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Ace-Queen Part 1: The Worst Best Hand
Ladies, gentlemen and everything in between, it's time we face the music and stop overplaying ace-queen.
Daniel Negreanu used to call A-Q "1.4," named after how many million he has lost with it.
It is singlehandedly the biggest trouble hand in poker.
A-Q is a Top 10 hand, but is not a premium hand. That distinction must be clear before we go any further.
Here are a couple of Top 10 Hold'em starting-hand lists for full tables:
Hellmuth's Top 10
Caro's Main Top 10
4. A-K suited
9. A-Q suited
5. A-K suited
6. A-Q suited
8. A-K offsuit
9. K-Q suited
10. A-J suited
Hellmuth's mix is founded on a combination of probability, poker experience and feel, while Caro's list is strictly mathematics.
Caro has three Top 10 starting-hand lists, one for full tables, one for heads-up and one main list working as an average for the two.
The difference to notice between the two lists is the placement of A-Q by both players.
Mathematically A-Q should end up in sixth place. It's the trouble-hand aspects of A-Q which have caused Hellmuth to demote A-Q down his list to No. 9.
A premium hand is one of the top five hands in this list. The order of the Top 5 isn't the same on both lists, but the hands are.
How to play the different hands pre-flop is covered in some other articles on the site, mainly this one: Hold'em Before the Flop: A Beginner's Guide.
If you're a beginner, start there.
From this point on I'm going to assume you're an intermediate to advanced player, with the ability to make reads and tricky plays, and that you're confident enough to play marginal hands from mid position.
How A-Q Stacks Up
No matter what charts you use, A-Q suited is in the top 10.
The first thing to accept is that A-Q suited is not a top 10 hand, but does make it into the top 20.
If you played ABC poker by following a chart of hands, A-Q suited (A-Qs) is one you would never play in early position and would only play in an unraised or unopened pot in middle to late position.
Being in the top 20 hands means that A-Qs and A-Qo are in the best 10% of possible starting hands.
Of all the possible starting hands, only 5.85% of all possible hands are equal in strength to A-Qo, or stronger than it. A-Qs is only beat by 3.77% of all possible starting hands.
The average for A-Q is 4.81%. For this article we're going to use 5% as our number.
One thing to know about poker is that your math and odds only have to be close. If you can get it within a percent or two, that's all you need to know.
As long as your decisions are +EV, the true amount doesn't matter. Being 64% or 65% to hit makes no difference to the hand or how you'll play it; don't sweat the exact math.
Should You Raise?
Playing ABC poker, you will only ever be playing the top 20 starting hands. Just under 10% of the possible hands you can be dealt are playable in an ABC game.
On average you should be playing one hand per orbit, three hands per hour in live poker.
Online poker play will have up to three times more hands dealt per hour on a single table.
If only 5% of hands are better than your A-Q, the odds are you have the most hand equity. With the most equity, you should be raising and pumping the pot.
If only 10% of hands are playable, and this is in the middle of those playable ones, it should by all means be played and be played hard.
Unfortunately, poker isn't as straightforward as this. Things are never quite as obvious as they seem.
A great example I learned reading Mike Caro's new book Caro's Most Profitable Hold'em Advice.
Years ago, before people really began to study poker, there was very little scientific advice and knowledge about the game.
At that point in poker's life, many top players believed that J-T suited was the best starting hand in poker.
It was the highest suited connector possible with full straight potential. It doesn't "dead end" on the top end as Q-J would.
If we look at A-Q only in the context of how it stacks up in the hand charts, I think we'll be missing some important aspects to the hand and working from only half-truths.
The truth is simple and obvious if we look at results from poker experience: A-Q does not win 95% of the time.
In the next article we'll continue dissecting A-Q, adding some more insight to the true value of the hand. In part three we'll follow up with some suggestions on how to play it.
More strategy articles from Sean Lind: