Ask professional poker players which hole cards cause them the most difficulty and I would bet that more than half would say ace-queen. A-Q is a powerful starter, but the problem with it is that it matches up poorly against other premium hands.
If an opponent has a premium hand like A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or even A-K, your chances of winning with A-Q are slim.
That’s not the only problem with this hand.
A-Q is simply too powerful to fold before the flop for a minimal bet. On the other hand, starters like 7-2 offsuit are so terrible that they’re very easy to fold.
Since you are going to play A-Q most of the time, there are some rules to follow that will help make playing this tricky hand easier. Here’s the first rule of thumb: When facing an all-in reraise before the flop, A-Q is usually in horrible shape and, in most cases, should be folded.
Only call an all-in bet with A-Q when you’re getting pot odds of more than 2:1, or when you think your opponent’s range of hands may include middle pairs like 9-9, 10-10, or J-J. Against those hands, A-Q matches up just fine as only a small underdog.
It’s facing those premium hands that will get you in deep trouble as more than a 3:1 underdog to win the hand.
You should never be content about calling an all-in bet with A-Q; the only time you’d be a favorite is against hands like A-J or K-Q. An opponent who reraises all-in before the flop — unless he’s a loose maniac — will usually have A-Q dominated.
Before the flop, if no one has raised, you should absolutely raise with A-Q. Your objective is to win the blinds and antes, or play heads-up against one opponent. Hopefully, that player will be the big blind and you’ll have position throughout the hand.
If, however, someone raises from early position, you must strongly consider folding. A-Q isn’t a good calling hand. Unless you’re leading the betting, you’ll be on the defensive and in trouble for the rest of the hand.
Now let’s say you’ve actually make it to the flop.
There aren’t many flops that can be considered safe for A-Q. Because of this, you’ve got to play cautiously. Taking a stab at the flop, whether you hit your hand or not, is an acceptable play, but if there is any resistance at all, you must abort the mission and fold.
The trickiest part about playing A-Q is when you catch an ace on the flop. Say the flop comes Ac-7d-3s. A-Q looks like a very powerful hand, trailing only A-K, two pair, or trips.
Although those hands are unlikely, when an opponent does hit one, you’re doomed if you don’t proceed carefully. Ask yourself this question: What kind of hand could my opponent have in order to play a big pot in this situation?
I’ll tell you this, if you play a big pot with A-Q on that Ac-7d-3s flop against a pro, I guarantee that you’re in terrible shape. If he decides to put all of his chips into the pot, he’ll likely show you a hand like As-7s, or maybe even pocket sevens.
You can see why any player, even a pro, must tread carefully when dealt ace-queen.
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