How to play JJ?

by ~ January 23rd, 2010. Filed under: General poker strategy, Instructional posts.


There are three ways to play a pair of Jacks, and they’re all wrong.” Ever hear that one before?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

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  1. As with all hands the full plan of how to play it is, “it depends”
  2. Our 2 hole cards are 2 of the five cards when the flop comes out, or 40%. They also represent 2 of the total 7, or 28.7% of the total cards that will make up our hand when all the cards are dealt.
  3. JJ is not AA/KK/QQ or even AK.
    1. Still, it’s in the top five or six hands that you can be dealt in hold’em poker, or the top 3.0% (top 1.8% according to PokerStove, which rates JJ and TT ahead of AKs/AKo)
    2. JJ crushes TT/99/88/77/66/55/44/33/22 preflop.
    3. JJ is also a 85-15 favorite if your opponent holds any two unpaired cards lower than JJ like T9s/56o/82o, which is another 43.4% of all possible hands.

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If it’s such a good hand, why do people have so much trouble when they are dealt pocket Jacks?

First, point 1. above. Compare with AA, where the general plan is get it in preflop while you’re ahead, but, there are exceptions, like you’re shorthanded in a tournament in which case you might try to trap. Or 72o, where it’s an autofold, but, if you’re a big stack in a tournament and a very short stack shoves into you and his stack won’t hurt you much then it may be a pot odds call with any two cards. JJ is not at either extreme and is therefore more difficult to play.

Then point 3. If you’re playing a super turbo, or you’re playing cash games short stacked, or you’re in a tournament and have a short stack, then open shoving JJ preflop is a no-brainer. Once you’re all-in preflop you don’t have anything left to worry about. The difficulty comes in any other situation where you have more chips in your stack. You are putting the rest of your chips at risk when you raise, call, or re-raise preflop, which is when point 2. comes into play.

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Of course one of the big issues is that an overcard may come on the flop. If you’re all in preflop there’s not much worry about, but if you’re not, you’ve got decisions to make and unfortunately they may not be easy ones. There are four Aces, Kings, and Queens making a 12 out of (52 – 2) 50 chance that the first card will be an overcard, if not, a 12 out of (52 – 2 – 1) 49 chance the second card may be an overcard, and if not, then 12 out of (52 – 2 – 1 – 1) 48 chance that the third card will be an overcard. This totals to a 56.8% chance that either an Ace, King, or Queen will come on the flop. Less if you opponent holds one, but you don’t know that, and you don’t know which one.

If your opponent holds unpaired cards they will miss the flop 1/3 of the time. For example, if your opponent holds AQ/AJ/QJ, or 99/88/77 or 98s/87s or some other hand and the flop is K92 with no flush draw there’s no reason to be afraid of the King. On the other hand if your opponent holds a King, you’re in trouble, so either you are way ahead of lower pairs or unpaired lower cards, ahead but with a slight risk if they have other cards bigger than yours that may hit on the turn or river, or behind a King or a set with only two more Jacks as outs. This is one of the typical Way Ahead/Way Behind situations. Too many people don’t have a clue how to play wa/wb, and that’s a big source of the problem that they have playing JJ.

Everything else matters too. The number of players seeing the flop, your position, the aggression levels and looseness of your opponents, draws that the flop has, effective stack sizes, just to name a few. Again, too many people don’t know how to take all these elements into consideration properly which makes playing JJ on the flop difficult.

How would you play T9 if you raised preflop and the flop came K92? It’s not exactly the same because with JJ you don’t have a ten as a two pair out as you do with T9, plus you could be behind a bigger paired 9, but it’s a similar situation. Maybe go for a small pot, maybe allow your opponent to call a flop bet and bluff the river while planning to fold if bad cards come on the turn or river? But somehow JJ on a K92 flop feels like a much bigger hand than T9 on the same flop which helps to lead to problems playing it postflop.

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Preflop JJ is a stronger hand than T9, and I’m more likely to 3 bet with it than I am with T9, but it depends on the situation. And maybe that’s the key thing about playing JJ; it depends, and depends on a lot of factors, and until you get used to being able to playing WA/WB and “it depends” situations, JJ will continue to be difficult to play.

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