I know that some of you reading this think I’m crazy to suggest folding pocket queens in no limit Texas holdem. Queens are either the third or fourth best starting hand you can have, so why would you ever consider folding them before the flop?
The truth is that you usually don’t fold a hand this strong before the flop. In most games of poker, it’s a profitable play even from under the gun. But I’ve folded pocket queens a few times and still believe that it was the right play every time.
Pocket queens are strong, but they don’t make a perfect hand. In the first section below, I cover all the potential problems with having pocket queens as a starting hand. Then, I cover four situations where folding pocket queens might be the best play.
The Problem With Pocket Queens
Pocket queens are no doubt one of the top four starting hands in Texas holdem. Only two hands, pocket aces and kings, dominate it. Only ace king has a roughly equal shot at taking it down. But what you need to understand is this is only in a head-to-head contest.
Against two players, one with an ace and a small card and one with a king and a small card, you’re basically in a coin flip situation. This is why it’s so important to enter the pot with a raise with a hand like pocket queens.
Also, in most no limit games, players play with almost any pair in hopes of hitting a set on the flop. The only way you can feel confident getting all in on the flop is when you flop a set.
In this way, pocket queens aren’t much better than pocket jacks or tens. The only difference is that you should always enter the pot with a raise with pocket queens, and sometimes, you should limp with pocket jacks and tens.
When the flop has all three cards ranked jack or lower, what do you do when you bet and get raised? You probably call most of the time, but how do you know you’re not against a set?
What do you do when the flop has an ace or a king? If you raised before the flop, you almost have to make a continuation bet, but what do you do on the turn after getting called on the flop? If the flop has a king and not an ace, you’re a little bit safer, because some players play weak aces but not kings. Even so, it’s still a complicated situation.
Are you willing to risk your entire stack in either situation described above?
In some games, the answer is yes. This is because you see opponents risking their stack with top pair or two pair hands at the low and some middle levels. But as you move up to better competition, the only players sticking with you after the flop have a decent hand or strong draw.
The fact is that you should play pocket queens almost all of the time, and you should almost always raise with them before the flop. But there are a few situations where you need to carefully consider how you play them.
1 – On the Bubble
Here’s a situation where an argument can be made to fold any hand, including pocket queens. You’re in a satellite tournament and have the chip lead. The top 10 finishers earn an entry into the next tournament and there are 11 players left. You look at your hole cards and have pocket queens. What do you do?
With 11 players left and the chip lead, you can fold your way into the next tournament. The difference between finishing first and 10th is zero, so why would you risk a large portion of your stack with very little upside?
But what about if you’re 10th in stack size in the same situation? In this case, if the pot hasn’t been raised, I’m probably going to move all in.
What about if you’re in the same situation on the bubble of a normal tournament? In this situation, the most money is for finishing in first place. You need to continue making smart plays trying to accumulate more chips. This means that I play pocket queens just like any other situation here.
If you’re low on chips, you have to decide if you can fold your way into the money. I like being aggressive when I’m low on chips and close to the bubble. Oftentimes, a big stack will call with a slightly lesser hand and it’s a good opportunity to double up. If I run into someone with pocket aces or kings, there’s nothing I can do about that. Just be careful and keep in mind how important managing your casino bankroll is for any game.
2 – At the Top Levels
Most poker players reading this are never going to be playing at the top levels. This isn’t a criticism, it’s simply a fact that most players don’t reach these levels.
At the top level, you’re playing against the best in the world. They know all of the tricks and all of the numbers. Most hands are played heads up because limpers get punished in most cases. At these levels, it’s hard to get anyone all in with an inferior hand. This is especially true when you don’t flop a set with your queens.
Top level poker players can get away from marginal hands, so you need to push a hand like pocket queens hard before the flop.
Yes, you still need to play pocket queens, but they’re much stronger from late position than early position. At these levels, you can’t play many hands the same way every time. With queens, you have to mix things up sometimes. But most of the time, you need to enter with a raise then play more conservatively after the flop (unless you improve).
You still need to make a continuation bet on most flops, but once you get called, you need to slow down and evaluate your situation.
The truth is that, once you reach the top levels of poker, you play position and players almost as much as you play your hand. This is a foreign concept to most poker players at the lower and middle levels, but it’s something you need to learn if you ever hope to play at the elite levels.
3 – Facing a Raise and Re-Raise
When you’re in late position or the blinds with a pair of pocket queens, and the pot already has a raise and re-raise, you need to tread carefully. The problem is that you’re not ending the action. If you call, you might face yet another raise to stay in the hand. And if there’s another raise behind you in this situation, at least one of your opponents probably has aces or kings.
If you face this situation in the blinds, you need to fold 100% of the time, unless you’re playing at low limits. From late position, you can consider sticking in the hand. But it helps to know a great deal about the other players in the hand. I don’t have exact numbers, but from late position, this is (at best) a breakeven situation if you stay on the hand.
4 – Limp Re-Raise All In
What do you think when an early position player limps, faces a raise, then moves all in? This screams a huge hand. While I’ve seen a few poor players do this with ace king, this play almost always means pocket aces or pocket kings.
When you limp from early position in a no limit game, it needs to be with a hand that can flop a huge hand or one that’s strong enough to stand up to more than one caller after your limp.
The smart play is to call the raise if your opponent has a deep stack and try to stack him when you flop a set.
This only leaves hands like pocket aces and kings when a limper pushes after a raise. Unless you have strong evidence that your opponent is a maniac, when an early limper pushes all in after you raise with queens, you need to fold.
If the push doesn’t cost much more, you need to call. But if it’s a large amount, the call isn’t worth it in the long run.
You might never find yourself in a position where folding pocket queens is the right play. But as you learned in this article, sometimes, it’s the right thing to do. Poker isn’t about winning the most hands, it’s about winning the most money. The only hand you probably should never fold before the flop is pocket aces, and I can make at least one good argument for folding them. But that’s an argument for another time.