how to play pocket jacks

Texas Hold em Starting Hands » Pocket Jacks

If you want a complete Texas Holdem strategy, you'll certainly want to know how to play pocket Jacks. These are also called pocket "hooks" because of how the J resembles a fish hook...but there's a deeper reason they're called pocket hooks, too. It's because they can hook you in--especially if you are a loose/aggressive player--and make you think you've got a more powerful hand than you do, and that, as you might imagine, can cost you big pot losses. You got to know how to play pocket Jacks the way Goldilocks likes her food and bed: just right.


Pocket Jacks are a strong made hand and a great thing to see, and of that there is no doubt. They're a great way to start your game and they are considered one of the 10 best starting poker hands. However, they are actually a middle hand. See, they and what they can be matched with beat a lot of hands, but they can be beat by a sizable number of hands, too. So, while your pocket Jacks are likely to give you the best hand at the table pre-flop, they might very well not be the overpair pre-flop. And, the flop can turn them into a beaten hand quickly.

Now, the real tricky problem here is that poker philosophy says "never bet the middle hand" because a middle hand will never get called by a lesser hand but always get called/raised by a stronger hand. Except, there are ways of betting pocket Jacks--and here you must have a thorough understanding of the situational dimension of Texas Holdem.

As a matter of fact, JJ is a small hand. It's considered a middle hand only because it's such a strong small hand. But even though there are ways of betting this hand, you must always bet it like it's what it is--small.


With JJ, everything depends upon the flop. It's that simple. As soon as you lift those corners and see those hooks, you must become obsessed with pre-flop betting and then seeing the flop. Here, the more knowledge you have about your opponents at the table, the better for you. That goes without saying, but that becomes even a little more intensely important when you are dealt this starting hand.

Now, small hand betting requires small pot strategies. You can start out betting three to four times the BB to get something going and maybe inducing a few folds. Pre-flop is the time to be aggressive unless and until the flop is with you. However, if you are in a later position with JJ and there have already been raises, just call. If you stay in after the flop, call or raise small unless you got an absolute monster hand from the board texture. The majority of the time with JJ you will either end up folding on the flop or you will be playing somewhat defensively to minimize your potential losses. Don't get "hooked".


Any hand's equity is its inherent value, and this of course is derived from how often, statistically, it wins. Of course, you can improve or diminish your odds of following the statistical mean depending on how advanced or lacking your poker strategies are, so a hand's equity doesn't tell the whole story. But it is part of the story and all good poker players are aware of these stats.

Here's where what happens on the flop determines your fate, and where your ability to understand odds and read other players determines your destiny.

Pocket Jacks have very high equity against most other hands. If you raise with JJ before the flop, you are probably heads-up. Only someone holding AA, pocket Kings, or QQ has you beat, and JJ's equity against these starting deals is only 18% (whereas, for instance, even against A-K suited your equity is 54%). In other words, if you knew for a fact that an opponent had one of those three starting hands, chances are you would fold to them, and you absolutely would unless the flop gave you a monster (and didn't give them anything).

Pay very close attention the pre-flop betting here, because AA, KK, and pocket Queens will virtually always call you (and possibly re-raise you) if you raised the bet with JJ, whereas most other players will fold. But, be suspicious of players who call you as perhaps having AK, AQ, or KQ--and watch that board like a hawk tracking a field mouse.

What you really, really want to see on the flop with JJ is a trip-up or a straight with J as the overcard.

Let's say you have pocket Jacks and the flop comes J-7-2 with 7-2 suited. Even if someone else holds an Ace, you're way up over them; in fact, at this stage pocket Aces has only 11% equity--your Jacks three of a kind has 73%. Now, remembering to control the pot size, go ahead and be aggressive here again. The AA/KK/QQ holder may still stay in hoping for a great Turn and make that pot more abundant for you, while you can whittle away at the rest of the field and prepare for a sweet win in a showdown.

On the other hand, what if the flop gives you 8-2 (suited) and a 6? Here, someone with A-K has just a meager 12% equity while you have a respectable 44%. But, 10-9 that matches the suit of the 8 on the board also now has 44% equity just like you. A-K/A-Q/K-Q might be able to be suckered in to fill the pot for you a little while longer, but now you have to pay very close attention to someone who suddenly starts raising or re-raising--they may have that small straight.

If an opponent gets an overcard on the flop so that they now have an overpair, and you don't trip up, they now rocket up to 74% equity and you sink down to a paltry 7%. If you have any suspicion whatsoever that his has just happened, fold immediately.

I hope this has been a telling overview for you on how to play pocket Jacks in Texas Holdem. I've assumed here that you are playing cash games, but if you're playing some S n Gs the strategy remains the same except you can afford to be a little looser because the quality of players is usually lower.

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