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How to Play the Toughest Starting Hand in Poker

There is no starting hand that draws more complaints from poker players than pocket jacks. As the old expression goes, "There are two ways to play pocket jacks, and they are both wrong". Jacks cause a lot of difficulties for players because it is a premium starting hand which warrants building the pot preflop. But then, hopes are frequently dashed as there is a 57% chance that an overcard to jacks will hit on the flop (and 76% of the time there will be an overcard to jacks by the river).

Preflop Strategy Can Become a Post Flop Problem with Pocket Jacks

Even with these challenges, jacks remain in the top 2-3% of starting hands you can be dealt. The problem is that many players beat themselves with jacks before the battle even begins. It is common to see players raise to an enormous size preflop with jacks as a form of avoidance. They know the hand will likely be a struggle postflop, so they try to wrap up the hand preflop with a 6x open when the rest of their range only raises to 3x. The fear of losing with jacks then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as players signal exactly what they have preflop with their abnormal sizing and then open themselves up to getting outplayed postflop. After all, any hand is challenging to play once opponents know what you have, so it is important to remain consistent with your preflop sizing from a given position.

The following video analyzes a PTO Poker student's hand with pocket jacks:

You can see that even though jacks are an overpair on the board in this hand, it's still a challenging hand to play from out of position! At this stack depth, the PTO Poker student needs to balance maximizing value with stack preservation.

I won't give away everything from the video, but here are the top 3 take-aways and tips for playing pocket jacks in the future:

1) When raising pocket jacks, keep your preflop sizing consistent with the rest of your opening range from a given position.

2) Always be aware of the flop stack to pot ratio. Understand if you are at an SPR where an overpair of jacks is good enough to get all-in by the river against a particular opponent.

3) If you are too deep to get all-in, you can still extract value, but you also need to balance preserving your stack.

There are many more nuances to playing pocket jacks (and many other hands) effectively. To learn more, contact Joel Wald today at or book a free 30-minute Zoom call to discuss how PTO Poker can help you achieve your poker goals!

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