The third best starting hand in hold’em, pocket Queens, can present some tricky decisions at the table. Like any poker hand, the best way to play Queens depends on the situation. Most poker players will tell you that when you’re discussing poker strategy you want to avoid using words like “always” or “never”. So keep that in mind when reading the advice in this article. This is just general advice. Food for thought, if you will. One should always think for themselves at the poker table, so read this strategy advice as a critical thinker.
There are several things that determine how to play a pair of Queens. The most important things are stack size, your opponents, and position. Let’s talk about each of these variables individually and how they could affect your decision making when holding a pair of queens.
A novice poker player might ask an experienced player, “how to I play a pair of Queens?” I can almost guarantee you the first thing you’ll hear from the experienced player is, “well, for starters, it depends on your stack size.”
If you’re in a tournament with 15 big blinds or less, I recommend shoving all-in preflop with your hand regardless of position. With anything less than 30 blinds, you’re virtually never going to fold Queens preflop. With a stack in the 20-30 big blind range, I recommend making a standard raise and re-raising all-in if you get the chance.
The deeper your stack is, the trickier it is to play pocket Queens and the more you need to focus on other factors such as position and your opponents. We’ll get to those in a moment.
With stacks around 50-100 big blinds, your decisions become kind of tricky. Re-raising preflop looks very strong since you’re committing quite a lot of your stack. Because of this, you can start to consider “just” calling a raise preflop with pocket Queens. However, this is not the type of hand that plays particularly well in a multi-way pot. Ideally, you’ll be facing just one opponent when playing this hand. The danger of flat-calling a preflop raise is that it could lead to a few other players coming along to the flop.
If you do decide to re-raise, the size of your bet matters a lot. With this stack size, if a player opens to 2.5 big blinds and you re-raise to 9 big blinds, your hand is going to look very strong. So while you’ll probably succeed in isolating the action to just one opponent, you’re unlikely to get much action from hands you have dominated. Most players will fold hands like Ace-Queen or Ten-Ten in the face of such a big re-raise. For this reason, consider re-raising fairly small, perhaps just to 5 big blinds. This will have the effect of dissuading others from calling while keeping the original raiser on the hook.
At stacks of 100 big blinds and beyond (cash games or early tournament levels), how you play Queens preflop depends so much on your opponents and your position at the table as well as the action that has already taken place in the hand. When the stacks are this deep, you can generally get away more with three- or four-betting preflop without it being obvious to your opponents that you have a strong hand. After all, some players three-bet with very marginal holdings when the stacks are this deep so use this to your advantage and don’t slowplay unless the table is just really tight.
Playing Queens with 20 big blinds or less is pretty straightforward. With larger stacks, the table dynamic becomes very important. Let’s say you have 50 big blinds and a player has raised to 3 big blinds. At tables where there are a lot of loose-aggressive players, I might consider just flat-calling this raise hoping I get the chance to four-bet all-in. At very tight tables, flat-calling is also appealing but for a different reason. At a very tight table, I’m not as concerned that any other players will call the raise, so the notion of ‘re-raising to isolate’ is not as relevant.
Another key thing to observe regarding your opponents is their stack sizes. One of the few times I might ever be tempted to limp into the pot with pocket Queens is when there are a few players yet to act who have stacks of 15 big blinds or less. If you don’t think these players have a read on you, they might view your limp as dead money and shove all-in with a wider range of hands as a result.
With a hand like pocket Queens, it becomes very important to know the preflop aggression tendencies of your opponents. There won’t be many instances where you’ll fold Queens preflop, but in the instances where you might, knowing how aggressive your opponents are is very important. For example, let’s say you and everyone at the table has 40 big blinds. You raise in middle position to 2.7 big blinds. Another player re-raises to 7 big blinds. The player in the big blind re-raises all-in. Should you call or fold? I think the answer depends a lot on how aggressive the other two players have been. If they’ve both been playing tight, you can give serious consideration to a fold. If they’ve both been fairly active, I think you have to call and hope you don’t see Aces or Kings. It’s all situational which is why observing your opponents is so important.
Your position at the table can have a big impact how you play pocket Queens. For example, in a situation where I might generally consider flat-calling a raise, my position can help influence this decision. So let’s assume that, because of circumstances other than my position, I am inclined to flat-call a raise. If an early-position player raises and I’m on the button, I would be more likely to flat-call than if I was in mid-position. The reason for this goes back to pocket Queens’ diminishing value in a multi-way pot. When I’m on the button, there are only two players I have to worry about making it a multi-way pot. From middle position, there are still 4-6 players who could decide to also call the raise which therefore makes re-raising seem more appealing.
What “line” you take with pocket Queens just varies so much from situation to situation. For instance, say I’m in a tournament where everyone at the table has about 40 big blinds. A very savvy, strong player in middle position raises to 3 big blinds. I look down at Queens in the big blind. Against a player like this, I know that he knows I’m not going to re-raise with a very wide range. So re-raising effectively kills my action. Knowing this, I might just flat-call. Suppose the flop is non-threatening to me, Jack-Eight-Six. I know that this player knows I probably wouldn’t check-raise him unless I had a strong hand, so because of that, I might lead out at the flop hoping it looks like I’m just trying to buy the pot which would induce him to raise with a lot of hands I have beat.
It’s hard to go over very specific situations in a strategy article like this. Like how do you play Queens with 80 big blinds when the ultra-tight under-the-gun player makes it 3 big blinds and a player who re-raises 17% of hands makes it 9 big blinds from the button and you’re in the small blind? If you want to cover really specific situations like this, I hope you consider making a thread in our poker forums where I’m sure we could have a fun discussion. The trickier the hand, the more likely it is you’ll hear some differing opinions on how to play it. But as far as general situations go, I hope this article was of some assistance!