Why I Hate Pocket Jacks

Pocket jacks, like queens, kings and aces, are always a fresh sight when you turn up the edges of your cards, but lately I've been getting a little more uneasy at the sight of those knaves.

Your first instinct when you see those young men staring lazily back at you is to get your money in the pot as quickly as possible so that you can start raking in the returns. Jacks, like any high pocket pair feel so invincible since you've already made a hand and so you've got to be ahead of almost every other hand out there preflop.

But when you think about the possible flop scenarios that could happen, perhaps jacks aren't quite as invincible as they first look.

There are 103,776 possible flop combinations (48*47*46) when you consider the 50 cards in the deck you have yet to see minus the other two jacks which would give you a set. Of those 103,776, there are 50,616 (38*37*36) possible flop combinations that don't include at least one ace, king or queen, leaving you 1:2.05 odds of flopping top possible pair or a set. When compared to 1:1 for aces, 1:1.13 for kings and 1:1.5 for queens, the jacks are suddenly not looking quite so hot.

Of course this doesn't take into account the fact that by raising preflop you should only be going up against one or two other players on the flop at which point you have good odds that they won't improve. But the problem is, by raising preflop you can be relatively certain that when they do improve you will be beat, which leaves you in the same situation as any other low pocket pair.

The main reason that high pocket pairs are so lucrative is because you can often make a good amount off of someone flopping top pair when you've still got them beat. But as your pair gets lower, the odds of you still having top pair on the flop get smaller and smaller. At a certain point you have to treat all low pocket pairs the same because you are simply playing them cheap for a chance to hit trips or fold.

Playing pocket pairs with overcards on the board is a very tough situation to be in. You can't really count your ability to outplay your opponent in the strength of the hand, and so basically you can only really consider your odds of flopping top pair when considering whether to raise preflop with a pocket pair.

Of course this doesn't take into account the million other reasons why you might raise preflop, and only considers your expected value based purely on odds. As many a wise man has said before me, in poker you play your opponent, not your cards, but it is good to at least understand your odds in every situation.

As such, I've become much more tentative about playing pocket jacks hard preflop. I think they are probably much more lucrative when played cheaply preflop because you don't really have the correct odds to hit top possible pair on the flop, and so most of the time they will end up in the same position as any low pocket pair after the flop.

3 Comments:

  1. Dremeber said...
    I find JJ the most difficult starting hand in the game. This together with his brother 1010.
    When there is an unopened pot you know you should raise and than your blog reveals the story and the odds but for me it becomes ever more difficult if the pot is opened.
    At the cash tables JJ and 1010 are my most expensive hands.
    Raisetheriver said...
    JJ and TT and real tough hands to play pre flop. If it's late in a tourney they are beautiful and leave you with easy decisions, but when you get them early i play them basically the same as AK, if i miss the flop and there are danger cards, it's off to the muck they go!

    Not really sure at NL cash games, but I would think at LHE they are simply make a set or bin, type hands.
    Purus said...
    Yeah, they're pretty sweet when you're looking to push preflop, but if you have to actually play them after the flop they're downright scary. I guess it makes a little more sense after looking at the odds.

Post a Comment