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Playing QQ and AK Preflop in NL Hold'em

Pocket queens and ace king are two hands with very similar equity. As a result of the similar equity, players often find themselves in situations where they are unsure what to do when holding QQ or AK. There will be a number of spots where your opponent too could be holding either AK or QQ.

As a general rule of thumb, it is better to have QQ than it is to have AK. If you happen to run up against AA or KK when holding AK, you don’t have the greatest of odds. Now, if you have QQ against AA or KK, you are still a sizable underdog, but catching up is within the realm of possibilities.

The true dilemmas with these two hands is almost always found pre flop. These are the borderline hands where it could be ok to go all in, but it could also be ok to fold against some major pressure. The limits and flow of the game you are in will help in determining what the proper play is, but these hands will remain tricky nonetheless.

QQ is a hand where you could think “Wow, he folded QQ?!?!,” but also think, “Why didn’t he fold QQ,” the very next hand. As is often the case with poker, QQ and AK are situational hands that depend on a number of variables.

Your Position and Your Opponent’s Position

If you are in late position and are holding QQ or AK, consider yourself lucky. Position will almost always make playing a hand that much easier. QQ or AK can be particularly dangerous when out of position because they can be bullied around. When you get to play these hands in later position you will also have the advantage of fold equity.

You could decide to go all in without worrying about having the best hand at showdown. Sometimes forcing a fold is just as good as getting a call, especially when the only hands that will call are likely to have you beat.

An Example With QQ (or AK)

Imagine that you are under the gun (first to act) and are dealt pocket queens. Your initial reaction will be that you have a great hand to play, and this would be spot on. The standard play would be to make an open raise, usually to something around 4x the big blind.

The real action, though, will come after your initial raise. If the other players simply call your raise or elect to fold and get out of the way, there isn’t a lot of thinking required on your end. When you get re raised, however, it can be quite difficult to accurately determine what the best play is.

On one hand you have pocket queens, a very strong hand, but on the other hand you will be crushed by AA or KK and are chopping the pot with AK. You need to then decide whether your opponent would re raise with nothing or a hand that you just barely have beat.

There is a very legitimate chance that a player who has position will either make a light three bet or raise your bet with a hand like TT or JJ. Your job is to identify whether you are likely ahead or behind and how you should play the remainder of the hand. If you think that you are ahead, you should try and get all of the money in the middle before the flop is even dealt.

The problem with this, though, is that you will often force a fold from the only hands that will three bet you yet still be behind pocket queens. On occasion, and depending on the particular game, you will be able to get a player all in with AQ, JJ, or even TT. These will be the only times where getting QQ is very profitable in the long run.

If you open pre flop with QQ, are three bet, and then decide to flat call, you are still going to have a lot of issues after the flop. If an ace or a king comes you will need to analyze whether or not your hand is still the best. Plus, even if it is the best hand, your opponent will be able to easily represent an ace or a king.

In addition to this is the fact that you will now struggle to extract value from your once strong pocket pair. As you can see, there truly are never ending land mines with pocket queens. Though this example used QQ as the pre flop hand, the similarities between QQ and AK are evidenced in that AK would be played almost the exact same way. Your approach with QQ and AK should seldom be different and you will always need to adjust to the exact circumstances.

Fold Equity

QQ and AK are typically worthy of some big pre flop action regardless of whether or not you end up going all in. If you do decide to go all in pre flop, try to ensure that you are putting in the last bet. The odds of profitability increase dramatically with QQ or AK when you are the one placing the last bet or raise vs. calling the last bet or raise. The reason for this is because you will be able to force folds on occasion.

When this happens you will be able to take down the pot without any need to see the board. Beyond this, when you are the last player to make a bet you will get more calls from weaker hands. It is rare for a player to call off their stack with AK or QQ and have someone completely dominated, though it certainly does happen. In the end, you could be ahead with AK or QQ whether you are placing the last bet or calling the last bet, but your profitability and win rate will be much higher when you take the last initiative.

Further Reading:

  • Also check out our post, How to Play Pocket Queens for further discussion on playing QQ.
More NL Hold'em Strategy
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