Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 32: The Perilous Decision to Call Off with Ace-Queen


During the 2015 World Series of Poker, I had the opportunity to meet Joe Ingersoll, who was kind enough to buy a copy of my World Series of Zombies (WSOZ) comic. Ingersoll considers himself an amateur poker player, but a student of the game.

“I study, practice, and train as opposed to my friends who just ‘play,’“ explained Ingersoll, who was one of the many to take a shot in The Colossus, the $565 buy-in Event #5 that drew a WSOP record-crushing 22,374 entries. He had hoped to survive Day 1b, but alas he fell at the end of the night in a hand he immediately second-guessed.

“My problem is I don’t have anyone to evaluate any hand decisions to learn from,” said Ingersoll. “I am happy with every decision I made, but I am not sure if the final one was the correct one or not. I was hoping you would maybe review and give me your opinion.”

Well Joe, it’d be my pleasure, though I must admit I’m certainly not the most qualified. Still, happy to offer my opinion.

The hand began with approximately 10 minutes left in Level 9 (300/600/75) and Ingersoll sitting with 10,475 in Seat 10. The only other short stack at the table, which Ingersoll had just joined, was Seat 7, while everyone else held a medium-to-large stack.

Ingersoll pointed out that the other short stack had been shoving in typical short-stack fashion, but the only hand he had shown was {a-}{j-}-offsuit.

“I have been card dead and holding on, but have failed recently to have any prime shoving opportunities to pick up some blinds,” explained Ingersoll.

Ingersoll was in the big blind, and action folded to the other short stack in the cutoff who again open-pushed, this time for 9,950. The button and small blind both folded, and Ingersoll looked down at {a-}{q-}-offsuit.

Upon hearing this, my first reaction was that I’d much prefer to be shoving with ace-queen than calling off. However, given Ingersoll’s stack, the size of the blinds, and his opponent’s tendency to shove, I had to admit his hand looked pretty good.

Should Ingersoll commit in this spot? If you say yes, I don’t disagree. If you say no, I can see that point, too.

Ingersoll told me he put his opponent on a range that included {a-}{10-}+, {5-}{5-}+, and {k-}{q-}+. A solid analysis, as a short-stacked player would certainly shove all those hands after action folded to him in the cutoff. Usually I might assess an even wider range — maybe {q-}{10-}+, {2-}{2-}+, and any two paint cards — which seems logical given his past shoves.

However, in this case I’d actually shrink my perceived range a bit given all the shoves. In my opinion, it’s unlikely he’d shove light so many times in a row as the more he does it the more likely he is to be called. In other words, I think Ingersoll’s assessment of his opponent’s range is pretty spot on.

Given that range, then, his opponent could only hold four hands that have him dominated — {a-}{a-}, {k-}{k-}, {q-}{q-}, and {a-}{k-}. At this point I’d be asking myself, would he really open-shove with aces or kings? Wouldn’t he want a little bit of action? If so, why not just raise a bit? Sure he’s short, but he’s still got enough to tease it to say 1,500.

While I wasn’t there to observe the player, I could see myself discounting the two best hands in poker. So, if he had Big Slick I’d be in big trouble, and with pocket queens I’d at least have an over. Anything else in his range, well, I’m either dominating or flipping. I won’t say I’m calling off 100% of the time in this spot, but based upon the circumstances and my reads, I think more times than not I am.

“I decide to make the call assuming I am going to have to race here soon with such a low ‘M’ and that this might be my best spot as he could be shoving with even a wider range possibly,” said Ingersoll. “The results aren’t good as he is holding {a-}{k-}-offsuit and it holds up.”

Without a doubt, ace-queen into ace-king is the one situation I’ve seen decimate tournament dreams countless time and again. In fact, it’s how I busted my first-ever in-the-money WSOP run. It happens frequently, and it sucks to be on the wrong end.

“Everyone tells me I made a good run to be proud of and I kinda am, but I also blew the situation,” Ingersoll chastised himself. “I hear in my head ‘Never go home with a queen in your hand.’ I also wonder about folding and shoving later with some fold equity being better than calling off a shove, but I am quickly running out of having enough for fold equity.”

Like I said, my first impression was I’d rather be shoving with ace-queen than calling off, so I certainly understand the inner turmoil Ingersoll is experiencing.

That said, through my amateurish exploration — which is far from a thorough mathematical analysis (anyone out there want to run the numbers, feel free) — I don’t fault the call. I think most players, myself included, go with it in that spot. However, Ingersoll’s hand is a prime example why it’s so important to proceed with caution and think things through.

Finally, I might add I don’t subscribe to the “Never go home with a queen in your hand” mantra. After all, I won a WSOP gold bracelet with a queen in my hand!

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