How to Play Ace-Queen: The Worst Best Hand in Poker

Daniel Negreanu

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 single-handedly 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

1. AA

2. KK 

3. QQ 

4. A-K suited 

5. JJ 

6. 10-10

7. 9-9

8. 8-8

9. A-Q suited

10. 7-7

1. AA

2. KK

3. QQ

4. J-J

5. A-K suited

6. A-Q suited

7. 10-10

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.

A-Q is Not a Top 10 Starting Hand

No matter what charts you use, A-Q suited is in the top 10. The first thing to accept is that A-Q unsuited 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 with Ace Queen?

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.

The Truth About AQ

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:

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Monte_Cristo 2017-04-28 16:55:01

he read you for a low distribution of hands, if he thought you were a tight player, he would have reconsidered...

John Wilkinson 2017-03-13 11:07:16

Very interesting, however reality is 95% of players think its a monster. I just raised UTG with QQ only for villain in mid position to jam, he was a pretty aggro player so I called his 15BB shove as I was 35bb deep only to find AQoff. Flop gave him trip As. On checking his stats out, he is ranked in the top 2% on Stars with over $100k earnings in the last 120 days.

Mike 2014-10-17 11:49:28

I guess but in reality a good hand that isn't paired is only as good as the flop. A-q is great when you gel a flop of q-q-2 or q-4-9 etc.. Not so great when it a-k-7 or 10-a-5. Just like a-j you wanna flop your kicker for protection and if you don't get 2 pair which is usually the nuts with an ace then you have top pair with the best kicker! This is best played on a board that represents back door flushes and straights which bad players chase.

green archer 2011-05-28 09:27:31

i was eliminated in the tournament when i raised preflopp with kq suited and aq all in with big stack at the table.

surfnturf151 2009-07-14 11:10:00

I was in a 10-handed cash game and some donk went all in w/AsQs vs AhKc on a KsQd9h flop. the dominated AQ runner runnered a royal flush. Just glad it wasn't me on the cool end of that one.

LT 2009-04-22 02:32:00

Just after reading this I lost to AQ. The board came 3QQA5 LOL!!

rafe so 2009-04-18 20:12:00


Sean Lind 2008-07-17 17:13:00

How short handed does it have to me until AQ becomes a premium hand? Naturally, just like everything else in poker, this is a situational question. But to make a broad statement in the spirit of an answer, I'd say you can start looking at it lovingly with six players or less on the table.

With half the hands being dealt, there is half the chance that someone has been dealt a hand that will cripple your AQ. (I know 6 is not half of 10, but you know what I'm saying)

Abanahasky73 2008-07-16 19:24:00

This hand is always played way to fast in tourneys in my poker travels...i can believe
that daniel lost so much and i agree more
with phil's ranking.

Mike Seaver 2008-05-06 18:39:00

Certainly in a full ring cash game A-Q is a problem hand but, in many other situations like late-stage SNG and tournament, especially online, A-Q can be the nuts pre-flop.

How short does a game have to get before A-Qo becomes a premium hand?


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