Playing one of poker's toughest hands, pocket jacks.

pocket jacks tough handThis week we had a pretty general question emailed to us by Deliah Q., who was looking for answers on how to play JJ in any position.

Well, Deliah, JJ is together with TT one of the hardest hands to play in Texas Hold’em. QQ is a bit easier to play, but TT and JJ are really tough hands to play, so we will go over a few general points which you can take into account when you play next and are dealt JJ.

First of all, JJ is a nasty hand if you get it in early position. If you get it shortly after the Big Blind you have to open the pot with it and depending on your table there are a few things you can do. First of all there is the raise. You can open the pot for 2.5 times the Big Blind (important note: never vary your raise, so if you raise 3x the Big Blind with AA you should also do it with JJ). Let’s say you raise it 2.5 times (which in most circumstances is the correct amount). Players in later position will perceive this as a very strong hand, so you should not really be worried about people calling you with 6-7 or 4-4. If one or two people call you there is a good chance they have hands like AT or KQ. The play with AT and KQ would in itself be a pretty bad choice by them, but unfortunately we do not have control over the other players. So now the flop comes down and you will probably be the first to act. Unless the flop is AJJ there is no reason to check. You should in 99% of the cases fire a decent size continuation bet. Make it roughly 40-45% of the pot. This will in most cases get the drawing hands off the hand and it will tell you where you are in the hand. Do not fold too easily to a re-raise, as other players KNOW you will c-bet in 99% of the flops. Be willing to defend your hand, but if the board is very "wet", meaning there are dangerous cards and many draws, you can easily fold.

Now we try the same hand of JJ in late position. Often you will find that all players in front of you have folded and you only have the button and the blinds to go through to win the pot. Again you should make your bet 2.5 or even 2.25 the big blind and see where you stand. Let’s say the Small Blind calls. This means that now SB will need to make the first move. Often they will check back to you, so that you can fire the continuation bet. Be aware that the check can be a trick play, as they know you will fire a c-bet in most cases, so have a good look at the board and see how that could have hit them. If you fire a c-bet here, again make it roughly the same amount as in other situations, so you go for around 40-45% of the pot. If there are only baby cards on the flop, you can check back and see a turn card in the hope that if they have a hand like A6 and they got the 6 on the flop they will make a small feeler bet on the turn. Personally, I do not care too much for giving free cards, so I always prefer the bet on the flop.

If you are playing on a very active table you might muck a hand like JJ very quickly in first or second position after the big blind. You do not want to play a hand like JJ out of position against aggressive players as it will cost you dearly in the long run. The same goes of course the other way around, because at a passive table you will want to win chips with a hand like JJ even if you will only steal the blinds.

Getting it in good with JJ is a very hard thing to do. You will be playing against a hand like AK or AQ a lot of times and if you are unlucky enough even against hands like QQ or KK. I have noticed personally that 75% of the recreational players find it hard to lay down any pair or AK and that is a spot you can extract value from. Make sure you pay attention to your opponents so that you know what hands they like to play. I have seen very regular poker players in big buy in tournaments go all in for 25Big Blinds with 44 in early position, because they can not fold a low pair and they want to win the pot with it straight away. These are the times when JJ can pay off very well, but in general it’s a hand that you should have no problem mucking if the conditions aren’t right.

Well, Deliah, that is it for this week and I hope you will feel a bit more comfortable playing one of the hardest hands to play in Texas Hold’em.

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