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AQ in NL Holdem

The A,Q is one of the most dangerous and tricky hands in Holdem. If you play your A,Q in a NL game, you’re in an even bigger danger than otherwise. The A,Q is a good hand. It’s not what experts would call a premium hand, but the A,Qs (suited) is within the top 10 hands most players would play, and it is exactly in 6th spot on a premium hand list made according to the mathematical odds carried by various starting hands. Why is it so dangerous then? Because it tends to draw to the second best hand quite often.

Phil Hellmuth, the poker professional with the biggest number of WSOP bracelets to his name has placed the A,Qs in 9th spot on his top 10 list, even though it is on 6th in a mathematical probability list. Daniel Negreanu is rumored to call the A,Qs 1.4 on account of the money he’s lost on it.

The question is: how do you play the A,Q so as to take advantage of the value it offers while staying clear of the trouble which usually tags with it?

In order to better understand the A,Q, let’s take a closer look at the odds it carries. As I said above, the A,Qs is in the top 10 starting hands. Given the fact that only around 3.77% of all starting hands will beat your A,Qs, the EV+ is definitely there. When should you play it? From position, and if possible in an unraised pot.

The A,Qo may not be in the top 10 starting hands, but it is certainly within the top 20. Around 5.85% of starting hands beat it. As you can see, the problems with the A,Q are not in the preflop odds. If you’re holding an A,Q, chances are overwhelming that your hand is indeed the best hand before the flop. The troubles start on the flop, where the A,Q has a particular knack for getting hit for the second best.

Whenever you play basic poker, you’ll be playing the top 20 starting hands, and the A,Q is part of that whether it’s suited or not. The average odds on A,Q (regardless of whether it’s suited or not) are around 5% (3.77% and 5.85% give us an average of 4.81% which is approximately 5%). You’ll be playing one hand on orbit per average, which in online games will mean around 9 hands per hour.

Now then, if only 5% of the starting hands beat you’re A,Q that should theoretically mean that 95% of the time you’ll win. Those are excellent odds, and you should definitely raise and aim to get the pot as fat as possible. There’s only one little problem with the theory: A,Q doesn’t win 95% of the time…

Here’s why the A,Q will get you into all sorts of trouble: whenever you play your A,Q you’ll be either going up against hands which have you dominated, hands which you dominate, coin flip hands or all sorts of rags.

If you bump into hands which have you dominated, you’ll have some extremely obvious EV-, with the possibility to lose high sums of money. If you go up against hands which you dominate, you’ll have EV+, which is about the same size as the EV- detailed above. Coin flip hands hit you with EV- again, threatening you with extremely big losses. Against rags, you’ll have EV+, but this EV will only provide you with meager winnings.

Do the math and you’ll realize that while the EV+ and EV- situations seem to cancel one another out, the amount of money lost and won will clearly slips towards the negative zone.

This is the catch about the A,Q, and this brings us to the bottom line: whether or not playing an A,Q is profitable depends solely on the circumstances. If you’re playing against tight players who only play better hands, your A,Q will end up being dominated. Keeping your eyes and other senses open will provide you with the only tell about whether or not you should play your A,Q as well as about how you should play it.

If you’re a cash game player, never play a hand without rakeback. Even the A,Q becomes slightly more profitable when you’re playing with a solid rakeback or poker prop deal backing you up.

Steve Larson


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