How to Play Pocket Jacks - This Might Shock You

How to Play Pocket Jacks
People often ask me how to play pocket jacks. And believe me I get it, pocket jacks is a tricky hand to play. In fact many people absolutely hate this hand!

However, it is also important to remember that pocket jacks is one of the absolute strongest hands you can be dealt in No Limit Hold'em, and therefore, it will also be one of your most profitable hands.

But it is important to know when to bet and raise strongly with your pocket jacks and when you need to lay it down.

In this article I am going to show you step by step how to start playing your pocket jacks much more profitably at the poker tables.


1. Always Raise or Re-Raise Preflop With Pocket Jacks


First things first, you should almost always be raising or re-raising with your pocket jacks before the flop in No Limit Hold'em.

The reason why is because like I just mentioned, pocket jacks is one of the absolute strongest hands in the game, and therefore you want to get lots of money in the pot while you hold a strong advantage.

My general rule of thumb for raising pocket jacks is to make it 3 times the big blind if I am the first person to enter the pot. This is a standard raise size in most no limit cash games.


For Example:

You have JJ in a $1/$2 cash game and it folds to you on the button.

You should raise it to $6


Now there are going to be some cases though where somebody has already raised before you enter the pot (or somebody has limped).

In the case of limpers my general rule is just to make it 3x plus one additional big blind per limper.


For Example:

You have JJ on the button in a $1/$2 cash game and two players have already limped in.

You should raise it to $10


What about if somebody else has already raised it before you get to act though? My general rule of thumb for situations like this is to make it:

  • 3x the original raise if I am in position versus the preflop raiser
  • 4x the original raise if I am out of position versus the preflop raiser


In Position Example:

You have JJ on the button in a $1/$2 cash game and somebody in middle position has raised it to $6.

You should re-raise (3Bet) to $18


Out of Position Example:

You have JJ in the big blind in a $1/$2 cash game and somebody in middle position has raised it to $6.

You should re-raise (3Bet) to $24


If you want to know more about all my bet sizing recommendations for the micro stakes, I cover all of this in much more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.

Now there is one very important caveat to this strategy for playing your pocket jacks preflop though. And this is when you are up against an extremely tight player who has raised from early position (also sometimes called "under the gun").

In this case I will sometimes just flat call with my pocket jacks, especially when I am in position, because this player's range is likely to be extremely narrow.

Remember that in general people are going to have the tightest range in early position. And of course we are already talking about an extremely tight player!


So in this situation he may only be raising with a range of hands as narrow as:

  • AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT and AK


And as you can see below our pocket jacks are actually a statistical underdog to this range:

How to Play Pocket Jacks

So the last thing I want to do is get in a raise and re-raise war with this type of player in this situation. I would rather flat call instead (especially when in position) and just outplay him after the flop instead.


2. How to Play Pocket Jacks on a Low Card Flop


So let's talk about how to play pocket jacks after the flop now. And the key thing here is that the flop texture will play a hugely important role in our strategy.

Let's talk about low card boards first where we have an overpair, such as:

259

33T

On low card flops like this my general strategy is going to be to play my pocket jacks strongly by betting big and frequently.

I want to get the maximum value from all 2nd best hands in a situation like this such as top pair, middle pair, bottom pair or a draw.

And it is extremely important for your poker winrate that you don't miss getting in all value bets in a spot like this!

So I will usually be looking to get three streets of value here. And what I mean by that is I will be looking to bet the flop, turn and river.




The only time I may slow down and alter my strategy is if the board runout is extremely bad. For example the turn comes with a King and the river comes with an Ace.

Or, I will slow down (and perhaps even fold) if I get some serious pushback especially in the form of a raise on the turn or the river from my opponent.

As I have discussed before, most players at the micros are very passive and so when they put in a raise on what I call the "big money" streets (turn and river), usually it is because they have something pretty good.

And what I mean by that is something stronger than a one pair hand. So it is important that you are able to spot these situations and know when to fold an overpair like pocket jacks.

