Pocket Queens Strategy

By Mark Holland

A pair of queens are almost certainly the best hand before the flop in No-Limit Texas Hold em. However, there are two problems in playing this hand pre-flop. If you get into a ‘raising war' it is very likely you'll be up against the only hands you truly fear – aces or kings. Then after the flop, a high level of caution is required as an over-card to your pair could be dangerous, and so you should be careful that you do not become ‘married' to the hand and are able to fold if you feel that you are beat.

This article will look at playing queens both before and after the flop in different situations. Some of the factors that will influence your play are the tendencies and betting styles of your opponents, the stack sizes in relation to the blinds and your position at the table.

How pocket Queens compare to other hands.

Statistically, the chances that your pair of queens are up against either kings or aces is very low. However, if the betting gets very heavy before the flop then you will need to assess the situation carefully based on the tendencies and possible ranges of your opponent. It is not easy to fold pocket Queens pre-flop, but it is perfectly possible if you feel that the way your opponent'(s) betting is distinctive of pocket Kings or Aces.

For example, you raise pre-flop and get re-raised. Here your read on your opponent should guide whether you call to see the flop or put in another re-raise before the flop. If your opponent is super-tight and will only ever re-raise with aces, kings or ace-king then you can work out the probability of each using card distribution.

Here there are 16 possible ways of being dealt ace-king before the flop and 6 ways each of being dealt either pair. The probability of this opponent holding aces or kings is this approximately 43% with Ace-King at 57%. Of course you are either a small favorite or a big underdog in this situation – whether to see the flop will depend on the likelihood of your opponent folding those times when he has Ace-King and neither of these cards appear.

Against a looser opponent there is a greater likelihood that your hand is the best before the flop, even when re-raised. In fact against a habitual re-raiser you may in a position where you have a dominating hand – for example against Ace-Queen or a pair of Jacks.

Using position.

In this case your position at the table and effective stacks will have a bigger influence on your strategy than card distribution. If the loose raiser is to your immediate right then a re-raise is usually appropriate. This will prevent additional callers and ensure that you are playing the pot heads-up in position. Calling a raise and then seeing 2 or 3 more people enter the pot can easily ruin the strength of your hand – if an ace falls on the flop it is very likely to have hit someone who called the raise and you may have to fold.

If you re-raised in position an ace or king falling on the flop may not be a disaster for your hand. You will have an opportunity to see your opponent act before you do on the flop and a reasonable size continuation bet may well take the pot on the flop. In these circumstances a small bet from your (out of position) opponent can often indicate weakness, a probe to gather information about your hand. Here you should generally re-raise, planning to fold to an all-in check-raise or re-raise against all but the worst opponents.

Consider stack sizes.

Stack sizes will influence how you play any hand in no-limit Holdem, a pair of queens is a hand that is particularly sensitive to this. Facing re-raises with a deep stack has already been covered – however you need to adjust for shallow stacked play often found in tournament situations.

Once the blinds and antes reach 10% of your stack then raising and re-raising with queens becomes the optimal play. The reason is the comparatively larger ranges of your opponents in the shorter stacked situation. Now a 3 bet all in from a player in position is more likely to be an under-pair to your queens (statistically speaking) than the dreaded aces or kings. In this situation an all-in will give you the added benefit of the blinds and antes to boost your stack.

A tricky spot.

A difficult situation often arises when you are dealt a pair of queens in early position at a full table. Here a raise is the default play, yet a loose table could see 2, 3 or even more callers before the flop. In this case your judgment of the meaning of the bets of your opponents becomes the critical factor – particularly as you will not close the betting action after the flop.

A raise and even a re-raise in this situation is the better play than checking and calling an opponent's bet when your queens are an over-pair to the board. The presence of draws on the board will also allow you to narrow your opponent's holdings. On a ‘dry flop' such as 2-7-J any opponent who is willing to get all in needs to be assessed carefully – would this particular player only 3-bet with a set or are they the kind of player who thinks that their ace-jack holding is good here?

Pocket queens strategy evaluation.

In summary, the key to playing with a pair of queens is to use the combination of your hand strength before the flop, good position at the table and judgment of the meaning of your opponent's bets and raises. The comparative looseness or tight playing styles from opponents who re-raise will give you a lot of information on how to proceed with this strong yet tricky hand after the flop.

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