Pocket queens can hurt if you don't play them right

Pocket queens can hurt if you don't play them right

February 06, 2018 3:00 AM


Made hands are hole cards that could win the pot without further improvement. Before the flop, A-A, K-K, and Q-Q are in this category. But they are all highly vulnerable. An opponent can catch a better hand, making your big pair a costly second-best. Let’s focus on pocket Queens.

What is the best way to play this starting hand preflop? Strong as Q-Q is, if you don’t improve (which is quite likely), not only is it vulnerable to an opponent who improves his hand by catching two-pair or better, it also loses to a bigger pocket pair – namely, A-A and K-K. And, of course, your Q-Q is in serious danger if an Ace or King falls on the board while an opponent holds one of those cards in the hole. Well, you say, “I could flop a set of Queens.” True, but the odds are about 8-to-1 against you.

Assuming an opponent has not been dealt pocket Aces or Kings, your Q-Q is favored to win over each opponent who stays to see the flop. But there are likely to be several opponents in the hand with you. If there are more than three opponents, even pocket Aces is an underdog – all the more so with Q-Q in the hole. If an Ace or King falls on the board, chances are one or more of your opponents has a matching card in the hole – especially at a full table of nine or ten players.

So, all things considered, it would be highly desirable to thin the field by forcing out most of your opponents before the flop. There are two tactics you can use to accomplish that goal. In a no-limit game, you can make a big bet or raise; that can be fairly effective. It has a decent chance of chasing out an Ace-rag or King-rag. In a limit game, you don’t have the option of making a really big bet/raise. In that case, the Esther Bluff tactic is essential, whereby you try to get into your opponents’ heads to plant the message: “He has me beat!” Then they fold their hands to save their chips, and wait for a better opportunity.

Position, of course, makes a difference. In a limit game, if you raise preflop from a late position, those opponents who have already bet to see the flop will call one more relatively small bet. In an early or middle position, that raise accompanied by the Esther Bluff tactic, could be quite effective. (Note: This is one of the few times when early position has an advantage.)

Even so, despite taking those precautions, if an Ace or a King falls on the flop, your pocket Queens may be behind. Now is the time to become very cautious. If a tight player comes out betting, and the flop doesn’t get you considerably more than the two outs for improving your Q-Q to a set, then mucking your hand – as hard as it is to do – may be your best choice.

On the other hand, quite often the flop will not include an Ace or a King. You can safely assume your Q-Q is still in the lead. You want to keep it there. Since you raised preflop, all of your remaining opponents check to you. By all means, make your bet – hoping most if not all of them will muck their hands. Remember, they know not what you hold. Based on your tight image and now aggressive betting/raising, they are bound to put you on a big hand.

The same would apply to the turn. But, on the river, if the Q-Q is still your best hand, a check would be the wisest option. You don’t want to get caught in a check-raise by a crafty opponent who caught a big hand. Assuming an opponent does bet out, look for tells and consider whether he is loose-aggressive and/or deceptive (prone to bluff). If so, the pot is bound to be big enough to warrant your calling his bet. And hope.

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