Ace-Queen Before the (Limit) Flop

When Texas Holdem Hands Make Money

Ace Queen"About all you can do in life is be who you are.
Some people will love you for you.
Most will love you for what you can do for them,
and some won't like you at all." --Rita Mae Brown

Some people think it is best not to raise pre-flop with Ace-Queen in limit Texas Holdem if it will not cut down the size of the field. This betrays both a lack of understanding of value in limit poker, particularly Hold'em, and also a rigidness that can be deadly since game textures can often be wildly different.

There are plenty of hands, and AQ is right near the top of the list, where they earn their value primarily before the flop. If you are in a game where people are going to play random-ish, speculative hands like 87 offsuit or 44 regardless of whether it is two bets or not, it's absolutely foolish to let them play their speculative hands for one bet rather than two. You want two bets from them when the flop comes QJ2 or AT6 and all the other many times their speculative hands miss.

These "no raise" players would rather see the flop for one bet if they are going to get multiple callers. They think that if they are not in the lead on the flop they will have to dump the hand. These type of players could be called "simple" players, because they have a hard time with non-obvious situations, especially any situation where they don't have a clear hand, or clearly the best hand.

Poker math isn't that simple though. You don't have to be leading to be making money. In five way action pots, the player who is second most likely to win will normally be playing in a profitable situation. For example, in a five way action hand, if you have a 24% chance of winning, you should normally welcome that.

But not all hands make money the same way. Just because a hand wins a higher percentage of the time doesn't necessarily make it more profitable, and this really gets to the point. Some highly speculative hands win a smaller percentage of the time, but when they hit, they win a bigger pot. This is precisely why hands like AQ who make weaker finishing hands but win a higher percentage of the time want more money in before the flop. This kills the value of speculative hands. It should be easy to see that ideally AQ would want all money put in before the flop against 87 offsuit and J9 suited, and have zero betting rounds, while speculative hands would want to see a pot for free, and have plenty of post flop betting rounds.

While high suited connectors may be preferred in multiway action games, high unsuited cards are like silver compared to the gold of the suited hands. Yes, I'd like gold, but I won't turn down silver when it is offered.

AQ offsuit in limit Texas Holdem games should be one of the key performers. If you play it like crap though, you are squandering a key resource. Get the money in the pot early to punish the speculative hands, and use your head. Too many "simple" poker players like easy situations. They want to flop sets and full houses and nut flushes. They want to "know where they are". They love AQ when it flops AQ2 against AT. They will curse it when someone bets a 9s7s2h flop. And some will hate the site of it even when it shows up in the big blind in an unraised pot.

But winning poker doesn't come from being a flop-the-obvious-best-hand simpleton. Winning poker requires winning pots with no pair and making marginal bets when you have the best of it, regardless of how weak that best of it is. Winning poker requires you to play strong hands that need to get there to win, as well as hands that need to "hold them" to win. But while you have to do both of these things to win, you have to play these situations differently. Two hands that both have a 24% chance to win against four opponents will often need to be bet in completely different ways. Get the money in when it favors you too. Some hands need to regularly extract their small value before the flop, while some other type of hands need to see more flops cheaply so they can win their large pots less frequently. You might prefer playing one type of hand over the other, but don't fear silver just because it isn't gold.

See also Playing short-handed, Playing Trouble Hands, Down in Value and Hazard of Being a Poker Role Model