How to Play Pocket Jacks Properly

“There are 3 ways to play Pocket Jacks, and they’re all wrong.”

You may have heard this famous poker saying before. Hopefully you didn’t pay it much attention because it’s pretty much nonsense.

Pocket Jacks is one of the strongest hands preflop and should be a welcome sight when the dealer tosses it your way.

But despite its strength, many people misplay Jacks by playing them far too passively or far too aggressively.

That’s why in this article I will share with you:

  • How to Play Pocket Jacks Preflop
  • 3 Tips for Playing Jacks After 3-Betting
  • 3 Tips for Playing Jacks After Calling a 3-Bet

At the end, I’ve also included a bonus infographic with 3 beginner-friendly tips for playing Jacks.

Let’s dive in!

Note: The best time of year to invest in your poker skills is coming up fast. Upswing Poker’s massive Black Friday sale starts in just over 2 weeks!

All courses, subscriptions, tools and merch will be 25% off. This is the only sitewide sale for 365 days, so if you’ve been eyeing a game-changing course from a top poker pro, November 20th is the time to pull the trigger.

black friday 2023

How to Play Pocket Jacks in Common Preflop Situations

This section will go over the optimal way to play Pocket Jacks in every common preflop scenario. Note that this advice assumes you’re playing a cash game with 100 big blind stacks (no ante).

Here are the positions that will be referenced in this section:

positions for ace queen 3-betting reference

Unopened Pots

Pocket Jacks rank among the top 2-3% of hands preflop. You should raise every single time from every position when the action folds to you.

You should never limp this hand, or any hand for that matter.

Against a Raise

When you’re facing a preflop raise and you have Pocket Jacks, you should always 3-bet.

It is simply too strong of a hand to consider just calling. 3-betting has the following advantages:

  • You have loads of equity when called
  • The 3-bet generates fold equity
  • Your hand is strong enough to call (or shove) against a 4-bet

There are some situations in tournaments where just calling a raise with Pocket Jacks is best. But in cash games, put in that 3-bet.

Against a 3-Bet

When faced with a 3-bet by a good and aggressive player, you should usually 4-bet with Pocket Jacks. It might seem scary to 4-bet, but there are only 3 hands that have you beat: Pocket Aces, Pocket Kings, and Pocket Queens.

You can’t really approach poker strategy by constantly being afraid of monsters.

Of course, if you know your opponent is a very tight player who only 3-bets with QQ+ and Ace-King, you can consider just calling or even folding. But that will not be true for the vast majority of your opponents. Make sure you have an iron-clad read before making such a tight move.

Against a 4-Bet

In theory, when facing a 4-bet, you should never fold a hand as strong as Jacks.

That being said, if you are playing in live games, there is a much higher chance that you are going to encounter players who only 4-bet with Ace-King, Pocket Queens, Pocket Kings, and Pocket Aces. Against those players, you SHOULD fold. Again, just make sure you have a good read before doing so.

Against the more balanced and aggressive players, however, you should 5-bet shove in the later positions (Big Blind, Small Blind, and Button) and call the 4-bet from the other positions.

3 Tips for Playing Pocket Jacks as the Preflop 3-Bettor

Suppose a player raises, you 3-bet with Pocket Jacks, and your opponent calls. This section contains 3 tips for this common and potentially tricky scenario.

Tip #1: If you 3-bet from the Small Blind and the flop has one overcard, fire a bet

You’ve probably always hated 3-betting with Jacks only to have the flop come something like or .

The good news is that, if you’ve 3-bet from the Small Blind, then your overall range of hands will be quite strong on these boards. So, you can fire a small c-bet with your entire range — a game theory approved strategy.

Pocket Jacks serves as a thin value bet on all of these flops, and it also benefits from protection.

For example, on that example flop, your bet will get called by some worse hands (such as ) while also forcing hands with equity (like ) to fold.

Tip #2: If you’re in position on an Ace-high flop, go for pot control with a check

Suppose the Cutoff raises and you 3-bet from the Button. If your opponent calls and the flop is something like , you should check back with your Jacks.

You have a hand with good but not great equity and there are only a couple of bad turn cards ( or ) for you, so you can afford to check and take a free card.

In general, medium strength hands that don’t fear too many turns tend to make good check backs. Pocket Jacks on these Ace-high flops is a perfect example.

Tip #3: If you are in position and your Jacks are an overpair, always bet

You need to start betting whenever the flop is something like or .

On these lower flops, Jacks are a strong overpair with which you should try to extract value right away. 

Failing to do so allows your opponent to realize equity with overcards for free against you — imagine how disastrous it would be to check and let your opponent catch a higher pair for free.

Don’t miss these opportunities for value. The difference in expected value (EV) between betting and checking in these scenarios is large.

3 Tips for Playing Pocket Jacks After Calling a 3-Bet

Now, let’s turn the tables and discuss playing Jacks after calling someone else’s 3-bet.

Tip #1: If the flop comes Ace-high and you’re out of position, check and fold versus a bet

Example: You raise from UTG, the player in the Cutoff 3-bets, and you call with . The flop comes . You check and your opponent bets.

Ace-high flops are the worst case scenario for Pocket Jacks after you’ve called a 3-bet.

It’s horrible because your opponent’s range is so strong that you can’t really make a profitable call against a c-bet. Even though you might have the best hand now, your opponent can put pressure on you for 3 streets. This hand cannot withstand that amount of frequent pressure.

You just need to accept this fact and move on to the next hand!

Tip #2: In position with a middling pair, you should always check back

Example: You raise from UTG, the player in the Small Blind 3-bets, and you call with . The flop comes and your opponent checks.

If you remember from tip #2 of the previous section, this hand has the best properties for a pot controlling hand:

  1. Good but not great equity
  2. Is not very vulnerable
  3. You have the opportunity to see the turn for free

When these 3 attributes come together, you should check-back.

Tip #3: In position, you should always bet when the board is low 

Example: You raise from UTG, the player in the Small Blind 3-bets, and you call with . The flop comes and your opponent checks.

Sometimes you get a good board for your range. These low boards (8-high and lower) don’t mingle well with the out-of-position 3-bettor’s range.

The majority of the hands they 3-bet miss these flops, which forces them to check with a good chunk of their range. That checking range, no matter how well-built it is, is vulnerable to small stabs. 

By betting small on the flop with Jacks, you get to extract some value and deny a bit of equity. When only getting a call from your opponent, you should continue value betting on the vast majority of turns. Except, of course, when the turn card is the dreaded Ace.

3 Bonus Tips to Avoid Spewing With Jacks

pocket jacks JJ infographic

Final Thoughts

It’s not that hard to play Pocket Jacks well, at least on the first two streets. Doing so sets the rest of the hand up for easier turn and river decisions. So try and always make the correct plays preflop and on the flop so that more big blinds will start getting pushed towards you (in the long run of course!)

That’s all for this article! I hope you enjoyed it and that you learned something new from it! If you have any questions or feedback please let me know in the comment section down below and I’ll do my best to reply!

Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!

Note: Want a reminder by email or text when the Upswing Poker Black Friday sale begins? Click here and fill out your info to make sure you don’t brick the biggest sale of the year!

black friday 2023