Ace-Queen Part 3: Some Ideas on Play

Daniel Negreanu

The final installment of a three-part article. After all the talk of where A-Q stacks up according to the numbers, we can now make decisions on how to play it.

The Middle Hand

As explained in other articles, such as Big Hand, Small Pot Part 2: The Middle Hand, it never makes sense to bet the middle hand.

This is an example of that sort of scenario. A-Q is a high-middle in the world of playable hands, but it's still in the middle nonetheless.

Players new to poker are quick to pick up that A-Q is a top 5% hand, and feel that that number alone should make it a profitable play.

But without the necessary skill, experience and ability to read other players, playing A-Q in early position - or for very new beginners, even playing A-Qo at all - can be a losing play.

Players such as Daniel Negreanu have openly talked about A-Q losing them money long-term and being a trouble hand. But that doesn't mean they won't play it.

Being a top 5% hand, it is statistically profitable, but only if you can dump it when you run into the lose-money scenarios.

Mean Gene Simmons
Forget ace-queen; what about ace-Gene?

How to Play A-Q

I started writing this article to try and hammer out some good ideas and guidelines on how to play the hand.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible to explain in print. From everything I've explained in this article, it becomes clear that to play A-Q profitably, it's a purely situational hand.

You have to play it differently, or not at all, depending on the table you're on and the players you're with.

If you're up against nine players who will only play top-five hands, A-Q is a losing hand. If you're up against players who will play any two cards, the numbers will back up A-Q to make you money.

How you play A-Q on Titan Poker may be completely different to how you would play A-Q on Titan Poker.

No matter how you play it, you need to be making information plays. You need some way to get a solid read on what you're up against. It's better to lose two bets pre-flop, or on the flop, than to lose eight bets across five streets.

Early Position

In my first year of poker I quickly noticed A-Q as being a trouble hand for me, and began to experiment with different ways of playing it.

One of the ways I experimented was to limp-reraise A-Q from early position. If your No. 1 goal is to gain information about the other hands, this can be a great way to do it at a low-medium limit No-Limit table.

With the amount of strength shown by a limp reraise, you can be sure the other player has a hand that dominates you if they call or come back over the top. In these scenarios you lose three bets, compared to losing one where you miss or a stack when you hit a setup flop.

One thing to remember with this play, and any information play, is the motives you had for making the play in the first place.

If the person does call you after making the limp reraise, you have to sign right off and be willing to dump the hand no matter what the flop (other than flopping broadway).

Even flopping top two in this scenario will put you at risk of losing your stack against two of the top-five hands, winning nearly nothing against KK and winning small to a stack against A-K.

Remember, with the strength you showed pre-flop, A-K will be less likely to pay you out on an A-Q-2 board. Chances of you having AA or QQ are very real, making it a hard call for them to make.

Making this move is only a good idea against ABC players. ABC players will react to this move exactly in line with the strength of the hand they're holding.

If you attempt this move against tricky players, you can put yourself into poor spots. For example, if you make this move against a player known to raise, bet, call and three-bet light, you will gain no information going to the flop.

You have now built a statistically very large pre-flop heads up pot, with no information in the hand. This makes post-flop decisions very difficult.

Against such a player, if you think hitting your ace or queen is good, the size of the pot will dictate how much it will sting if you're wrong.

Mark Teltscher
Sometimes, the best choice is just to fold.

Late Position

As in all other aspects of poker, the single most important factor next to the strength of your hand is playing your position.

In late position, I would advocate raising an unopened pot with A-Q almost every time. It is a top 5% hand, and if no one is showing strength, it is most likely best.

If you are behind a raiser, it has to be a read-based play. Against anyone resembling a tight player, it wouldn't be a mistake to muck the hand.

Even if the raiser is a nutbar, you have to remember that even nutbars get dealt monster hands, and they will be raising those just like all the rest.

Playing A-Q in a raised pot is a purely read-based scenario. If you're at a table where you are outmatched, A-Q is better left in the muck, than in your hand.

Even though I would advocate limp-reraising with A-Q in certain situations, I would rarely, if ever, encourage reraising from late position with it. Your reraise is going to force everyone else in the hand to fold to the original raiser, isolating them and you.

Good players here can smooth-call virtually any hand to either set a trap, set up a bluff, or try to crack you. You won't gain enough information from a good player in this scenario to make it a valuable play.

I don't like to have to count on luck to make my hand profitable. Smooth-calling a raise is obviously a poor option. You have no information on the hand by making this move, and are putting yourself into the exact scenarios I listed earlier. Those ended as -EV.

I feel that A-Q is better mucked behind a raise without having a serious read on the other players at the table. If you're able to read them blind, then having A-Q is irrelevant, as your cards no longer matter.

Afterthoughts

A-Q is by far the biggest trouble hand in poker. For this reason alone, unless you have a good reason, and a good spot to play it, it's best left mucked.

