Some hold’em players believe that A-Q offsuit (A-Qo) is the hardest hand to play. They may be correct. World-famed poker pro Daniel Negreanu considers it a “trouble hand.” He says that he loses much more than he wins with it.
But it is a hand with good possibilities. Based on the math probabilities, starting with A-Qo can be expected to win the pot at a full table about 20 percent of the time. (Note: Had it been suited, it would win about 4 percent more often.) So, it is certainly worth calling to see the flop (when you get to see over 70 percent of your final hand).
The good thing about math is that it stays consistent. That means that whether you’re holding the AQo while playing live poker or, alternatively, playing online poker with one of those new gambling companies, the odds, outs, and percentages always remain the same, so you can stay confident in your calculations.
In any event, in the context of the 10 most playable hands, A-Qo sits in the middle. But there is a dilemma: Perhaps more so than any other hand, it requires great poker skills supported by relevant experience, and the ability to read your opponents. Without those, you won’t come close to the 20 percent of wins promised by the math. Even so, much hinges on the situation – depending on the game texture and the playing traits of your opponents.
Suggestions (as you gain the skills)
Stay to see the flop if there are few limpers and no raises before you (or likely to be). Indeed, you might raise to steal the blinds. (Just don’t do it too often or your opponents will soon wise up.)
But, if there is a raise preflop before you, then what is the best way to play that hand? We would recommend making a reraise (a 3-bet), but fold if the raiser is a tight player or you have reason to believe he holds A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K – hands that dominate your A-Qo. Look for tells before you act; glance to your left to see if an opponent is preparing to reraise.
If you are up against tight players who play only the top-five hands – A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-K suited – say good riddance to your A-Qo (or anything lower). Save a bunch of chips.
On the other hand, if you are competing against opponents who will play any two cards (i.e., loose players), your A-Qo is likely to be a favorite. Raising is a realistic option.
Perhaps more so than other starting hands, A-Qo can benefit from gaining more information. Get a better read on your opponents. A limp-reraise is a good way to do that. Before the flop, you limp in with your A-Qo. An opponent raises it up. Then you reraise. Then, if he calls or comes back over the top with a 4-bet, you can be assured he has a stronger hand than yours. Fold! Yes, it cost you two extra bets, but look at all the chips you saved. Exception: Stay in if your opponent is a deceptive player.
Playing from Position
We have already discussed playing your A-Qo from an early position. In a late position, raising preflop after a limper or two makes good sense. If no opponent shows strength, your A-Qo is almost sure to be the top hand – the favorite. Caution: If one of the limpers is a very deceptive player, he may be slow-playing or setting a trap for you while holding a monster to build the pot. (It is important to “know” your opponents.)