Only the Top 1% Play Pocket Jacks Like This

Only the Top 1% Play Pocket Jacks Like This

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

People either love or hate being dealt pocket Jacks in no-limit Texas hold’em.

No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on, it’s undeniable that they can be quite tricky to play.

Still, they are a premium poker hand, and should be one of your biggest long term winners. 

If you get nervous when you get pocket Jacks, or even worse, you tend to avoid playing them, keep reading. 

Chances are you might be playing them wrong.

This article will show you how to play pocket Jacks the right way, or at least how to make your life easier playing them.

1. Play Pocket Jacks Aggressively Preflop

One of the crucial things to keep in mind when playing pocket Jacks is the fact that, while sometimes tricky to play, they are still a premium hand, and should be played as such. 

This means you should play it aggressively, especially preflop, since you’re likely way ahead of your opponent’s range. 

For example, pocket Jacks are a 77% favourite to win against another random starting hand in no-limit Texas hold’em. 

This is a statistically huge edge, and should be exploited while your hand is probably ahead. 

If you play pocket Jacks aggressively preflop, you’re automatically making your life less difficult post-flop. 

Since pocket Jacks can be tricky to play postflop, you want to make the situation easier for yourself by creating a shallow stack-to-pot ratio, (or SPR for short).

Put simply, an SPR is a preflop and flop metric that measures how committed you are to the pot. 

As the name suggests, it’s calculated by simply dividing the effective stack size (the smaller remaining stack of the players involved) with the size of the pot. 

For example, if the effective stack size is $100 and the pot size is $20, the SPR is 5. 

The smaller the SPR, the more pot-committed you are, and the more willing you should be to play for the rest of your stack. 

Conversely, the bigger the SPR, the less willing you should be to put more money into the pot.

As a rule of thumb, if the SPR is very small (3 or less), you are automatically committed to the pot with a top-pair hand. 

Since pocket Jacks will often be an overpair on a number of middling or low flop textures, you can be confident your hand is fairly ahead of your opponent’s range. 

If the SPR is small, you can comfortably put the rest of your money in the middle.

This is such a simple little rule of thumb and if I had to start poker all over again, I would want to know this!

Let's look at a quick example to help illustrate this concept better though.

Example Pocket Jacks Hand #1

Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt JJ in the SB.

A tight and aggressive regular open-raises to 3x from the CO.

A loose passive calls from the BU.

You: ???

You should 3-bet (re-raise) to 15x

This is a great spot for a squeeze play. A squeeze is a situation where you are 3-betting against a preflop open-raiser and one or more callers. 

Basically, you are trying to “squeeze out” the dead money. 

It’s also called a squeeze because both players will find themselves “squeezed” between other players if they decide to continue, which puts them in an awkward position. 

3-betting in this spot is far more preferable than flat calling. 

For one, calling leaves you vulnerable to getting squeezed from the big blind yourself. 

Also, playing from the small blind against multiple opponents without a range advantage is just about the worst situation to find yourself in poker, period.

It leads to all kinds of postflop mistakes as well as Nathan discussed in his latest video, the top 5 poker don'ts (avoid these terrible plays!)

Conversely, by 3-betting, you will be the one with the range advantage, meaning you are the one dictating the tempo. 

You will also be in position to make a continuation bet on the flop.
Opting for a bigger 3-bet size here has a couple of benefits. 

First of all, you are giving your opponents a worse price on a call. Since you will be playing the hand out of position, you don’t want to make things easy for your opponents. 

You need to let them know that if they want to play against you, it’s going to cost them.

Additionally, you’re creating a shallower SPR pot, which translates to easier decision making postflop. 

If you flop an overpair, you can quite comfortably put the rest of your stack into the pot. 

(An overpair is a pocket pair that is stronger than the top pair on the flop.)

For example, on a flop like: 

Pocket Kings and pocket Aces are an overpair.

If the SPR is a lot bigger, on the other hand, things get a lot more complicated, because you will likely need to play multiple streets with a lot of the unknown variables. 

The bigger the SPR, the more difficult it is to put the rest of your money in the middle. 

In such a situation, your pocket Jacks get a lot more vulnerable, because they can easily get outdrawn.

This is discussed in much more detail in The Micro Stakes Playbook.

2. Keep Applying The Pressure Postflop For Easy Money

Being a preflop aggressor with pocket Jacks translates to easier decisions postflop. 

If you build a shallow SPR pot, you’ll encounter less complicated spots on the flop, and the rest of the hand will basically play itself. 

Also, by betting or raising preflop, you’ll get to the flop with the range advantage.

(A range advantage means you are perceived to have more strong hands in your range than your opponent).

This means you can fire off a standard continuation bet (i.e. a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor) on most flop textures. 

Pocket Jacks will flop an overpair fairly often, so you can be confident your hand is ahead of your opponent’s range most of the time. 

But even if you don’t flop an overpair with your pocket Jacks, you can still fire off a standard c-bet and expect it to succeed more often than not. 

There’s a couple of reasons for this. 

First off, if you followed the previous tip about playing pocket Jacks aggressively preflop, you will have the aforementioned range advantage. 

This means you can credibly represent a number of strong hands when there is an Ace or a King on the flop, for example.

