When I arrived at my local poker room on a Saturday afternoon in late summer, I noticed Fred at a $2-4 Hold'Em table. That was curious, because he usually plays $4-8. I signed up for a few games, moseyed over to Fred's table, and inquired why. Fred said that he had been hammered at $4-8, thanks mostly to George. He was trying to get his confidence and bankroll back. Fred said that upon his last loss to George, Big Chick vs. Big Slick, he had pushed the table away.
"I'm never going to play Big Chick again," he declared. "Whoa," I told him, "If you don't, then you'll pass up many winning chances." "Nope," he avowed, he was never going to play A-Q again.
I knew that Fred plays one-table no-limit Hold'Em tournaments on the Internet, so I asked whether he would play A-Q if he were heads-up. That's different, he answered, because heads-up, Big Chick is a pretty good hand. I agreed.
I had run the numbers already and told Fred that A-Q is best 98.3% of the time heads-up. His opponent would have A-A, K-K, or A-K, 1.7% of the time against his A-Q. In other words, Big Chick would be dominated by one of those hands only one time in sixty. Big Chick is that good.
Fred took me at my word, but he thought that Big Chick wasn't ever good enough to play in a ten-handed Hold'Em game because it would be dominated too often. If you were to play Big Chick in a full game, then what would worry you, I asked. Fred responded that pocket Aces, Pocket Kings, or Big Slick, as George had held, would give him agita.
Big Chick is best 85% of the time even in a tenhanded game, I told Fred. The table shows the probability of any opponent having been dealt any two of the three Aces and/or the four Kings when you hold A-Q. It's almost linear, starting from 98.3% down to 85.1%. The table demolished Fred's opinion that A-Q was a marginal hand in a full game.
Fred asked about someone holding pocket Queens, or someone also holding A-Q. I told Fred that maybe I would deal with that later. And what about Flushes and Straights, he asked. I allowed that the above table barred Flushes and Straights: if his A-Q was suited, then his chances would be even better than those shown. If an A-K was suited and his A-Q wasn't, then his chances would be worse than those shown. The exact probabilities aren't the point, I told him. The point is that A-Q is a playable start even at a full table. Of course if the Flop were Jd-Td-Qd, then your Top Pair, Top Kicker would lose to a Straight if anyone had started with [Ac]-[Ks], [Kc]-[9s], or [9c]- [8s], or to a Flush. Still, your Top Pair, Top Kicker might prevail if no opponent held cards that fit, even with a scary bunch of community cards like [Jd]-[Td]- [Qd]-[7c]-[6s].
"Fred," I told him, "You need to distinguish between bad luck and bad play." Bad luck is running up against pocket Aces, Kings, or Big Slick, when you raised with Big Chick. Bad play is NOT raising with Big Chick before the Flop.