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How to Play Pocket Jacks

Jacks are a notoriously difficult hand to play well. As the lowest of all face cards, they lose to many common hands that we find in most ranges, yet they still have lots of potential. Unfortunately, that potential to win too often also manifests as the potential to lose big.

Here’s how to get the most out of your pocket jacks.

Photo: OddsShark

The Biggest Middle Pair

The first step to mastering jacks is changing your mindset. Instead of viewing them as a big pair since they have paint on them, look at them as just another middle pair—albeit the best one. The takeaway here is that they’re a lot closer to tens than they are to queens.

This shift plays out when we consider one of the biggest decisions you need to make with your pocket jacks: whether or not to call a big bet. Especially in multiway pots where people are raising and re-raising, jacks are just another crappy pair that needs to be folded.

Always ask yourself what the best hand you can beat it. Is it tens? How likely are they to have something better or worse? Jacks are a good hand, but they’re definitely not a monster—until you flop a set that is!

Stealing with Jacks

Jacks do have enough strength to make some fun pre-flop plays. If you’re on the button or the cutoff and it folds around to you, then it’s definitely worth making an open raise to try and steal the blinds. You’ll often be met with folds, but when someone does call, then you still have plenty of equity and you beat many hands that people would defend with.

The same is true for 3-betting. While you might want to steer clear of 3-betting the nit who raised UTG (they have a really strong hand!!), there are plenty of opportunities for squeeze plays and other big bets where you can force people in tough spots. When we combine the fold equity with the chances that our hand is the best, it’s a winning spot.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Don’t get too attached to your jacks. Know when you’re beat and get out before you donate your entire stack. It may sound obvious, and it can hurt throwing away a good hand, but when the board brings queens, kings, and aces, then it’s not hard to be up against a bigger pair.

Unless you have a good reason to think otherwise, facing aggression on these boards often means it’s time to throw the jacks in the muck. The same is true of wet boards with lots of straights and/or flushes. If even a pair of aces couldn’t beat it, then your pair of jacks doesn’t have a chance.


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