JJ, QQ, and AK are three of the strongest starting hands in
poker, but they are also three hands that people tend to bemoan
being dealt. It’s not so much that players don’t realize that
they are valuable, but instead because they don’t know how to
play them correctly. As illogical as it is to complain about
being dealt a very strong hand, it’s nothing more than a cover
up for the fact that someone doesn’t truly know what they are
doing. The strategy for playing these hands is relatively
straightforward, and it doesn’t require genius knowledge of the
game for success.
These hands have very volatile valuations. Where JJ could
easily be the best hand before the flop, there’s a great chance
that it has been busted post-flop. This is mainly because of all
of the over cards that have a great chance of falling somewhere
throughout the hand. If you continue to play JJ with disregard
for the obvious hands that now have you crushed, it’s obvious
that you are going to wind up in a lot of trouble. The same can
be said for QQ, but AK is a different story.
Instead of players continuing on with a made pair that’s beat, as is the case with
JJ and QQ, AK is a hand where a lot of players just don’t want
to give it up even if they have not made so much as a pair. AK
is even infamous in that opponents often times hope that you
have held onto your AK high, with it being the only hand they
can actually beat. Being suckered into holding onto AK no matter
what is one of the easiest ways to lose big pots where you never
had a truly great shot at winning.
The first thing that you need to realize with these three
hands is that AK isn’t the same as JJ and QQ. Jacks and Queens
are made hands. They don’t need to make a pair, straight, flush
or better in order to have inherent showdown value. When you
look at AK, however, the very opposite will hold true. Because
of this, the strategy for playing AK will be very different than
JJ and QQ.
With all of that said, AK has a similar pre-flop
value to QQ, all things being considered equal. The true
difference comes in how you play the hands, not in how much they
are worth. Some players will ask “Would you rather have QQ or
AK?” The obvious and correct answer is QQ, but it’s not so much
stronger that you should be devaluing AK. People tend to dislike
playing AK because they don’t know how to, not because it doesn’t end up winning a lot of pots.
Playing JJ and QQ
For all intents and purposes, JJ and QQ are almost the same
hands. The difference between these two hand’s values will most
frequently come into play when you are in a cooler type
situation. When there’s a low board after the river is dealt,
you may be forced into deciding whether QQ can win a stack from
your opponent’s JJ. Likewise, your opponent may attempt to get
you all in with QQ when they are hoping that you have JJ. Jacks
and Queens will be in a lot of spots where they are either just
a notch stronger or a notch weaker than the other hand at
Pre-flop play is where you’ll either set yourself up for
long term profits or losses. If you are calling off huge bets
pre-flop, you shouldn’t be all that surprised when you wind up
losing a lot of money with these types of hands. If you are
playing super passive and tight pre-flop, you shouldn’t be
surprised that you don’t make very much from JJ and QQ. You need
to be able to find the middle ground that both reduces risk and
increases your chances of real profitability.
Early position with JJ and QQ calls for a raise, there’s no
doubt about it. Limp re-raising would be disastrous as would a
limp that doesn’t get raised. These aren’t two hands that you
should be looking to get excessively tricky with. Play them as
straightforward as you possibly can. While this will be somewhat
see-through to your opponents, it will also be in your best
interest, and in the end that’s all that really matters.
The tricky spots arise with JJ and QQ in early position when you are
re-raised. One re-raise is almost always worthy of a call,
barring a super big raise that makes it unprofitable to play.
Two re-raises will put you on the borderline. If you call a
4-bet with QQ, you need to be prepared to get all in on the
flop. If you call a 4-bet with JJ pre-flop, you are lighting
money on fire. It’s safe to say that JJ is usually not good, or
at the very least will play terribly post-flop, if it’s 4-bet
out of position. There’s a time for set mining and there is a
time for folding, and calling 4-bets with JJ out of position isn’t one of the times to set mine.
Mid and late position pre-flop with JJ and QQ allow for a few
different options. When it’s limped action to you, the only
move is to raise. If there’s a raise ahead of you though, you’ll have the choice of either calling the raise or 3-betting.
This is going to be up to you and is totally dependent on the
situation. If the player who raised is loose, 3-betting makes
sense. If the player who raised is tight, calling would be
better. Flat calling should occur more often with JJ than it
does with QQ simply because QQ is marginally stronger. 4-bets
should be out of the question almost always, and a 3-bet ahead
could even call for a fold. Make sure that you give yourself
room to play comfortably post-flop when you are deciding what to
Post-flop is tricky and simple at the very same time. You
shouldn’t be getting too deep into hands where you have anything
less than an over pair to the board. There will be many spots
where an ace or king fall, and this is the point at which you
should generally give up. Beyond this, you also need to be able
to lay down JJ or QQ even when it does still stand as an over
pair to the board. Discipline in these spots is hard to achieve,
but it’s going to save you a lot of money in the long run. No
matter what you do, don’t fall into the trap of over valuing JJ
and QQ, because it will drain your bankroll one big pot at a time.
AK is the hand that some
players limp with, some go all in with, and other players
raise with. It’s strong and yet an unmade hand all at the same
time. You need to be aggressive yet cautious with AK. Its value
is only existent at showdown if you can connect with the board,
so you should shy away from putting all of your eggs in a basket
before anything really happens.
When in early position, AK should virtually always be a
raise. There just isn’t many spots where it would make sense to
limp with AK. You’ll be diluting the value of AK if you are
limping into pots with it, as you need to be making money even
when you are unable to improve. The aggression built into
playing AK is largely what allows it to be profitable, not just
the times where it hits the board.
In middle and late position you should still be making open
raises, but you’ll now be in positions where calling raises
and/or 3-bets become possible. In the majority of games, AK is
worthy of a 3-bet. On that same note, it’s seldom going to be
profitable to go all in pre-flop with AK. You have to be able to
draw a line in the sand between value with AK and overvaluing
AK, especially pre-flop.
Post-flop play with AK is easy, with the challenge of being
able to extract the most value possible from your opponents. You
are looking for one of a few things on the board, with the most
common being an ace or a king. The real money hands will be
flushes and straights, because these lead to much bigger pots.
Plus, they’re also more deceptive.
Giving up should be a post-flop play that’s built into your
strategy with AK. You can’t hit a hand every time, and you need
to be willing to cut your losses. There are many, many players
who just can’t let go of AK when it misses. They hope that they
will either get there on the flop or the turn or that they might
even be good with ace high. As annoying as it can be to 3-bet or
call a 3-bet pre-flop only to give up on the flop, sometimes it’s your only reasonable play. Try to extract value with
deceptive moves when you are holding AK and land a pair, but
don’t value down yourself when you come up empty.
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