There’s no right way to play pocket Jacks in no-limit hold ‘em. While this is one of the trickier hands for anyone’s poker strategy, you should be thrilled when you see those 2 Bowers side-by-side.
What would you rather be dealt when you’re at a online poker table playing no-limit hold ‘em: JJ, or 72o? The answer should be the pocket Jacks, of course. But not everyone agrees. Of all the trickier hands to play, this might be the trickiest of them all. You’ll even hear it called the “Lon McEachern Memorial Hand” when you watch the World Series of Poker.
Nonsense. Pocket Jacks are gold, we tells ya. If you go by the Sklansky-Chubukov rankings (named after David Sklansky and Victor Chubukov) that were introduced around 2005, JJ is the sixth-best hand you can be dealt in NLHE. Only Aces through Queens and Ace-King are stronger. But like any other hand, it’s a matter of how you use it. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of poker’s most infamous hand.
Right off the bat, let’s remember one of the great rules of thumb about poker: It’s hard to make a pair (h/t Tom Dwan). When you get dealt pocket Jacks, not only do you already have a pair, you’ve got one of the best there is. Only three others beat it, while 10 smaller pairs get crushed by it.
The problem is with those three dominating pairs. If you’re playing full-ring NLHE with eight opponents, and you’ve got JJ, the chance that someone else has AA, QQ or JJ is 11.27 percent. Not too bad. But when people decide to see a flop, it’s very likely they have at least one Ace, King or Queen in their hands. If one of those overcards appears on the flop, which will happen about 57 percent of the time, you could be toast.
Don’t let it get you down. Just because a hand might end up losing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play it in the first place – even pocket Aces will get cracked far too often than people care to admit. The trick is to be prepared, starting with the preflop. Pocket Jacks are strong enough to open from any position, which already simplifies things. If you open JJ and get 3-bet, what you should do depends on what positions you and your opponent are in, and to some extent on how big the raise is.
Let’s say you’re playing 6-max NLHE cash, and you open 2.5x from under the gun with JJ. Then the player to your immediate left raises you 3x. Since you should have a strong opening range from UTG – pocket pairs, Broadway cards and suited aces, for an easy-to-remember example – you can put the 3-bettor on a very strong range. How strong? Maybe TT and better, AK and AQ, assorted suited aces, and a smattering of suited connectors. In this scenario, the math says you’re best off calling with your pocket Jacks.
But what if your opponent only raised you 2x? Now you can put more hands in her range, since she’s risking less: some medium pairs like Sevens through Nines, and some more suited Broadways and connectors. Now your Jacks look better against her range. Still, your opponent is probably strong here after raising you from the hijack. The math says you should still call.
The Hardest Button to Button
Things change once you open from later position. If you open pocket Jacks at 2.5x from the button and the big blind raises you 3x, now you can put your opponent on a much wider range: most pairs will be in there, along with almost all Broadway hands and suited connectors, and maybe even higher one-gappers like T8s. So you should 4-bet those Jacks, right?
Not so fast. You have position over the big blind when you go postflop, so in this case, the math is still in your favor to call. Tricky, isn’t it? It might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but the more you study and the more you practice, the more automatic – and profitable – these decisions will become.