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How To Play Pocket Jacks Pre-flop In Texas Hold’em

My pocket Jacks article is going to be different from my AA, KK, and QQ, articles in both format length and explanation because J,J is one of the most misplayed hands in the entire game. More people lose money or potential value playing Jacks in Texas Hold’em than pretty much any other hand I have seen, and that is great that other players are misplaying their pocket jacks, but we want to make sure that we are not making those same mistakes so that we end up extracting maximum value from this fantastic hand in the long term.

The most common mistakes people make with pocket jacks

  • Thinking that pocket jacks are going to hold up without improvement and win a good size pot

The fact of the matter is that pocket jacks can hold up and win the hand without improvement, but that only happens about half the time and when it does the pots are typically very small because not many people are willing to commit a lot of chips to a pot when they only hold a pair of tens of less. You also have to consider that you will be gun-shy because betting big when the next card can be an A, K, or Q is a scary thing to do.

  • Thinking that pocket jacks are a heavy favorite going in against AK or AQ

Pocket Jacks are a coin flip against these hands and very rarely are you going to get a big profit from the hand unless you happen to flop a jack when they flop one of their cards. This is nearly a 25 to 1 shot, so don’t expect to be in a great spot against AK or AQ. The real issue is that you can’t be certain you are against AK or AQ. If they have QQ you are putting your money in drawing pretty much dead… So be careful when playing jacks in large pots when you can’t be sure where you are at in the hand.

  • Thinking that pocket jacks are playable in a situation where a tight player raised big pre-flop

This is one of the biggest mistakes people make in all of Texas Hold’em. They play JJ like it is KK pre-flop and it is nowhere near as strong. If a tight player raises at all you are either in a coin-flip situation or you are behind in most cases. The worst thing you can do here is play a big pot. You have so much uncertainty that you can’t possibly extract value here, the only thing that can happen is that you get lucky and win by hitting a jack, you lose a good sized pot (this one happens most of the time), or your jacks hold up, but you never got to get any real bets in because the opponent had nothing strong.

  • Trying to defend their pocket jacks too strong in hands where an over card has not yet come up.

If you find yourself betting big to try to get the opponent out of the hand so that you won’t lose if an over card comes up you are also setting yourself up for failure. When you make bets like this you either win a small pot or you lose a big pot. The first issue with this plan is that the opponent could already have a made hand better than jacks in which you are in way over your head and going to throw tons of money in way, way behind. If they don’t, they can either get one easily, or bluff you out on a later round. Consider what you would do if it came up either any over card. Or even on a 7-6-2 board a 5 and a 9. Can you really call an all in river bet with just your JJ?

  • Not valuing jacks enough once an over card comes on the board

Most people tend to just toss their jacks away when an ace, king, or queen comes on the board. I’m not telling you that this is a wrong choice in most cases, it is the correct decision to make in large multi-way pots where you know someone had to connect, just saying that if you are in against only 1 or two people and you throw away your jacks every time a queen lands you are wasting a lot of value. You should try to play the hand as if you have nothing and then see if you can get it to a showdown with only having to call a single bet from the opponent. A lot of times people will try to bet and represent a queen on the flop or the turn. Just call them and then check the hand down and you will be surprised how often you win the hand.

  • Not extracting enough value once you flop a third jack (a set).

When you flop a third jack you have to really milk your opponents because it is one of the only chances you will ever get to put in your money at a ridiculous advantage. Most hands need either 1 specific card or two cards in a row to fall in order to catch up to a set of jacks, so take advantage of that and bet large on every single round as long as you are pretty sure you are ahead. Even if you aren’t, you have outs for a full house or four of a kind in most cases which means you are never worse than a 75%/25% underdog and that is in the worst case scenario.

Breaking things down

I will be splitting up and organizing the information presented the best I can to properly go over most hand types. Please understand that this is only going to be a general summery of how to play JJ pre-flop in the most common of scenarios. It should cover a good 90% of hands you wind up in, but it will not be able to cover specific circumstances because there are thousands of variables in poker to account for. The best I can do is give you an outline of how to play JJ most of the time and then you can extract from it to make educated decisions in hands that are not specifically covered in this guide. The best thing to do is to memorize these and to adapt your play around this play style. If you do, the other hands become easier and easier to play as you get more experience as well as learn patience and form good habits.

All of this guide is going to assume there are 7 or more players are at your table. In order to organize this info, I will be splitting it up into categories based on factors including positioning in the hand (in or out of position). For example, I will go over how to play pocket jacks when you are early to act, late to act, as well as when you are the blinds. I go over the blinds separately because they are very hard for most players to play from. In position is generally defined as acting last and out of position is defined as acting before your opponents in-case you were unaware. Seems simple enough right? Remember to memorize this information, it will come in extremely handy in your future games especially if you understand why you are making the moves that you make.

Pocket Jacks (J,J)

Pocket jacks are a very commonly played hand in Texas Hold’em because they are in the top half of the 10 strongest hands which includes AA, KK, QQ, AK, JJ, AQ, 1010, 99, 88, AJ (in that order). Before the flop if you are holding JJ you are probably pretty confident and you should be because it is a very valuable hand. You will want to play JJ much more safely than you play AA, KK, QQ, and AK which is exactly why this guide is so important to read. Most people understand how to play AA and KK, they are intuitive. Jacks on the other hand present many opportunities to mess up and that is why a lot of players will jokingly tell you that they hate pocket jacks and that they never seem to win with them. The players are playing them wrong. Any good player will tell you (assuming they can play JJ confidently) that pocket jacks are one of their absolute favorite hands.

