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Playing Pocket Jacks – The trickiest pocket pair of ‘em all!

Published January 20, 2009 - RSS/XML Feed RSS
by Sean “Icemonkey9†Gibson
Playing pocket pairs in no limit Texas Hold’em is usually done for one of two reasons – for set mining value (typically done with the low pocket pairs) or because you have a significant preflop advantage to win the hand (like with AA, KK, or even QQ). The problem comes with one hand that some people can’t get away from and others play too meekly (this is beginning to sound like my AK article!) – Pocket Jacks.
One of the problems with that hand is that there’s a good chance an overcard in an Ace, King, or Queen will flop. That’s scary. Another problem is playing JJ in early position … do you treat it as a big pocket pair or as a small pocket pair? Raise or limp!? The scenarios and recommended play varies even amongst the top pros. In this article I’ll show you examples of how I’ve played JJ at the microstakes online and you can use my plays to (ideally) alter your play to improve your JJ performance at the cash game tables.
The Big Squeeze with JJ in the SB
One way to play JJ in a raised pot is to just play it for overpair and setmining value. I don’t necessarily like this approach when you’ve got an opportunity to make a squeeze play. Take a look at this hand…
We have a guy “1omz†that posts out of turn and then a tight player (Beaver) makes a raise and a loose player makes a call. Our hero has JJ in the SB so he can either call for setmining against the two players or make a squeeze play by making a 3bet raise. Our hero does in fact make the squeeze play by making a raise to $22 (note that the recommended 3bet here should be about $25) and the rest fold, and our hero picks up a nice uncontested pot that he didn’t have to navigate a tricky flop to win.
You Make a Set – Fire Away!
According to the laws of mathematics you’ll flop a set 12.1% of the time, and in the event that you do it’s no time to slowplay it. Get value for those big hands.
Our hero makes the set but on the turn comes a bit of a scare card in a connecting 6 of clubs. Our hero continues to fire with his set and the villain continues to call. The river is actually a perfect value card in the K of clubs. No more straight possibilities were filled and on top of that it’s an overcard hitting something like AK or KQ which the villain very well may have. I like the $20 river bet and I am surprised that the villain didn’t call but our hero can rest assured he made the right play.
JJ on a board that has Three of a Kind + Three to a Flush
I wanted to try to find a hand where our hero would have an overpair but the board would look absolutely BLOODY. I found one such hand.
With position our hero is never folding to this 3bet from the 31/7/3 villain (those numbers are taken from Holdem Manager). The flop is pretty good for our hero as its 884 with two hearts for our overpair. At this point our hero is only losing to a hand with an 8 in it (unlikely given our villain 3bet) or QQ, KK, or AA which are all possibilities. The villain fires a horrible “not even half pot†cbet and our hero quickly raises to about the pot value (good for him!). The bad news is that our villain calls … which could mean QQ-AA or something like AK or AQ which would account for his play behavior. 
The turn card is about as bad as it could have gotten in the 6 of hearts, meaning that both a weird straight draw is filled (57) but more importantly the flush has filled. I like how our hero checks the turn, and that’s mainly what I wanted to show … don’t think you’re overpair is awesome at this point because it really is not.
Everyone checks the turn and yet another 8 has been brought on the board, meaning we’re no longer scared of the flush. The villain leads out with yet another weak bet of $11 and our hero is left to wonder to fold (really doubt that will happen, it’s a bad move), call (probably the best since there are a few possibilities of losing at this point to QQ, KK, or AA since we’ve not ruled those hands out), or jam it (meaning we shove because we have a boat). I don’t like the shove at the river because lesser hands like 99 or TT are really out of his range and he’s only calling with hands he has us beat with. The hero makes a mistake by not thinking that through and makes a somewhat spewy and bad raise which the villain snap-calls with QQ for the win.
Get Out When You Know You’re Beat!
Another problem with playing big pocket pairs (or JJ for that matter) is when you’re multiway with people that love to setmine that they’re going to hit. You really have to be able to laydown the overpair when you know you’re beat. Here’s an example of a time when it’s fairly obvious to know you’re beat.
This also shows why we should be squeezing as in the first example! Our hero flats in the big blind instead of making a big squeeze 3bet play here.   The flop is all rags but somewhat connected in 743 with two clubs. Our hero goes for a big check-raise since donk-betting (which is when you bet first into someone that you flat called preflop) is the wrong move by betting a little more than the pot at $19. Suddenly the player to his left SHOVES and the original preflop raiser and bettor at the flop calls. Is our JJ looking good at this point? Hell no. Time to fold. Amazingly the shover “collegetry†had a pair of 3s (I guess an attempt at a bluff) but the other guy “pokerfu†hit his set and takes home an amazing pot for 50nl. I imagine that if our hero had squeezed in this situation that collegetry might have called (probably folded) and certainly the tight player “pokerfu†would have folded because we negated his setmining odds.
Things to remember:
-          If you have a chance to squeeze with JJ in the blinds it’s probably best to do so.
-          Remember to keep your villain’s range in hand and never forget the possibility of them holding a better pocket pair.
-          Remember to keep in mind with preflop play that your overpair might be busted by a set or two pair.

Read Related Playing Specific Hands Articles:

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Playing Low Pocket Pairs in Full Ring and 6 Max

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Additional Theory: Playing Low and Mid Pocket Pairs

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Fundamental Play with Ace-King

Learn the fundamentals of playing ace-king

Trouble Hands

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