Because they’re such a tricky part of playing online poker, let’s take a closer look at those pesky pocket Jacks and see what the best poker strategies are for using them profitably in No-Limit Hold ‘em.
My goodness, those pocket Jacks are difficult, aren’t they? So difficult that we accidentally said there are 10 smaller pairs in no-limit hold ‘em. There are nine, of course. Kudos if you spotted that error. Don’t worry, though; all the other math holds up as far as the preflop scenarios we discussed. Now let’s dig a little deeper into how to use these two knaves as part of an effective NLHE poker strategy.
First, let’s review the concept behind the “math” were we talking about. Earlier in this series, we took a quick look at applying game theory to poker at its most basic level. By considering the size of the blinds and the bets being placed, you can use math to come up with a poker strategy that, in theory, will do no worse than break-even over the long haul. Then you can relax, do your thing, and wait for your opponents to mess up.
In theory. Or you can try to exploit them by adjusting your strategy to take advantage of their mistakes. Let’s go back to our example where we’re playing a 6-max NLHE cash game with full 100bb stacks, we open our Jacks to 2.5x from the button, and our opponent raises us 3x from the big blind. Using our initial GTO strategy, we assume our opponent is also playing close to optimally, and we put her on a range of most pairs, Broadway hands, suited aces and connectors, and a few one-gappers. This is a good spot to call with JJ and take advantage of both our position and the strength of our cards.
Ah, but what if we know we’re dealing with a very tight opponent here? You’ve played against this person for a while, she’s only getting involved in a few hands, and rarely 3-betting. In this case, maybe her range is more like Aces, Kings, Queens, and Ace-King. That’s not so good for our Bowers. We’ll get into the concept of equity at a later point, but for now, just know that the math says her possible hand is worth nearly twice as much as ours preflop. Uh-oh.
Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey
Don’t fold those Jacks just yet. In this scenario, we’re very close to having the right odds to call anyway. Let’s simplify things a bit by saying this is a 100NL cash game – blinds are 50 cents and a dollar. We opened to $2.50, and our opponent raised to $7.50 (including her $1 blind). Add the 50 cents for the small blind, and there’s a total pot of $10.50 on the table. We only need to call $5 more. That’s a bit less than half; we’re risking $5 to win $10.50. So it might still be okay for us to call. She’s got Ace-King 16 times, and a bigger pocket pair 18 times. We’ve got position. Life could be worse.
But what if our opponent is even tighter? Maybe she only raises Queens or better. Okay, now we can fold those Jacks. Simple enough; her hand is more than four times as strong as ours preflop. No point in sticking to a blind GTO strategy here if we know she’s that likely to flatten us. On the flip side, if we have a different opponent who’s playing like a maniac and raising just about any two cards in this spot – maybe he’s been drinking too much tonight – we can think about 4-betting those Jacks. Our inebriated friend might 5-bet shove his possible trash, and we can snap-call with a very good chance of winning a massive pot at showdown.
This might seem a bit overwhelming if you’re new to no-limit hold ‘em. Or it might seem incredibly oversimplified if you’ve been playing for a while. Wherever you are on the spectrum, just remember that pocket Jacks, like any other two cards, are valuable when used in moderation. Learn which spots are good and which spots are bad, keep practicing, and may the rectangles be with you.