I would be interested to get your feedback on this article, and your thoughts on A-Q. If you have any comments to make, questions or whatnot, post comments on this page, or jump into our forum.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Tom Brito 2017-01-14 17:16:15

Sorry, you first say "I would rarely, if ever, encourage reraising from late position", and then "I don't like to have to count on luck to make my hand profitable. Smooth-calling a raise is obviously a poor option"; so, you prefer to reraise it or not?

Nami 2016-07-26 00:22:50

Personally, I've never had too much trouble telling when to keep or drop AQ (whether suited or not). In my experience, the hand that I find most difficult to play well is JJ.

Halford Fairchild 2015-12-27 13:04:08

Thank you for three very well written and informative articles on AQ. Lots of food for thought!

Peter99 2010-11-14 23:41:59

I would have loved to have read this article before last week. I got dealt A Q s first hand, and lost about 1/3 my stack. Hand was not nearly as got as I first thought.

Justin 2010-07-25 05:39:08

I really like the article, I personally have not really had a lot of trouble getting away from AQ I have never probably because from the time I started playing poker live or online I have been on the path to poker enlightenment I have read a lot of the major books out there including; Super System, Hold em For Advanced Players, Pot limit No limit Hold em the whole series of Harrington on Hold em and all of Phil Gordan
s books, among others. Most of the books I have read are written by players who practice a tight aggressive style but I also have books written by the likes of Daniel Negreanu and Gus Hansen who practice a more liberal style. One thing I noticed early in both my readings and from my own experience is regardless of style AQ should be played with a great deal of caution as the old saying goes it's a hand that wins you small pots and loses you big ones. That being said I think AQ is best played in situations where you can control the action and size of the pot I don't believe limping with AQ is a good approach although I do like the limp re-raise play as it will clearly define the strength of your opponents hand and most of the problem with playing AQ is not knowing where you stand. Limping will only invite other players to limp along beside you basically inviting people to hit draws and sets against you cheaply not to mention by limping you cannot control the pot size you will not secure position. If you do limp and hit top pair will anyone really believe you considering your lack of pre-flop strength shown so once again you will either get re-raised and be in a real tough spot wondering if they hit a set or two pair or if they have a weaker Ax or have a big draw, or you will get smooth called by people who have position that are on a draw or will draw out on you simply because you played it weak and they don't believe your story.

Vincent 2010-05-08 12:47:59

I have been playing and learning how to play in Ukraine for the past 8 months and realize that many of your suggestions are extermely helpful. Most of these players (here) play poker and make bets due to their love of the "gambling" aspect of poker. So, mucking AQ in late position after a rasie and re-raise is a negative equity play now that I have developed into a player that can read them blind. (That has developed only in the last two months) However, mucking AQ quickly post flop, or in a tournament is a necessity to keep myself out of trouble. As usual, your articles are awesome and extremely helpful. Thank you.

Bruno 2010-04-05 10:31:34

That was a mind-opening article. Thanks a lot for sharing!

Tom E 2010-03-03 19:39:31

I find AQ to almost always be a profitable hand. Let's think of a few scenarios: firstly, you are going to flop an ace while holding AQ with your opponent holding AK less often than you will flop a queen.

Also, if you find yourself calling a raise with AQ and flopping an ace, your opponent will most likely make a light bet on the flop. Either he is holding something like KK or QQ and is afraid of the ace, or he has hit with AK and bets lightly because he wants action on his big hand. Either way, your decision becomes easy on the turn. If he checks, he has a weaker hand like KK or AJs. If you check behind you may get good value on the river when he either decides his KK are good and bets, or puts you on a bluff when you fire the river and calls light.

If he sends a strong barrel out on the turn, play becomes a little more complicated. If your opponent has a narrow pre-flop raising range, mucking here would probably be a good fold. You have to think that against a nit you are chopping at best. Against loose players, make your best read. Decide if they were nervous about betting the turn. Pay attention to whether it looks like they want you to call or to fold.

With these scenarios explored, I can honestly say that the only situation I feel it is easy to lose with AQ is against a LAG player who could have anywhere from A10 to AK.

As far as judging whether you just flopped a queen against AK or against KK or better, the read is usually pretty easy. Most players raise AK a lot lighter preflop than AA or KK. Also, a continuation bet with AK on a Q high board looks nothing like a C bet from Aces or kings, so pay attention to the post flop action to be sure.
Anyway, 19 times out of 20 AQ will have the best kicker on an ace high board.

I limp AQ in early position and am willing to call light to medium raises, depending on the player. I raise the hand in later position. Beware of AQs, if you are calling AK you might as well have A2s.

ira 2009-11-24 21:53:00

@Ray Ilas
lol I just had exact same thing happen to me but in $24 tournament with 40 people before the money (1300 down), that's just how I rolllllllllll

today ! :D

5 bubbles... ouchy.

ira 2009-11-24 21:50:00

that's interesting, AQ is a trouble but so is any hand if not played well and in the proper spots.
My biggest looser is KK, I lots hundreds with that hand and it's all because I didn't learn how to play it and when to fold it. AQ actually been one of my winning hands, I guess I don't have trouble folding my AQ as much as folding KK... :P

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