Recently I've been getting questions about how to play pocket Jacks. It seems readers find this hand to be costing them some money. It is no surprise that I get questions about pocket jacks a lot, as this is perhaps one of the trickiest hands to play. It has some good overall value and strength but can trap players into calling when it's obvious they are beat.
The times when you will lose the most money will be in 3 bet pots. Novice players will have a very hard time folding Jacks pre flop when the action gets going. They only see two beautiful Jacks staring at them, not realizing how the action is taking place and using that information to make an informed decision. I will admit that I personally find Jacks to be hard to play at times. It has taken countless hands to learn the correct way to play them and to recognize when I am beat. Making a fold with Jacks is often better than winning a small pot with them. Saving your stack when you're pretty sure your opponent has Aces will save you a ton in the long run.
A common scenario with Jacks follows… To start, you raise pre flop and get a call. The Ace comes down and you're left wondering what to do. It's always best to fire a continuation bet in this spot as long you are heads up. Just because the Ace comes doesn't mean your opponent has it. You need to find out now if they do or not. If you are met with resistance, you may want to slow down some and see what happens on the turn by checking. With Jacks, we are either winning a small pot or losing a small pot in spots like this. It will be very tough to get value if we are good, since the Ace will scare our opponents if they don't have it. The key is not getting attached to your Jacks. Use pot control to limit the size of the pot. This will allow you to see a showdown for a cheaper price and limit your losses when you are beat.
Another tricky spot is pre flop. As I mentioned earlier, players will lose most of their money with Jacks in 3 bet pots. When they do get 3 bet they just jam it in and hope they are good. Let's first examine a normal 3 bet range from most players at lower limits. Of course we have Aces, Kings and Queens. Add in AK, Jacks and possibly hands like AQ and this will constitute a typical 3 bet range. Now let's look at our hand, pocket Jacks. If we compare Jacks to the 3 bet range I have just outlined we can plainly see that Jacks only beat a small percentage of them. When you are ahead, it is only by a few percent, basically a coin flip. Against every other hand the person holding pocket jacks is a huge underdog.
Lets now examine when to fold Jacks and how to use the information we have to make the best decision. This is a hand played by myself that demonstrates when to fold pocket Jacks. The hand was played at 25nl and clearly shows that Jacks are no good here and our hand may as well be 72 given the situation.
I am dealt Jacks on the button and face a raise from the cutoff. We are shorthanded, and Jacks have slightly more value when facing fewer players. I decide to 3 bet here as I had a read that the original raiser likes to flat 3 bets light.
The action that takes place will be what determines how I should play my hand here. I got 4 bet from the blinds and the original raiser folded. This bet shows extreme strength and should be interpreted as such. When a player 4 bets from the blinds it's always the goods. The best and easiest decision is to fold. This is where novices will just jam it in and get shown Aces or Kings almost every time. I played it safe, folded, and didn’t waste chips when I was beat.
When playing pocket Jacks you should be weighing the information that is laid out on the table. Don't simply look at your hand say "I have Jacks, how can I fold?!". Determine what your opponents may have based on how the action took place and make an informed decision. Folding Jacks is not the end of the world; you will get them again. Treat Jacks as you would mid pocket pairs and lower the value you place on them. By doing this you will be less tempted to get the money in when you're beat.