Pocket Jacks: The Hand We All Love To Hate

Pocket jacks can be a difficult hand to play in No-Limit Hold'em games, but you may find that you are struggling it is your fault.

Poker would be an extremely simple game if we only received aces or kings as our hole cards. Unfortunately, that is not how the game works and we have to contend with a plethora of starting hands. Pocket jacks are one such hand that gives both recreational and professional players headaches. They look strong but are vulnerable, they are the hand we love to hate.

Pocket jacks should win you more money than you lose. They are, after all, the fourth-strongest starting hand in No-Limit Texas Hold’em. Only pocket aces, pocket kings, and pocket queens rank higher. Why do people hate on pocket jacks so much if that is the case?

Jacks have a lot of equity against a reasonable range of hands, but struggle to realize that equity post-flop. It is difficult to get paid off against hands you crush, such as smaller pairs when an overcard flops.

Furthermore, there is a 57% chance that an overcard to your jacks lands on the flop. This increases to 76% of the time by the river. This is the number one reason people do not like receiving the “fish hooks.”

Common Mistakes With Pocket Jacks

Cash game and tournament players bemoan their luck when it comes to pocket jacks. They complain they either win a small pot or lose a big one. They fail to realize this is down to how they play this hand, mostly.

Overplaying pocket jacks and playing two passively are two common mistakes with this troublesome hand. Players either get all-in for too many big blinds, or three-bet or four-bet in spots where they should call.

Alternatively, players play jacks too passively and miss out on a three or four-betting opportunity.

Stack Sizes Are Important

Stack sizes play a major role in playing this hand properly. You almost always want to get your stack into the middle of the felt with jacks in the 30 to 40 big blind range. Only three holdings have you beat right now, and opponents will shove or call all-in with a relatively wide range with this stack size.

For example, you are in a tournament with blinds 100/200 and effective stacks of 7,000. You min-raise to 400 with Jh-Jd, the button three-bets to 1,000, and the action folds back to you. This is a clear shove. A typical range for the button here is 88+, KQs+, AT+. You have more than 57% equity against this range. The button may have queens, kings, aces and you get coolered. So be it, that is poker.

Jacks are great when short stacked. You will almost always be coinflipping or winning against a 10-15 big blind calling range. This is not a bad spot to be in.

Deeper stacked play is opponent-dependent because deep stacks compound mistakes. The fourth-best hand in Hold’em is great for set mining, especially when you know your tight opponents are only playing queens or better.

Play Aggressively; Don’t Be Scared

You cannot go into a hand scared, controlled aggression is the key to success. This is especially true with this hand because it is so vulnerable after the flop. Play them aggressively until you have a reason not to.

Study your opponents and take detailed notes. This is easier in the online poker world but can be done in the live arena too. The player who knows that an opponent three-bets wide or is super-tight is a player who can play pocket jacks profitably.

Last, try not to let losing with this hand, or any other put you on tilt. Losing is part and parcel of poker, and you will lose many hands on your way to going deep in a poker tournament. How you deal with losing shapes you as a person and a poker player. Accept the loss and move on to the next hand.

Brad Johnson

You name the game, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Brad has either played it or placed a wager on it! Brad calls himself a natural gambler, and someone who gains as much enjoyment from writing about the crazy game of poker as he does playing it.


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