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How to Play Pocket Jacks in No-Limit Texas Hold'em

Pocket Jacks, or Fish Hooks (nickname derived from the shape of the letter "J"), is fifth most powerful starting hand in No-Limit Hold'em. It also has the reputation of being one of the toughest hand to play. The strategy described below applies to live cash games.

Pocket Jacks
Jack of ClubsJack of Diamonds

Preflop Play

The way you play JJ preflop depends on the position you are in. Often, you will be in there raising with your pair of jacks. Ideally, you want to go to the flop facing only one or two opponents.

Early Position

When no one has raised before you, you should make a strong opening raise of about 4 BB to 5 BB. The amount also depends on how loose or tight the game is. If the game is very loose, you may even have to raise to 6 BB or more. Your objective is to narrow the field down to 1 or 2 opponents.

If the pot has been raised, reraise by the amount that is in the pot. Example, if there is an opening raise of 4 BB and two callers, including the blinds, there is a total of 15 BB. You should make it 15 BB to play.

Middle Position

Again, when no one has raised in front of you, you should raise to about 4 BB to discourage weak holdings from calling. Reraise by the amount that is in the pot if the pot has been raised.

Late Position

If the pot is unraised, with only a few more players and the blinds left, you can reduce the size of your opening raise to 3 BB. Again, limit the field with a pot sized reraise if there is a raised pot. Ideally, you want to go to the flop against a single opponent.

Playing the Flop

With a pair of jacks in hand, you normally enter the flop strong. However, as with all pocket pairs, the chance of improving your hand on the flop is slim. The odds of making a set is only 7.5 to 1.

Flopping Aces, Kings or Queens

This is a flop you don't want to see when holding JJ. When it happens, fire off a continuation bet and hope the other guy fold. If you face any resistance, it's time to fold.

Flopping Undercards

A very common flop and a pretty good one when you are holding pocket jacks. With an overpair, you are likely to be holding the best hand. As usual, bet strong here to make drawing hands pay to play.

Flopping a Set

A huge flop for anyone holding pocket jacks. The potential payoff is huge. While you still need to protect your hand from drawing hands by betting out, the good news is that even if your opponent manages to make that straight or flush, there is a good chance you can beat him with a full house by the river.

Playing The Turn and the River

As you have only 2 outs when playing JJ, most of the time, you should be folding when there is a reraise on the turn or river.

Your opponent will reraise you when he hit his draw or he has been slow-playing his set, or if he is bluffing. However, its usually wiser to lose a small pot to the occasional bluff than to lose many big pots where you have been beaten.

Even if you hit your third jack here, you must be careful that the jack did not make someone else's straight or flush.

Why Pocket Jacks is a difficult hand to play well

Many reasons add up to make pocket jacks such a troublesome hand to play. Firstly, when you are dealt jacks, you feel good since they are face cards just like queens and kings, so psychologically, you are thinking you are more or less going to win some money with them. This sense of entitlement makes folding more difficult when you are beat.

Secondly, because standard Hold'em strategy is to raise or reraise with jacks, so very often, you head to the flop with opponents who play with stronger starting hands like QQ, KK, AQ or KQ, since these are usually the hands that call a preflop reraise.

So with pocket jacks, you usually win many small pots but when it comes to bigger pots, you usually lose one for every pot you win.

Online Games vs Live Games

Pocket jacks is more playable in live games than in online games. This is because live games are slower and does not allow you to play in multiple tables at once. So the games are usually looser, allowing JJ to take down more pots.

Online games are usually tighter. People can afford to wait for better hands, especially when they are multi-tabling. So that increases the chance that your opponent makes a pair of queens or better.

Hence, my strategy is to play JJ like a premium hand in live games but play it like a middle pair when I play online.

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