How many times have you heard people say that they hate to play pocket Jacks? I always think to myself: Why would someone hate to play a premium hand that can make boatloads of money?

The Why

The reason people hate to play JJ is simple: They play them too fast. Or, they play them incorrectly. For instance, if you’re putting in a standard raise from early position and receive three callers, you’re pretty much doomed. The odds of a card higher than a Jack hitting the flop are greater than 50% (slightly). If you see a card higher than a Jack on the flop and you’re in early position with three opponents, then you’re probably going to check. You could put a feeler bet out there, but it’s not likely to work out well, especially if you have a chip preservation mentality.

Option #1

If you’re in early position with JJ, then you need to increase your pre-flop raise in order to isolate an opponent. If nobody calls, so be it. That’s life. You can alter your raise depending on your position, but the goal is to isolate. That’s one way to play it.

Option #2

Another way to play it is to smooth call. If you happen to flop a set, then you’re likely to make a lot of money, especially if a Queen or higher hits the board. This is a standard play. If the board comes low, then you can fire. If there are several opponents, then you could be building a pot with people who are drawing. You should especially be careful of the blind hands on a low flop, which are more likely to have low cards. If you sense they’re drawing, put in an over-sized bet. Either you take it down right there or you have the mathematical edge for the run out.

Option #3

If you really want to disguise your hand, then you can play JJ like AA. This can be valuable because if you’re representing AA, then you don’t need to hit the Jack, and a Queen or King won’t be as concerning. If an Ace hits the board (there might still be four of them out there), then fire away and the pot is yours. This can be profitable because you built the pot with your pre-flop raise or raises. Just make sure you know your opponents. You only want to try this against players who lean toward the conservative side.

The only other time to use caution with this play is if you’re opponent keeps re-raising you pre-flop. This means they either have AA or KK, and once in a while AK. But this isn’t all bad news. It’s always great to know what your opponent is holding. If the board comes 789-rainbow, 885, or 2c 4c 6c, then you will have an opportunity to represent what’s on the board and get your opponent to lay down the best hand if the right card comes on the turn or river.

Put simply, don’t continue raising your opponent pre-flop if they keep coming back at you. Call and make your move on the flop, turn, or river. It’s important that you know your opponent in this situation (and always). If they’re the conservative type and flop texture is scary to an overpair, aim to take it down with the worst hand (JJ). If they’re the aggressive type, check/call. If the turn completes a potential straight, flush, or full house, bet into your opponent (big, but not massive). If they’re a good player, they will likely fold. Yes, it’s easier to get good players to fold than it is to get bad players to fold.

Don’t Show Your Cards

Whatever you do, DO NOT show your hand! Some poker players like to show their bluffs. This can be effective to get your opponent on tilt, but the risk outweighs the reward because you’re giving away so much information about how you play. A savvy poker player is going to think about how you played every street, what your physical motions were, and they’re going to store that information for down the road, which can only hurt you. Resist the temptation to show that bluff and muck your cards – after the win.


If you want the short version with how to play pocket Jacks, either isolate, smooth call, or play them like pocket Aces. In each situation, whenever you run into resistance, slow down or fold if necessary. This is how you minimize risk while still maximizing potential with pocket Jacks.

Tyler Nals

If you love poker, then you're in the right place. My poker strategy books are written for the beginner-intermediate player, and many readers have told me that these strategies have helped them turn a profit. My books are easy to understand and written from a macro perspective on how to win as a poker player. You will also find an entertainment angle. Regardless of what level poker player you are, you might enjoy A Fishy Poker Tournament, The Dark Side of the Felt, and The Poker Office. These are poker adventure books, not poker strategy books.

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