How to Play Pocket Jacks Part 2: Running the Numbers

Johnny Chan
I was hoping for a pic of Chan and Moss together: a pair of Johnnys.

Before we go any further into the theory and strategies of playing pocket jacks, we need to be versed in the numbers to get a feeling for JJ's true strength.

Hands on either end of the equity scale are, for the most part, easy to play. If you have aces, you know you're ahead; if you have deuce-seven, you know you're behind. Even the hands inside of the extremes but still to either end of the chart offer little difficulty.

If you have kings, you're probably ahead; if you have T-5 you're probably behind. There is little to know, no problems that need solving with these hands.

Middle Hands in Poker Cause Problems

It's the middle hands that get you into situations worthy of thought. JJ is arguably the strongest hand in this category.

Just under a quarter of the remaining cards in the deck have a rank higher than your pair. If a player is dealt one overcard to your jacks, the odds of him pairing that card is around 16%. If he has two overcards to your hand, the odds of him pairing one of them on the flop double to around 32%.

As we learned in part one, the chances of another player having been dealt a pocket pair higher than yours are almost exactly 1-8, or 12%. So there is a 12% chance you're beat pre-flop, and if all players dealt a card higher than a jack see the flop, you're beat 32% of the time on top.

Sorel Mizzi
Sorel Mizzi, one of many pros playing by feel, rather than true stats.

Right now, these numbers are not so hot, with you losing 44% of the pots right off the bat.

Before you start wondering how it's possible for JJ to be a top 5 hand with numbers such as this, you have to remember that statistics of this sort don't take into account playing styles and human mentalities.

Every player dealt a card higher than a jack is not going to see every flop.

These numbers serve as a guideline to give you an idea of where jacks stand before the human element comes into play.

Running Some JJ Numbers

This first chart pits JJ against a set number of random hands.

In each scenario the result has been calculated by a computer running the set number of random hands versus JJ to the river.

No betting is taken into account here. Each scenario has been run over one million times.

Number of Random Hands Equity of Pocket Jacks*
9 Hands 19%
8 Hands 22%
7 Hands 25%
6 Hands 29%
5 Hands 34%
4 Hands 40%
3 Hands 49%
2 Hands 61%
1 Hand 78%

*Equity is inherent value of the hand, meaning how often it will statistically win.

JJ vs. Specific Hands

More often than not, raising with your jacks will put you heads-up to the flop. The following chart details the most common types of hands to see a flop with you, and the equity of jacks being ahead by the river.

Versus Hands Equity of Pocket Jacks
AA, KK or QQ 18%
TT or Lower Pair 83%
A-K Suited 54%
A-T Suited 68%
7-8 Suited 78%


Chris Bjorin
This expression might be a tell that you just flopped a set of jacks.


In a heads-up situation JJ is ahead to all but three hands. This is the reason JJ is viewed as a premium, top 10 hand.

Unfortunately, in the real world you will always get calls from AA, KK and QQ and infrequently get called by almost any of the other hands.

Even when you do get called by the other hands, you will win small pots when they miss, or lose large ones when they hit.

When your raise doesn't get you heads-up, or you have chosen not to raise pre-flop with JJ, you're going to need a solid understanding of where the hand stands up against a variety of fields.

The following three charts are examples of playing the hand five-handed against a field "good" for your hand, "bad" for your hand or a "mixed" field.

JJ vs. "Good" Field

Hand Equity to Win
J J 53%
9 9 9%
4 5 14%
3 3 13%
9 T 11%

JJ vs. "Bad" Field

Hand Equity to Win
J J 9%
A A 45%
K Q 12%
5 6 20%
T J 15%

JJ vs. "Mixed" Field

Hand Equity to Win
J J 37%
A K 24%
3 3 15%
6 5 15%
A 9 9%

Although you'll find yourself in both good and bad fields, most often you'll be up against a mixed field. As you can see throughout the charts, your equity will change dramatically depending on how many players are in the pot and the types of hands you're up against.

In a field like the one in the chart above, you have 37% equity (a 2-1 dog) while getting 4-1 on your money.

Although jacks are a top 5 hand, and do hold a very large amount of equity, the mistake many beginners make is to view all big pairs as "one type of hand."

They will play JJ or QQ the same as KK or AA, when the numbers make it clear that JJ is simply not as strong a hand as any of the other larger pairs.

In the final part of this series we'll go over some of the odds and numbers that pertain to jacks on the flop, as well as give you some ideas on how to use the hand's equity to your advantage.

Get in when you have the best of it, get out when you're a dog: this advice is sound, but can be much harder to put into practice than it may seem.

More Beginner Poker Strategy articles:

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