When should you play pocket queens like they are the prey-flop nuts? When should you not?
But first, I digress…
Many recreational poker players express great fear and doubt about what to do with pocket jacks. They look great – picture cards and two of the same rank. But each other player at the table has a 1.5% chance of crushing you with AA, KK or QQ. At a full table, that could happen as much as 10% of the time. If we get past that, over half of all flops will include at least one A, K or Q. It’s no wonder they get paranoid, and abandoning pocket jacks is frequently the right play.
What about queens?
Pocket queens have a lot of nicknames, and most poker players being male (and many being degenerate males), the nicknames are dominated by misogynistic and homophobic themes… they are bitches, Calamity Jane (the female counterpart to KK being “cowboys”), Canadian Aces or Canadian Rockets (because Canadians revere the Queen of England), Four Tits, Hilton Sisters (after party girls Paris and Nicky Hilton), Ladies, Pair of Wire Cutters (a dyke reference), San Francisco Wedding (two gay men = queens), or Siegfried & Roy (famous gay Vegas showmen). No wonder it’s so hard to get more women involved in poker.
With queens, the math is better than jacks. Now each other player only has a 1.0% chance of crushing you with AA or KK, and [air quotes] only 41% of flops will have an over card.
Last night I had QQ and was under the gun, and raised. Everybody folded to the small blind, who for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Myles.” Myles is well known to regular readers of this blog, having previously appeared here and here and here and here and here and here. He re-raises approx. 3x my original raise. While he’s prone to some unorthodox plays, the fact that I raised UTG would not have escaped his attention. I have to believe he has a strong hand, and just call. He’ll be first to act on the post-flop betting rounds, so I’ll have a chance to pick up additional information.
The flop is ten high and very dry. Myles bets again. It situations like this, I’ve seen him slow down with hands like AK, so I’m feeling wary. I call again. The turn is another low card, so the board looks something like T83-5. Now Myles goes all-in, for about 55 big blinds more. I have him covered, but not by much.
In this spot, many players would fold JJ but call with QQ. With JJ, it would be possible for Myles to have QQ… six more combinations that dominate you. But with QQ, now Myles can have JJ, right? So we can rationalize that sometimes we are ahead. Maybe Myles’ range is AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK. Against that range, QQ has 47.3% equity and given the amount of money already in the pot, calling is mandatory. If his range includes any pure bluffs, even better.
This is foolish rationalizing. First of all, Myles doesn’t 3-bet 100% of the time pre-flop with JJ or AK, especially out of position, especially against the UTG opener. And secondly, most of the time he slows down with AK. Including AK in his turn shoving range serves only one purpose: to delude ourselves so as we’re counting out bills to purchase more chips after losing this hand, we can claim that our reads and math were correct, but ‘oh well’ he was at the top of his range this time.
Not happy. I fold and Myles immediately tells me that he was bluffing, that he had AQo and felt like he could represent something better from the small blind through some sort of leveling war. Maybe he was bluffing. If so, it was a great bluff. Maybe he wasn’t bluffing. He didn’t show his cards. There is validity to the leveling argument… I know that he knows I raised UTG, thus my range is strong. Yet he re-raised, thus his range appears very strong. He knows that I know that he would slow down if he didn’t have AA or KK. And so on…
Later… a good bit later, there was a button straddle and Myles raised to 5x the straddle amount. I look down at KK in middle position. I decide to flat call to underrepresent my hand, but accidentally knock a few chips off one of my stacks while placing the call amount. This seems to trigger a small alarm with Myles, who asks if I was intending to min-raise instead.
I spare the blow-by-blow details here. The flop, turn, river, and Myles’ efforts at pot control were all favorable for me. On the river, I move all-in for an amount that is karma-ically close to the same 55 big blinds as Myles’ all-in bet from the earlier hand. He says he can’t fold, but instead of moving the last of his chips into the betting area in front of his cards, he slides them all to the table rail right in front of me. “Here you go,” he sighs as if knowing he’s beat, and turns over… [drum roll please]… pocket queens.
My kings are good, and this hand sets me on a path towards a profitable session.
Queens, or [insert favorite nickname here]. I might have made a mistake in folding mine early in the session. Myles definitely made a mistake not folding his, proving that at least it’s possible that my nitty ways are correct, at least some of the time.
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