Pocket Jacks Part 3: Thoughts on Play

Pocket Jacks

Now that you've read up on the odds in part two and know pocket jacks' strengths and weaknesses, you're poised to make informed decisions on how to play the hand post-flop.

One of the fundamental concepts in poker is to never bet the middle hand. In short, if you bet a middle hand you will never get called by a worse hand, and you'll always get called by a better hand.

Therefore - don't do it. This is a concept - a poker theory. Its purpose is to allow you to grasp the "far ahead/far behind" philosophy of poker.

JJ is a perfect example of a middle hand pre-flop. Unless it improves on the flop, it will remain a middle hand. If your opponents hit the flop, your middle hand will become a bottom hand, turning JJ into nothing more than a bluff.

At that point it doesn't matter what you hold; JJ has no more value than 2-3. Luckily for you, JJ is on the higher end of the middle category - it ranks ahead of all other middle hands and bottom hands. If no one has a top hand, you're in the best shape.

Mike Wattel
Jacks can leave you wondering what to do next.

This is why poker is so situational. JJ is only as good as the hands it's up against; past that, it can only be as good as the texture of the board will allow.

Because it's such a speculative middle hand, unless it hits the board hard, you want to make sure you're playing it into small pots.

Small Pots

With small hands, you want to be playing small pots. Most beginners might be surprised as to what qualifies as a small hand. Even on a flop of 2 4 9, your JJ is still a small hand. With a small hand you want to keep the pots smaller by checking, calling and betting less than full-pot amounts.

Every time you make a large bet and get a call, the size of the pot is growing geometrically. Each subsequent bet must be larger, forcing players into pot-committed situations.  By betting pot on all streets, you're forcing yourself to play a very large pot with a small hand.

It's better to win small pots and fold to players giving signs of holding a big hand, rather than winning and losing big pots all the time.

Of course, as with anything in poker, this is situational. If you're up against a player willing to put his stack on the line with top pair or less, your JJ overpair becomes a big hand.

In a standard scenario, though, JJ is a small hand and should be played as such.

Jacks on the Flop

Obviously the flop can fall in any combination and texture, but there are only three main flop scenarios, making up the vast majority of flops you'll see with JJ. On the flop you'll either improve to a top hand (also known as a monster), you'll have an overpair, or you'll be behind an overpair.

Here is a chart of odds for the flop J 7 2.

Hand % to win
J J 73
A A 11
T 9 15

As you can see, even though another player has aces, and a third player holds a gutshot straight draw, you're still 73% to win this pot. At this point you now have a top hand. This is where you want to change your strategy to play a large pot. You want to get as much money into this pot as you can.

If you only flop an overpair against other small hands that hit, your odds will change greatly. Here's a chart for the flop 8 2 6.

Hand % to win
J J 44
A K 12
T 9 44

If you look at this flop, even though you're an overpair, you're only 44% to win. You do have the best hand, and are tied for equity, but your lack of dominating odds puts you into the small-hand category.

You don't want to fold this hand just yet, but you don't want to commit your whole stack. You want to keep the pot small by checking and calling, and see what develops on later streets.

Finally, the third option is you see a flop where an opponent hits an overpair. Take a look at this chart for the flop A 7 6.

Hand % to win
J J 7
A K 74
T 9 18

Bryan Devonshire
Feelings of elation can follow playing JJ well.

On this flop you're now sitting with only 7% equity. You're a serious dog in the hand and want to fold. Even a small pot is too large for you to play in, unless you have serious implied odds.

If you're both 500BB deep or more, and can truly say that your opponent would put it all-in with only a pair of aces if you hit your jack, you can call. Anything short of that and you're throwing money away.

Tournament Playability

JJ is a very different hand in tournaments than in a cash game. In a tournament, other than in the first few stages, you're typically very short-stacked.

In short-stack poker pre-flop equity is the only thing you really care about. JJ is a huge hand for a 20BB stack, and you should be willing to get it all-in pre-flop, or on a flop without overs.

Short-stack poker strategy is fundamentally different from deep-stacked strategy. The plays you make with under 100BB must be very different than the plays you make with over 100BB.

If you're in a pot without another player showing signs of significant strength, you have to assume JJ is a monster, and play it as such.

Tournament poker typically doesn't allow players to make any mistake. Even a small mistake in a tournament can cost you your tournament life. For this reason, tournament poker is highly situational, and highly read-based.

You need to have almost a sixth sense to lay down JJ when up against an overpair.

Pocket jacks are one of the hardest hands to play well. As a beginner your best bet is to play them carefully, as a small hand into small pots. If you have an overpair with jacks, play it as if it's nothing more than a top pair.

As the age-old saying goes, "Never go broke with just one pair."

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