However, the bottom line is that pocket jacks is an extremely strong hand and most of the time when you catch a low card flop like this, you will have the best hand.

So don't be shy about betting and don't bother slowplaying at the lower limits either. Because another classic hallmark of micro stakes players is that many of them just love to call.


3. How to Play Pocket Jacks on an Ace, King or Queen Flop


Alright so now that we know how to play pocket jacks on a low card board let's talk about the dreaded high card flop where it comes with an ace, king, queen or a combination of them.


For Example:

A72

K66

Q83

Now it is important to note that statistically this is going to happen quite a bit when you have pocket jacks. In fact, there will be an overcard on the flop 57% of the time when you have pocket jacks.

So it is important to know how to play your pocket jacks right in this situation.

And the key thing here is that you need to exercise some caution. You are probably only going to be able to get two streets of value at the most on one of these boards from any competent player.


So on these high card flops I will often look to take a line such as:

  • Bet the flop, check the turn, bet the river
  • Check the flop, bet the turn, bet the river


When you take one of these lines you create something that I call "deception value" which I explain in much greater detail in The Microstakes Playbook.

But basically what I mean by this is that by exercising some pot control by checking either the flop or turn, you under-rep the strength of your hand in order to get some curious calls from worse hands such as middle or bottom pair.




Now once again you do need to know when to slow down though and possibly even fold your pocket jacks. This will be specifically when you get raised on either the turn or the river.

Because like I said before, most micro stakes players are not going to be messing around when they raise you on one of these two streets.

But at the same time you always want to try and get the maximum value with your pocket jacks and therefore you still want to get those value bets in whenever you can.


4. How to Play Pocket Jacks in Multi-Way Pots


Lastly, let's talk about how to play your pocket jacks in big multi-way pots with 3 or more players going to the flop. If you play low stakes poker, you have undoubtedly encountered this situation many times.

And that is because these games often have lots of loose recreational players in them and therefore it is very common to get multiple callers preflop.

I use a lot of different poker software by the way so that I always know who the recreational players at the table are. For all the poker software I use, here is my complete list.

So, similar to the situation with high card flops, you do need to exercise some caution in big multi-way pots with your pocket jacks. And yes, even on good low card flops like we talked about before.

And the reason why is because it is just statistically a lot more likely that somebody flopped something good like two pair, a set or a big draw when there are so many players involved.

It is important that you get the maximum value with your pocket jacks by value betting but you also have to respect when somebody starts giving you some serious pushback by raising.

And quite frankly when I have pocket jacks in a multi-way pot and I catch a bad high card flop I will often not even bother CBetting and just mostly look to get to a cheap showdown. This is especially the case when I am out of position.


For Example:

You have JJ in early position, raise it up, and get 1 caller in middle position and 1 call on the button.

The flop comes A84

In a situation like this where I am out of position to both of the other players in the hand I will usually just check and maybe make a small bet on the turn or river.

For the most part I am just going to play these kinds of situations very cautiously and look to get to a cheap showdown.

But I also won't just auto-fold when somebody takes a stab at the pot. The reason why is because I know that when I take a very passive line like this with my pocket jacks that it is going to invite some bluffs.


Final Thoughts


Learning how to play pocket jacks more effectively is extremely important for your success at the low limit poker tables in particular.

And the reason why is that pocket jacks is one of the absolute most powerful hands in the game and therefore it will also be one of your biggest long term winning hands.

It is important not to fear pocket jacks. Yes it is true that you will lose the pot a fair amount of the time when you get dealt this hand.

This is especially the case when you catch a bad high card flop or you are in a large multi-way pot. It is important to limit your losses in these situations.

But at the same time you also need to know when to step on the gas pedal especially on favorable low card flops and get the maximum value out of the calling stations who just can't fold their middle pair or draw.

If you want to know how I became a poker pro traveling the world, and how you can do it too, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.


Let me know in the comments below how you play your pocket jacks. Does this hand give you trouble?

