Sunday, January 1, 2006

Playing Pocket Jacks, becareful

Many Texas Hold 'em players hate getting dealt two jacks because they feel they're unlucky with them. Well, chances are it isn't that they're unlucky with these cards. They're simply overvaluing the hand and misplaying it.

In Hold 'em, the best hands you can get are A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and then J-J. However, there is a significant difference between the strength of the jacks and the queens.

With queens, there are only two overcards — cards higher than a queen — that could hit on the flop and make Q-Q vulnerable.

With J-J, there are three overcards that could flop, making the hand more difficult to play.

If an overcard doesn't flop, you still have a whole new set of potential worries, such as a coordinated board: 4-5-7, 3-4-5, 6-7-8. If an opponent is playing a little pair, slow-playing a bigger pair or is lucky enough to flop a straight, you're doomed.

The J-J is the one hand that seems too strong to fold yet not strong enough to hold if there is much action ahead of you. If you're playing a structured Limit Hold 'em game, the impact isn't as severe, but in No Limit Hold 'em, where your entire bankroll is in jeopardy, pocket jacks must be played carefully.

Know when to fold
In fact, in a No Limit game, it's easy to picture situations where you should fold them before the flop. Think about it for a second.

Let's say an early position player raises the blind, and then a tight competitor re-raises all-in right behind. As you look down at your pocket jacks — the fourth-best pair in the deck — you have to ask yourself, what in the world could they have?

They could have a hand such as A-K, in which case you'd be getting good odds on your money. More often than not, though, one of them will be holding a pair bigger than yours.

It's not a stretch to imagine that the first player might have a hand like A-Q, and the all-in raiser is sitting with a pair of kings in the hole. In this case, you'd be a 4-to-1 underdog to win the pot, and that's not a good thing.

You will face countless dilemmas when holding a pair of jacks, and it's the reason so many people despise the hand. Frankly, unless a jack hits the flop, you'll never feel too safe.

Now, that's not to say that you should automatically fold on the flop if you don't catch a third jack. Instead, try to protect your hand on the flop with a good-size bet. But if someone does call, you should be willing to abort the mission.

Flop makes it, breaks it
For example, if you bet and the flop comes A-9-4, make one stab at the flop, trying to gauge information about your opponent's hand. If he calls or raises in this spot, what do you think he might have? Chances are he's holding an ace, which only gives you a 7 percent chance of winning the pot.

However, if the flop comes 9-6-2, it's tough to fold your pocket jacks. The only playable hands that can beat you are 2-2, 6-6, 9-9, Q-Q, K-K, or A-A. In this scenario, bet your hand aggressively. But if your opponent raises, then you have a tougher decision to make.

The key here, as with most poker problems, is sizing up your opponent. If he holds aces, kings, or queens, would he have raised big before the flop? Is he the type of player who calls with small pairs before the flop? When he flops three of a kind, does he usually bet it aggressively or play it slow to suck more people in?

In the end, you'll have to make a judgment call. Playing pocket jacks makes for some of the toughest decisions you'll face in poker. But, hey, no one ever said this game would be easy.