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Ace-Queen Part 3: Some Ideas on Play
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: