Pocket queens are a powerful but vulnerable poker hand in No Limit Holdem. The hand should rarely be slow-played before the flop due to the fact that there are three higher cards that could threaten your hand on the flop. The only hands I feel really comfortable slow-playing before the flop are aces and sometimes kings. Under the right circumstances you may want to consider trapping with queens, but I’ve seen it backfire hundreds of times. Before the flop it is unlikely that your hand is beaten. When you play Queens before the flop you should assume you have the best hand unless the betting action suggests otherwise.
Queens are pretty hard to get away from before the flop as there are only two hands that are ahead of you and only a total of three that you should be very worried about. AA and KK have the hand badly beat, about 4 to 1 in favor of the larger pair, and AK is essentially a coin-flip. Most of the time you will raise and re-raise with QQ no matter what position you are in. You want to chase out random AX and KX hands but would like to be called by hands like AQ, and pairs lower than your queens. Of course you usually won’t be able to chase out AK, but that hand is still at a disadvantage to your queens. You would really like to get heads up against one player with your queens, giving you the best chance to win the pot.
The reason you have to push so hard before the flop with QQ is because any ace or king that hits the board will put you in a difficult situation. For beginners it is not usually a terrible mistake to try to get all the money in before the flop to limit the number of difficult decisions you have to make. At a loose and aggressive table you will generally just play your queens as though they are the best hand. At a tighter table it is often advisable to release your queens before the flop. I have mucked queens before the flop only a few times that I can remember, but I’ve been correct the majority of the time. If a tight player opens from under the gun and is called by another player you should re-raise. If one of those players moves in on you, you should be pretty sure you’re beaten and you can lay it down.
Playing Pocket Queens Before the Flop
Queens are a huge favorite against any lower pair (about 4 to 1) and are a substantial favorite against any AX or KX combination other than AK. It is a very common occurrence to see all the money go in before the flop with one player holding AK and the other player holding QQ. In that, perhaps most famous of races, the queens are actually a bit more of a favorite than people tend to think. Depending on the suits, the queens are almost 56% likely to win the showdown. The way I see most people misplay queens before the flop is to try to slow play them. I think that’s usually a mistake. You really would prefer to play your queens against one, or at most two players. If you let three players see fairly cheap flops against you, your queens will only hold up about 50% of the time against completely random hands. When you factor in the kind of hands that like to see cheap flops, though, your odds get even worse. If you limp in from early position and try to trap with your queens, you might let players take cheap flops with speculative hands. If one player comes in with A5s, one with pocket twos, and one with KJs, you are now only 35% likely to win the hand if it goes to show down.
The bigger danger though is that when you allow many players in against you, the appearance of any over-card is likely to freeze you from betting out, or it might even allow a player to bluff you off the best hand. My advice with queens is to raise and re-raise, and if you have to put your money in the middle, you should generally do so unless you have a very good read on an opponent or the betting action leads you to believe your hand is beaten. If you open from early position and are raised by the player directly after you, then the button moves all-in, it’s time to throw the queens away. But most of the time you’re going to want to see a flop with them even if it costs you a good chunk of your chips.
How to Play Pocket Queens After the Flop
Now let’s talk about how we’re going to play our pocket queens after the flop. In the first scenario I’ll use, let’s suppose that you’re in the first blind round of a $500 buy-in freeze out tournament (no re-buys). Every player has started with 1500 chips, and the blinds started at 10-20. In the first orbit you are first to act (under the gun) with QQ. You open for 80 chips and are called by the player on the button. The blinds fold, so there are 190 chips in the pot, which is being contested by you and one other player. The flop comes: Ad 3h 9c. Action is to you. What’s your move?
Well, the flop brought a bit of good news and a bit of bad news. The good news is that there are no draws and only one over card. The bad news is that the over card is the ace. I think you should check this flop. A lot of players would bet here, and in some games that might be OK. But I think against reasonable players your check could look like you might be slow-playing the ace. If you check and your opponent checks, you can go ahead and bet on the turn. If you check and he bets, you’ll have to decide what your course of action should be based on what you know about the player. My default option is to check fold. Now, in a small stakes NLH game, I think I would go ahead and lead out representing the ace, if I got called I would just shut down, but at a $500 event most of the players are pretty decent. Your check should look suspicious, so if your opponent bets you can be pretty sure he has an ace. And really, there aren’t that many hands that can call an early position open that don’t contain an ace. If the ace were replaced with a king, I think you should definitely lead out at the pot.
If you encounter any action at all, you’re done with the hand. Let’s say the flop comes out with no over cards, now the question is one of getting the most money in the middle. I will usually lead out about 1/3 the size of the pot or even check-raise against aggressive players. Generally speaking, I will play as though my hand is the best until an ace appears, and then I will try to find the cheapest method for determining where I stand in the hand and go with that. That often means re-raising even in the face of a scare card. It’s better to find out where you stand as soon as possible; you may even get a player to throw away kings or a pair of aces with a relatively low kicker.
Sometimes you will get called by more than one player, and you might flop all lower cards but with a potential draw. In these cases I like to bet out at least 2/3 the size of the pot to try to get rid of any draws. One thing that’s nice about starting with pocket queens is that the flop will often produce cards that look like they could not have helped anyone. In those cases you may even get action from players with an ace high hand. This is particularly likely if you’ve been known to make continuation bets after the flop. Just be sure that you’re charging your opponents a high price to chase over cards – a player chasing over cards is really only about 12% to hit one in most cases, so just make sure you’re not giving him a free roll to beat your hand. There is no need to make really large bets unless you feel like they might be interpreted as steal attempts. It’s difficult to really learn to play flops from reading; the key is to get a lot of experience. Read often and then go out and get some felt time in to try to apply what you’ve learned. I hope this poker hand analysis of pocket queens was helpful, until next time… Good “luck!”