The Hidden Value of Pocket Jacks

The reason JJ is so strong is because it is weaker (yes weaker) than AA and KK. What I mean by that is that you can safely play it slow and not feel bad if you end up losing a small pot. Playing JJ deceptive and slow is the proper way to play it because it shows no information to your opponents and also allows you to make simple decisions that maximize value. Limping in with JJ is in most cases the proper move to make, if an over card comes up you can probably just toss your jacks away cheaply, and if it doesn’t you can try to defend your hand a little. If you hit a third jack nobody will ever expect you had JJ because why would you not raise with the 5th best hand in all of Texas Hold’em. The reason of course is that it is too obvious and also too weak of a hand to play in a large pot because you can never know where you are at in the hand. Knowing where you are at is actually one of the most important aspects of poker to get down. I would rather know where I am at in a hand than have double the amount of winning hands but never know if I am ahead or not until showdown.

Playing JJ Pre-flop In Position

When you are in position with JJ you want to do one of two things. Either try to end the hand immediately and scoop up the money in the pot by raising big (this only happens when many people have limped and you would rather just win $12 than risk losing the hand), or you can limp in and play the hand very deceptively and in a cautious manner. Either move is fine and you will want to mix it up, but remember that you never want to raise if there are not a lot of limpers in because it is a waste to take the risk of running into pocket AA or KK that could be hiding in the blinds to only win $3. You never want to call a large raise or a re-raise from any even moderately tight player with JJ. If the bet gets over $10 in a $1-2 game you need to be out of the hand. That being said, you can see that most hands will end up with you either limping in for $2 or calling a small raise to something like $6 or $8. That is fine, as a matter of fact that is exactly what you want. Now you are in the hand and nobody has any clue what you have at all. You can use this to your advantage now to play real “poker”. Deception is key to poker, so be deceptive when you can. You will love it once you start doing this rather than whatever you have been doing because it gives you so much more confidence in hands. You actually can tell where you are at and your opponents can never tell where they are truly at.

Playing JJ Out of Position

When you play JJ out of position you are forced to enter the hand before your opponents have given you any information. In this situation I always limp in with my jacks. The reason I do this is that when you have only limped in or folded from early position all game (which is all I ever do) the opponents have no idea what you have. If they then go and bet huge with their AA you haven’t really lost anything and can get out cheap. If they on the other hand make a weak bet indicative of A10 or KQ or some mid-range hand, you can either re-raise and take the pot down right away, or call and have the element of surprise with you when you play the remainder of the hand. Most people will raise JJ even from early positions and this in my opinion is a huge mistake. When you play JJ out of position you are simply playing them extremely safely so that you can maximize value if you do hit a jack and otherwise keep the pots small or get a good feel for what your opponents have before betting big to get them out of your pot.

It takes a little experience to get down when to force your opponents out of hands, so in the beginning you may just want to play super safe all the time and not try to bet them out much. If and when you ever get comfortable betting the weak players out then you can adjust accordingly. I am still not 100% comfortable myself and I have been playing years, so it isn’t exactly a perfect science. Use caution when being aggressive at any time with JJ if you haven’t gotten your third jack to fall.

How to play Pocket Jacks From The Blinds

When you are in the jacks are going to be played completely different than they would be from any other position because of your unique advantage of going last before the flop. In most cases if there are no major raises (over $7) and a few limpers I will usually just bet pretty big and hope to win the pot straight away when everyone else folds their hands. However, when the pot is very small and only had 1-2 players in it besides myself I will still raise, but smaller and expect to have one or both of the players call the hand. This way, I can try and either flop a jack, or catch people playing A,10 or K,10 or whatever other low cards they may have when the highest card on the board flops below a jack. This is a slightly dangerous strategy, but when you get used to it, it works very effectively.

Always remember that if at any point before the flop the bet you must call to stay in the hand gets to $10 or higher you are going to want to fold. It is when you call these hands that you fall into a slippery slope of trying to play your JJ with no idea where you are at in the hand for a large pot and will lose a lot of value/money in the long run. Folding in those uncertain situations is by far the best play and it also demoralizes your opponents over time when they see you hardly ever get yourself into an uncomfortable or bad situation. The mindset you will have as well as your table image is worth the fold every time.

Reviewing Pocket Jacks

With pocket jacks you are willing to play most pots small and take a small win or even a small loss in order to try and get lucky and hit three of a kind (which is where you really get paid). Your goal is to stay safe and deceptive so that not only is your risk low, but you know where you stand in the hand most of the time and your opponents cannot read what you may be holding. If the pot has many limpers it is valuable especially from the blinds to try and take it down with a large bet before the flop, but keep in mind that if you get raised back you will need to fold. If you go over the list of common mistakes people make when playing JJ that I listed at the beginning of this article and adjust your play to avoid those mistakes you will do far better in the long term playing JJ and also have a lot less stress and tilt as a result.

Emotional stability is incredibly important when it comes to playing Texas Hold’em and most people simply take this for granted. Think to yourself, how many times you have seen a player make a dumb mistake when upset, bored, over excited, or just plain tilted from whatever the cause? Avoiding the things that will get you emotionally unstable (such as badly misplaying your pocket jacks) will not only save you money on the hand that you played properly, but also on future hands because you will instead be happy and confident that you made the best decision you possibly could at the time (or even that you had patience) which is key to keeping emotional stability in poker games.

Please check back because I will probably be posting more info on poker hands including how to play 1010, 99, 88, 77, 66, and AK + AQ before the flop and perhaps eventually get into post flop play with these hands as well. Until then, GOOD LUCK!

Strategy Game & Gambling & Poker


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