How to Play with Pocket Jacks
There are some hands that – for often illogical reasons – players simply refuse to play. Or if they can’t help themselves and do get involved, they hate the entire ordeal.
Ace-king is one. I’ve seen players in small, local cardrooms open with ace-king, face a three-bet, then fold face-up, muttering “I hate this hand! I never win with it!” or something similar.
But for many players, the most reviled and unwanted started hand is the dreaded pocket jacks.
Why? Well, there are all sorts of reasons people will tell you. Jacks are too strong to set-mine with, but too weak to go all guns blazing. You don’t have that super-strong bravado you feel with pocket queens, kings, or aces, and far too often you’ll see an overcard on the flop.
But actually, pocket jacks is the fifth-best starting hand in all of no limit hold’em (after pocket aces, kings, queens, and ace-king). That’s a strong hand!
So, the next time you’re dealt pocket jacks, don’t sweat it.
Just read this article and learn how to play with pocket jacks.
The two biggest mistakes
They say “There’s no right way to play pocket jacks”.
That’s true. It all depends on the situation.
But there are definitely wrong ways to play pocket jacks.
Some inexperienced or casual players hate pocket jacks so much that they’ll just open-shove for huge amounts, so as to not have to make any real decisions. This is likely going to be a winning move in the long run (after all, it’s not often an opponent will wake up with a strong enough hand to call a big all-in).
However, you’ll be missing out on a lot of value this way. You’re more likely to just pick up the blinds and antes when you jam for, say, 20 big blinds. But if you open, you can get action from weaker hands and induce bluffs on the right boards.
Another wrong way to play jacks is to play them too tight. It’s totally fine to flat opens with weaker pocket pairs and see flops for cheap multiway when trying to set-mine. But pocket jacks are the fifth-strongest hand in the game!
Don’t be afraid to squeeze and 3-bet and capitalise on your hand’s strength preflop.
Pay attention to stack depths
Often, the way you should play your pocket jacks comes down to your stack size. Other factors need to be considered too – such as position, your opponent’s tendencies, and ICM situations – but for the most part, how many chips you have will determine what you should do.
For example, if you have 40 big blinds or less, the most standard play is to try and get all the chips in preflop. This doesn’t mean open-shoving, but rather 3-betting or 4-betting all in, as well as calling shoves.
But that doesn’t mean you should always go nuts. If you’re facing an open and 3-bet from players in early positions, for example, you should probably proceed with caution. Sometimes calling and seeing a flop is best.
However, if you’re in the big blind facing a button open, it’s time to start building a pot or trying to play for stacks.
Playing pocket jacks post-flop
One of the primary qualms players have with pocket jacks is that overcards (queens, kings and aces) tend to arrive on the flop, leaving you unsure of how to proceed.
It’s a reasonable concern. Let’s say you’ve 3-bet an open from the small blind and your opponent calls, taking you heads-up to an A♣ K♠ 4♥ board. It’s an ugly flop for pocket jacks, but remember, as the 3-bettor, you currently have the range advantage and this board smashes that range hard. You can have a set of aces and a set of kings, while your opponent can’t (they’d surely raise again preflop if they did).
So, feel free to continuation bet in these scenarios and see how your opponent responds. If they call, you might want to slow down on the turn. If they raise, you can comfortably ditch your pocket jacks into the muck.
Alternatively, if there was an early-position open and a call in front of you and you called along with pocket jacks to see the same flop, you can also comfortably lay the jacks down when facing aggression.
Pocket jacks are a pretty strong hand preflop but try not to get too attached. Even just one overcard can be enough to make you lay it down. But again, take everything into consideration – especially the opponents you’re up against.