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A lot of players make the mistake of slowing down too much when they have some sort of a middle pocket pair and a stronger card comes on the flop. 

While it’s obviously better to have an overpair than a second or third pair, it doesn’t mean you should give the hand up altogether when you don’t have an overpair. 

That’s because your opponent is just as likely to miss the flop as you are. 

Most hands miss most flops, so you should assume you have a better hand than your opponent until they give you a reason to think otherwise. 

Example Pocket Jacks Hand #2

Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt J♠J on the Button.

You open-raise to 3x.

A tight and aggressive regular calls from the BB.

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: K♣7♠3

Villain checks

You: ???

You should c-bet 3.5 BB.

Even though you don’t have an overpair on this flop, a c-bet is still the best play.

In fact, it is a proven winning poker strategy to make a continuation bet here. 

The flop is about as dry as they get, meaning your opponent will have missed it far more often than not. 

You have the range advantage, and you’ll be able to take down the pot with a standard c-bet very often. 

Even if your opponent calls you, you can keep applying the pressure on later streets. 

That’s because you can assume your opponent will call you with some sort of mediocre Kx hands, like KJ, KT, K9, or some middling pair like pocket Nines or Eights. 

You can exclude stronger hands from his range because his range is capped.

(A capped range means there is an upper limit to the number of strong hands your opponent can have based on the actions taken in the hand, as opposed to an uncapped range which can contain very strong hands).

In this example, the villain didn’t 3-bet preflop, so you can exclude strong hands from his range, like pocket Aces, pocket Kings, Ace-King or King-Queen, for example. 

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3. Pocket Jacks Are Great For Stacking off Poker Fish

Pocket Jacks favour shallow SPR pots because they can often win the hand unimproved. 

Conversely, if you play pocket Jacks in deep SPR pots, the situation gets a lot more tricky, because they are vulnerable to getting outdrawn. 

Any Ace, King, or Queen that comes on the board can make you uncertain how to proceed in the hand. 

The best solution to that is trying to create spots where the decisions are more straightforward. 

With that in mind, pocket Jacks are great for attacking small to medium sized stacks (which happen to belong to recreational players most of the time). 

When I’m talking about these small to medium stacks, I’m talking about cash games in this instance. 

While you should be careful with playing pocket Jacks with deep effective stack sizes, you can usually put your money in preflop fairly comfortably against smaller stack sizes. 

A number of recreational players will gladly stack off with a bunch of random hands, including basically any suited Ace, small pocket pairs, random broadway hands etc.

In fact, Nathan literally wrote an entire book showing you how to stack these fish again and again.

Against these hands, pocket Jacks fare pretty favourably. 

Against a random hand, pocket Jacks have a huge 77% hand equity. 

In fact, they are even a favourite to win against Ace-King suited, with 54% hand equity. 

Example Pocket Jacks Hand #3

Effective stack size: 80 BB

You are dealt J♠J UTG.

You open-raise to 3x.

A loose and aggressive fish 3-bets to 9x on the BU.

You: ???

You should 4-bet to 20x

If the recreational player is very wild and out of control, an argument can be made that you can just flat-call instead of 4-betting (i.e. raising another player’s 3-bet), and then just call very wide on the flop and let them donate their stack to you with their ill-advised chip spewing attempt at bluffing.

But since you want to keep things simple when playing against recreational players, because they already make enough obvious beginner mistakes, it’s usually the best idea to put as much money in the middle as possible when you’re confident your hand is ahead. 

You don’t want them to be able to get away cheaply.

What’s more, considering the player type and the stack size, you can safely assume they’ll be willing to stack off with a fairly wide range. 

In this spot, pocket Jacks do pretty well overall, as they have showdown value in and of themselves, meaning they don’t need to improve to win the hand. 

Contrast this with a bunch of mediocre, drawing hands recreational players are likely to play, you can see that pocket Jacks are a clear favourite. 

How to Play Pocket Jacks (Final Thoughts)

Pocket Jacks can be tricky to play, but the same can be said for other starting poker hands as well.

With that said though, you don't need to spend hours and hours studying advanced poker strategy in order to play them well.

The biggest problem with Pocket Jacks is that you often don’t know where you stand in a hand (i.e. are you ahead or behind your opponent’s range). 

In other words, pocket Jacks can often find themselves in marginal situations, where it’s not quite clear what to do.

The best way to counteract that is to get back to the basics.

Pocket Jacks are still a premium hand, and should be played as such. 

This means you want to play pocket Jacks aggressively preflop, instead of trying to set mine with them, for example. 

This will make your life easier postflop, as you will:

1. See the flop with the range advantage, meaning you are perceived to have a stronger hand than your opponent,

2. Be able to fire off a flop c-bet to keep applying the pressure on your opponent, and even turn your hand into a bluff on consecutive streets (turn and river),

3. Create a shallow SPR pot, so your decisions will become simpler.

By playing aggressively preflop, you will also avoid huge multiway pots where more players will be able to outdraw you. 

The more players in the pot, the harder it is to win the hand. 

If you’re having trouble playing pocket Jacks, don’t overcomplicate it. 

In most cases, playing them straightforwardly is the way to go.

So put your money in, and let the math take care of the rest.

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Only the Top 1% Play Pocket Jacks Like This