First, an interesting fact that inevitably results from this question is the (too) high number of players who opt for the latter answer – that when we’re dealt a pair of Jacks we hear alarm bells rather than feel lucky. Of course, we should always be alert to the possibility of negative outcomes and the potential for good situations to go downhill, but if we find ourselves almost moaning at the appearance of Jacks – one of the top starting hands – we’re going about online poker in the wrong way!
Pocket Jacks does have a reputation as the most ‘difficult’ starting hand, but this is because it’s strong enough to always be at least a realistic contender to shove with pre-flop (in particular), while at the same time being vulnerable should this happen.
Whereas we always want to get Aces all-in pre-flop, almost always with Kings and much of the time with Queens, what to do with Jacks is one of online poker’s many conundrums…
As is so often the case, each situation is different from the next, and we need to weigh up various factors in coming to a decision. Of course, we tend not to be armed with as much information as we’d like, so judgement calls are inevitable, but with experience this gets easier, and there are a few key considerations that are useful to keep in mind.
One such is stack size – and not just our own. The bigger the stacks, the more chips the opposition is willing to invest, the less inclined we should be to shove all-in. As this decreases, so does the possibility that we have the best hand, because people are going to have a wider all-in range the fewer chips they have.
Position (surprise, surprise…) is also an important issue here, specifically when it determines, via the order of play, how many players we might be up against. For instance, if we’re dealt JJ in the Cut-Off, it’s folded round to us, we raise, The Button puts in a reraise and the remaining players fold, we can shove with a stack of 30 or so big blinds. If we find ourselves up against the Button’s KK, for example, then so be it.
On the other hand, let’s say we have a bigger stack in the Small Blind, it’s folded round to a mid-position raiser, and the Button puts in a hefty reraise; both players have us covered. This situation is quite different, and one that requires a pragmatic decision. Hopefully, your first reaction here should be that Jacks look vulnerable. This time there has been an initial show of aggression followed by a reraise, with both players seemingly willing to put their sizeable stacks on the line – and there’s even the Big Blind still to play. Compared with the first example, there are too many potential banana skins, and this is one of those times when discretion is the best part of valour.
There’s nothing wrong with folding JJ (or any strong hand!) when circumstances suggest. Generally, however, playing pocket Jacks should be done with a positive attitude and a positive expectation. In clear-cut, simplified circumstances with definable parameters it shouldn’t be difficult to confidently shove. Obviously, there will be instances that need us to assess the state of play as a hand progresses, and stack size(s), position, the number of players involved, opponents’ ranges, history, tournament circumstances, styles, and so on should be considered where relevant.
Importantly, whatever bad press pocket Jacks have been given over the years, online poker players should be smiling when they’re dealt JJ…