In the third and last part of our series on playing pocket Jacks preflop in no-limit hold ‘em, we consider a sound poker strategy for what to do when you’re not the first person to throw chips.
First, we dispelled the myth that getting dealt pocket Jacks in no-limit hold ‘em is something to be feared. Then we looked at some ideas for how to deal with getting raised after you open those Jacks. Now we’re going to wrap things up by considering what to do with JJ after someone else has opened. This is still a very strong hand, but as always in NLHE, whether to raise, call or fold depends on a number of things. Let’s deal with the most obvious: position.
Location, Location, Location
To simplify things, we’re back to our hypothetical 6-max 100NL cash game: Blinds are 50 cents and $1. The earlier the position your opponent is in when he opens, the stronger range of hands he should have. If you have pocket Jacks in the big blind, you’d much rather be dealing with a small blind open than a UTG (aka lojack) open.
Your position at the table matters, too. Let’s say UTG opens to $2.25, and instead of the big blind, you’re in the MP seat (aka hijack) with pocket Jacks. There are still four players left to act; if you call that UTG open, someone might go for a squeeze play and raise it up. And if the squeezer happens to have position on you, you’re in a particularly tricky spot.
So what if you 3-bet that lojack open to $8.25 instead – a healthy pot-sized raise? Well, in theory, someone could cold 4-bet you. That’ll happen a lot less often than getting squeezed, but at the same time, now you’ve risked $6 more than you would have by calling instead of raising. Also, you’re more likely to fold JJ now (although you could 5-bet jam), whereas before you might have wanted to call that squeeze and see a flop.
In Poker, Freedom Looks Like Too Many Choices
That’s already a lot of options to absorb – which is the real reason why they say there’s “no correct way” to play pocket Jacks. We’re talking about a relatively specific spot, too, with a lojack open and you in the hijack. Even if you do the math perfectly and come up with a game-theory optimal range for defending with JJ, there are 14 other ways this scenario could happen in 6-max: hijack and cutoff, cutoff and button, et al. And that’s if a third person doesn’t get involved.
The top professionals know all of these ranges cold. Well, most of them know most of the ranges. There are some good “feel” players out there who haven’t done the math, but they’ve played a zillion hands and have arrived at something close to a GTO poker strategy through trial and error. So what should the rest of us do? Should we start hitting the books and the software and memorize all these ranges, or should we get in there and play?
Learn While You Earn – and Before, and After
Both, of course. The trick to getting from here to there as efficiently as possible is to mix study and play, and to start from wherever you’re at right now in your development – don’t bite off more poker than you can chew. Beginners should start with knowing that you can open JJ from any position in 6-max, or 10-max for that matter. Cash or tournaments, they’re good to go. Then play some poker, at a level that fits your skills and your bankroll. Freerolls and play money are wonderful things.
Then figure out when to open-raise, open-call or open-fold those Jacks. Start with the most common situation: opening from the button. Learn what to do when the big blind raises you, then the small blind. Play some more poker. Learn some more positions, play some more poker. Get all those ranges programmed into that melon of yours. Now you can tackle raising and calling with JJ. And don’t forget about exploitative adjustments. Little by little, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Or you could just show up to the game with a case of beer and a few stogies and let people take your money. Your choice.