trickier. Let's say you get raised out pre-flop 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time you're seeing variety of flops:

• Ace-high board: you lose significant money

• Queen-high board: you win small money

• A-Q-high board: you win significant money

• A-Q-K high board: you lose significant money

• Flopping straights: you make medium - large money

• Flopping straight draws: you lose medium money

• Flops that miss you: you lose small money

If you just look at the options, you'll see that all the results work to almost cancel each other out. The problem with my little list is that we haven't weighted the options with probability. The odds of you missing everything are by far the highest.

The odds of an ace-high board are more than double those of an A-Q-high board.

The odds of flopping a straight are half those of flopping a straight draw.

Once you weight it, you'll see that A-Q vs. A-K is a very negative EV proposition. Not only do you lose 50% off the bat, out of the other 50% you lose considerable money. This makes our first group of hands less than a 0% win rate, or -EV.

2. Hands that A-Q dominates: A-J, K-Q, A-T, Q-J

All of these hands are similar to the scenario as the A-Q vs. A-K, but in reverse. You dominate all these hands. The only difference is that these hands are weaker, making them more likely to fold to you pre-flop, and less likely to play heavy after the flop. You make less money against any one of these than you lose against A-K.

Collectively they become more profitable than your losses against A-K. This makes the second group of hands a +EV scenario with a positive win rate.

3. Coin Flips: 22-JJ

Even though 22-77 are not in the top 20 hands, in a cash game it still can make sense to see lots of flops with them. People will be calling your single raise with these hands. These are the possible scenarios on the flop (excluding random flushes and straights winning/losing to boats):

  • You both flop nothing
  • You flop top pair
  • Your opponent hits a set, you hit nothing
  • You hit top pair or better, your opponent hits a set

When you both flop nothing, I'm going to put it at a 50% win rate. Half the time the player has a low enough pair they will fold; the other half they don't, and won't.

Gus Hansen
All this information becomes moot when playing a Gus Hansen style of poker.

Where you flop the top pair, and they miss, they fold. The times they do call and hit a set vs. the times they do call and miss will even out in the long run.

They hit a set, you hit nothing. You fold.

You hit top pair, they hit a set. You lose significant money.

For the third series of hands, you lose significant money on the whole. There are no scenarios where you will win big pots consistently, but there is a scenario where you will lose them.

If you hit a straight vs. a set, you will win a big pot, but the amount of times you win vs. the times you lose when the board pairs cancel each other out.

4. Rags

These hands all fold to you pre-flop, giving you a 100% win rate, but yielding almost no money.

The Results

  1. Hands that have A-Q dominated: -EV (medium loss)
  2. Hands that A-Q dominates: +EV (medium win)
  3. Coin flips: -EV (large loss)
  4. Rags: +EV (very small win)

In all of the scenarios listed, the calculations reveal A-Q's potential for losing significant money in the long run. You have no ability to control what type of hands the other players will be playing against you, forcing you into many -EV situations with A-Q.

The final aspect to discuss is flushes. A-Q suited hitting a flush will have the nuts. The small pots you win will cancel out with the small losses you take chasing and missing (with acceptable odds). When you do hit the flush, you win small to very big pots.

I feel that this aspect of A-Q suited is enough to push the win rate out of the red and into the black. If you only ever played A-Qs in ABC poker against solid ABC players, it would be +EV and A-Qo would be -EV. A combination of both of them should come out somewhere around even.

If you are able to avoid running into sour situations, and only play the pots that are good for you with A-Q, being the top 5% hand it is, it has the potential to make some serious coin.

In the final part of this article, I'll go through some ideas of how to play A-Q. After all, all of this information is useless without a way to put it to use.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Alex 2009-01-06 16:36:00

Thanks for that, ive noticed the difference!, problem is on online play its slightly different because you have to factor into account fools playing with Ace rag, and hiting a pair. even with AK, A2-Q dominates if they flop a pair. a lot of internet players dont realise how bad their cards are pre flop, and will call your raise of three times the big blind with A rag, QJ, even things like Q3 J2. un believeable

Sean Lind 2008-07-16 19:19:00


The only hands you're going to make good money off of are people who have KQ or QJ also hitting a top pair, or some other setup hand.

If you're going to play AQ in early position, this is exactly how I would play it (most of the time), but still don't expect it to be a huge money earner.

Without raising you will have Ace-Rags hit two pairs on you, and limped AK's out kick you. Just use due diligence and make the best moves you can.

Sean Lind 2008-07-16 19:12:00

Bob (ps, I love Arrested Development):

Like any statistical analysis, I could only use the basic constant factors. Thus I had to take the scenario of you and your opponents playing ABC poker.

I agree completely that position is the most important factor in playing AQ, but only in the sense that I feel position is the most important factor in playing any hand.

If we're assuming that AQ is profitable over AK if you have position, then the fact we have AQ is irrelevant, as any two cards are good here.

The analysis has to remove read based plays as much as possible, and only look at AQ on a very basic "ABC" level.

Basically, the equity gained by betting AQ in position against missed big hands, is lost by making the same bet against pairs and random hit hands. Unless you're able to only make the bets in those specific situations, but that again gets into advanced read based poker. 99% of all poker players can not get a read that is 100% sure you have AK instead of JJ or QQ.

Chris 2008-07-11 20:58:00

A thought that occurred to me: Perhaps limping in early position could make AQ a more profitable hand? If we assume that hands which dominate AQ would raise pre-flop, then in a limped pot it is likely that we have the best hand should an A or Q hit on the flop, baring any sets or draws. Though perhaps the pots on these hands will be too small to make any difference.

Bob Loblaw (habla espanol) 2008-05-06 18:45:00

I like the attempt to pin down the EV of these different situations but you seem to have neglected position. Playing A-Q in position will add a significant amount of equity to some of the situations outlined above, namely when your opponent is not playing a big pair and misses the flop entirely, which he will do the majority of the time with hands like A-K.

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