How to Play Pocket Jacks

17 comments:

  1. JJ and QQ are pretty similar hands, except that you can throw in a few more 3-bets and 4-bets with QQ. Other than the situations mentioned I will also not auto stack off JJ, if a nitty player put in a 3-bet and continue to barrel off after the flop on a low board like T, 8, 5, 5, 2. I have seen their aces or kings at showdown often enough, that I dont need to pay an entire stack just to see, that yeah he has it again. Typically the turn will be the street, where I say, “ok pal, this is your pot”, if he fire another big bet.

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    1. Good points Lars. I think JJ is definitely a more tricky hand to play because you can't always play for stacks preflop and it's more difficult to know where you are at sometimes after the flop.

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    2. Actually JJ and QQ are a lot different. they both got crush by KK/AA, but JJ has way many 2 overcards combo compared to QQ. there are 48 combos of AK/AQ/KQ of 2 overs for JJ, but only 16 combos of AK for QQ

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    3. True but even QQ will face overcards on the flop nearly half the time. If a fish called you with K8, and flop comes K52 rainbow, QQ and JJ are in equally bad shape.

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  2. I lose a $1K pot with JJ, when a case J lands on the river to give one villain a straight. I swore off JJ, because that pot really hurt. So this article is very appropriately and eerily well timed...thanks.

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    1. Glad this article helped TKo. Those rivers can be brutal sometimes!

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  3. That .35 bet on the flop was actually a value bet designed to keep hero in, maybe get a little more money out of him. A check would lose him the .35 unless hero bet. His thinking might have been that if he had bet more, hero would have folded. But once hero committed to the 35, villain felt free to suck even more money into the pot by reraising. This would indicate that villain had either a Q or an overpair to the board and, given that he's a fish, would probably not make an assumption that hero might have him beat with KK, AA or even AQ. Fish don't consider themselves to be beat once they have top pair, which is one of the things that makes them fish. In this case, however, that .35 wasn't a bad move. .35 is better than nothing: even if the bet is foolish compared to pot size, it's still 7 times the BB.

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  4. I've heard Norman Chad say more than once that "Pocket jacks are unplayable", just because of the risk of being outflopped. But usually the problem is that the player with JJ has been passive preflop. So I really like your advice of preflop aggression. If you are consistent with that strategy on other holdings it will serve you well by and large.

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    1. Thanks Morgan, glad this article helped!

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  5. dont feel obliged to clickbait"might shock you" nathan..its ok the normal way

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    1. Hi Dexta,

      Here's my take on so called "clickbait."

      As a content creator, I am competing with many other content creators to get people to read my poker articles or watch my poker videos on YouTube.

      People can keep complaining about so called "clickbait" all they want. But the reason why content creators keep doing it is very simple.

      It works.

      When people stop clicking on "clickbait", then content creators will stop doing it.

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    2. I suppose it does work, Nathan. But speaking for myself and (I suppose) others who regularly follow your content, I'd read your columns if you said "No Doubt You'll Be Bored But Read Anyway!"

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    3. Haha thanks for the support Morgan!

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  6. Now you say raise to 6 in a 1-2 game but in most if not all of the games I play here in Vegas that invites a minimum of 3-4 callers. Would it not be better to forget the 3x or 4x and raise it to what in the particular game I'm playing in will narrow the field to just a caller or two?

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    1. My thoughts exactly "Don't Tap". I think the 3x bet is probably a general rule or guideline. Many tables i've dealt with would require a 4x or 5x to narrow the field to 3 or 2. However, in other tables you may not get any callets if over a 3x bet. I also feel that when i go 5x or larger opponents read my hand as j's, 10's or 9's and will come in with two over cards. If the flop pairs one of their over cards they Know they have me. With a 3 or 4x bet at times I can represent a big pair post flop.

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    2. I think Nathan says 3x if its online.If its live,adjust.

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  7. One little nit picky point (sorry!). "In fact, there will be an overcard on the flop 57% of the time when you have pocket jacks." while technically correct, this is a little misleading since this includes flopping bottom/middle set and quads with A, K or Q kicker. Flops with overcard that you don't hit is more like 52%

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