Ellie Biessek: Trouble hands, part 2 – A-Q

A-Q might be a strong hand, says Grosvenor Poker pro Ellie Biessek, but when the stacks are deep you should still proceed with caution

In my last article I talked about ‘trouble hands’ – specifically A-J (suited and unsuited). This time I’d like to talk about another potential trouble hand, one which is a little stronger, though – A-Q.

According to David Sklansky’s book, Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players, A-Qs is in the second tier of hands and A-Qo is in the third tier. While mathematically speaking this is true, playing any hand in poker can be entirely situational so it depends on many factors, such as…

  • What is your image?
  • What is your opponent’s image?
  • Number of opponents involved in the hand
  • Stack sizes
  • Betting patterns

Taking those factors into consideration is what makes the difference between an average and a good poker player.

Example 1: Blinds are 50/100

Let’s start with an example. It’s the first level of a Grosvenor 25/25 Series event and the blinds are 50/100 with no ante. You have a starting stack of 25,000 chips or 250 big blinds. UTG opens to 400 and MP raises to 1,000. We are on the button with A-Qs.

Let’s consider our options. If we four-bet and face a five-bet, we are not going to be happy to risk so many chips against an unknown opponent with what is most likely the second best hand. I don’t think many players would be very comfortable four-betting and then having to fold to further aggression.

Many players would choose to just call in position and try to see the flop, but what happens if we do just call and UTG four-bets? Are we going to call again or fold our A-Q anyway?

What about just folding preflop as we have no chips invested in the pot and we have the opportunity to observe the actions of our opponents risk-free? (Observing your opponents early on in tournaments rather than getting involved in marginal situations is something that I covered in one of my earlier articles).

Whilst the beauty of poker is that there’s no one set way to play a hand, my decision here would be to fold preflop with a view to finding a better opportunity. It’s a 25/25 Series event, the levels are 40 minutes long and you have plenty of time to accumulate chips with less risk

Example 2: Blinds are 150/300/25

Now let’s consider another example where you have quite a lot more information to work with. It’s the same tournament and blinds are 150/300 with an ante of 25. An aggressive and loose MP opens to 900. He’s been up and down a lot and currently has 30k. You’re in the cut-off with A-Qs and a stack of around the same size. I think anyone would agree that the circumstances are entirely different, but let’s go through the options now.

1. Fold

This doesn’t really bear thinking about! Your hand is most likely ahead of MP’s opening range and you’re facing a standard open. Option discarded.

2. Call

This option has a lot of merit. You are both relatively deep (100BB stacks) so you can pot control in position. The downside of calling is that we fail to find out if he does have a really strong hand and if he hasn’t we let him to see the flop cheaply.

3. Raise

Given what we’ve observed about MP, this option also has a lot of merit. A-Qs is ahead of his opening range and that’s generally a good time to raise. It will also discourage the players behind from calling along with more marginal hands (or it should – you never can tell sometimes).

If you do face a four-bet from a player behind you, then you can probably safely fold your A-Qs in the knowledge that you’re beaten. Unless one of the players behind you is thinking at a high level and suspects that you’re isolating MP – this is something that will happen pretty rarely in tournaments like the 25/25 series.

We know the MP is pretty aggressive, however. What if he responds with a four-bet? We know A-Qs is ahead of his range, but that doesn’t mean it’s ahead of his actual hand. So the downside of raising is that we could be left in a difficult position of facing a four-bet and not really knowing where we are in the hand.

What about later in tournaments? Let me give you a final example from a hand I played recently.

Example 3 Blinds are 500/1000/100

I have 22k in the small blind. A tight female player opens UTG to 2,500. The button who is more of a loose aggressive type just calls and I look down at A-Q.

I have found myself in a difficult situation. With 22BB I would normally be looking to shoving all my chips in but I was worried about the player UTG. Unfortunately my stack was too short to raise and ask any questions. Folding seems like the best option to me now but at the time I felt that being a short stack and folding A-Qs to a single raise was wasting an opportunity. I just called.

The flop came Queen-high with no obvious draws. Still cautious of UTG, I checked. Then the lady shoved her entire stack, putting both the button and me all-in.

Going through all the information I had gathered on the lady so far, I decided that she would never make this move with A-K, J-J or less – and therefore I must be beaten.

I folded and the lady showed Kings. I would have been eliminated from the tournament had I called. It wasn’t maths which made me decide to fold my top pair, top kicker but the observation and psychology from the specific situation.

Whilst with 10BBs or less, any A-Q should be considered a mandatory shove preflop, when deeper, even though A-Qs is a strong hand, it’s one to play somewhat cautiously.

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