Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Playing Queens

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Nov 13, 2013


Andrew BrokosSome time ago, I wrote an article for Card Player entitled “Why You Hate Jacks.” In that article, I argued that the trick to playing jacks well is to think of them “not as a “guaranteed” or “deserved” win, but rather as one ingredient in a profitable situation. With a good starting hand, you’ve taken a most important first step towards winning a nice pot, but you aren’t there yet. You also need a favorable board texture and an opponent who’s willing to pay you off with a second-best hand.”

What I didn’t mention explicitly, but which surely contributes to many poker players’ hatred of jacks, is that they can also be a first step towards losing a big pot. Thus, you often have to make tough reads and walk a fine line between getting value and protecting your hand when you’re ahead but not paying off too much when you’re behind.

Queens present a similar dilemma, and as a slightly stronger hand they can both win big pots somewhat more often but also be trickier to get away from when behind. Still, the approach is the same: make the best reads that you can while trying to balance the competing interests of value, protection, and pot control. Following are a few examples of how I navigated some tricky spots with this hand during the World Championship of Online Poker.

Slow Playing Against a Weak Range

This first hand occurred in a $200 event. Blinds were 350-700 with an ante of 85. I had about 37,000 in chips when I was dealt a pair of queens in early position. I opened to 1,400, just as I would with any other hand I wanted to play from this position. This is important: you only make your job harder if you begin the hand by letting your opponents know roughly what you have with a smaller or larger than normal raise. Maybe you don’t like using a minimum raise as your standard, and that’s fine, but whatever you use, you should be consistent. Telling your opponent what your cards are is rarely a good idea.

The action folded to the big blind, who began the hand with about 15,000 in chips. He called. That’s a great start, because although he could be getting tricky with a bigger pair, in all likelihood I don’t have to worry about kings or aces. The bad news is he also would probably reraise with some of the pairs I do want him to have, like tens or jacks, as well as with ace-queen. More likely, his call represents a medium to weak hand taking a flop because of the very good price I offered. That means he’ll rarely have a strong hand after the flop, either.

The flop came 6Diamond Suit 5Club Suit 5Heart Suit. If your biggest fear is losing the pot when you have queens, then you could call this a safe flop, but it was too safe for my taste. I put my opponent on a pretty weak range preflop, and this flop wasn’t likely to change that. The best I could hope for was that he had made a pair of sixes or a straight draw. Of course, there was also the chance he’d made trips, but with so little money remaining in his stack – 14,000 compared to 4,000 already in the pot – I wasn’t getting away from my hand. The only question was how to convince him to put more money into the pot with hands worse than mine.

I decided to check. Although I didn’t want an ace or king to turn, it was a risk worth taking. There were at most four of each in the deck, and, of course, if there were actually four in the deck, it wouldn’t be such a bad card since it would mean my opponent didn’t have it.

What I really wanted was for the turn to give my opponent a pair worse than queens, or for him to underestimate the strength of my hand based on my check and therefore be willing to give me action with a weaker range than he would have on the flop.
What I got was the 4Diamond Suit. While there was certainly a chance that he’d turned a straight, there was a better chance that he’d turned a draw of some sort. It wasn’t ideal, but it at least created some additional candidates with which he could put more chips into the pot. He checked, I bet 1,444, and he called.

The river was the 9Diamond Suit, and he checked again. Although he could have rivered a flush, I didn’t think it was more likely than his having a pair or even ace-high hoping to snap off a bluff. He checked, I bet 3,500, and he called with A-9, a hand that probably would have folded to a flop bet. Even though the turn didn’t improve his hand, my check helped to convince him that I had nothing, and I got additional action from a weak holding.

Pot Control Against a Polarized Range

This next hand occurred in the $5,000 main event. Blinds were 75-150 with a 20 ante, and again I had queens in early position. I opened with a raise to 450, which was consistent with how I’d play any other hand from that position at that stage of the tournament. The small blind called.

It was still early in the tournament, but we’d been at the same table since the beginning, so I had a bit of a read on him. He’d played 13 percent of his hands, seven percent of them for a raise, and had three-bet just once. Those statistics were on the tight side, so I didn’t think he’d voluntarily play just anything from the small blind against an early position raise. The most likely candidates were pocket pairs, either small ones looking for a set, big ones playing pot control (including a non-trivial chance of pairs bigger than my own), or medium ones doing a little of both. Ace-king was also a possibility, but I doubted he’d call ace-queen; although he might have if it was suited.

The flop came 8Spade Suit 7Club Suit 3Club Suit, and it’s worth mentioning, though it didn’t really factor into my decision, that I had the QClub Suit. My opponent checked, and I chose to check behind, though my motives were somewhat different than in the previous hand.

Almost any turn card that improved my opponent’s hand would put me in second place, so I wasn’t hoping for that to happen. Instead, I wanted him to feel more confident with any of his medium pairs and set him up to pay off as many as two bets with hands that might have either folded immediately or called once and then folded if I bet the flop. Plus, it enabled me to play a little pot control in case he flopped a set, which he easily could have.

The 3Diamond Suit on the turn was just about perfect for my purposes. It reduced the number of sets he could have flopped while representing no threat to either of us if he held something like tens or nines. He bet 650 into a pot of 1,230, and I called.

The river was the 7Diamond Suit, which might seem scary, but I really wasn’t worried about him having a single seven. I was actually less worried about being behind now because it was that much harder for him to have pocket sevens.

He bet 800, less than a third of the pot, and I, confident in my hand, raised to 2,400. He folded, so I can’t say for sure what he had, but I imagine it was a lower pocket pair. I don’t think I would have won much more from that hand by betting the flop.

You can also imagine how he might have played differently with a set. Probably his turn and/or river bets would have been larger, and I may actually have been able to fold. Thus, the check accomplished the dual purpose of generating, or at least not costing me, action from worse hands while enabling me to pot control and get a read on possible better hands.

In both of these examples, I began with a preflop read. Then, based on how the flop interacted with that range, I constructed a postflop plan designed to accomplish multiple objectives related to pot control, protection, and value extraction. I didn’t try to win the pot at all costs, I just played poker, as I would with any other hand. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.