If you play enough poker, specifically Texas Hold ‘Em, then eventually you will hear the phrase, “There’s no right way to play pocket Jacks.” I have no clue where the phrase originated from, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the phrase means. Pocket Jacks can be a tricky hand to play because it isn’t a weak hand and at the same time its not a very strong hand. It’s a hand that you want to play aggressively pre-flop. Post flop you want to navigate the hand carefully if there are over cards or big draws on the board.
In this hand I am Under the Gun with pocket Jacks. The table stakes I am playing is $1/$3 and it is an 8-max table. I start the hand with about $500. Villain is in Middle Position and is the effective stack with about $300. Pocket Jacks are easily in my open raise range for Under the Gun and I decide to open for $10. The Under the Gun +1 folds and then Villain calls. It folds around to the blinds and both the blinds call. We are going to see a flop multiway with four players. The pot is $40. The flop comes 8 of Clubs, 2 of Diamonds, and 2 of Spades. This is a relatively dry board and there is a good chance that I am ahead of everyone in the hand. Right away I can only think of a few combinations that I have to be worried about, but they are not very likely. I make the decision that I will continue betting on this board.
Both the blinds check. I decide to make a bet of $15. Villain in Middle Position calls and the blinds both fold. What could Villain be calling with here? Lots of over card combos could be floating here both the off suit and suited variety. A lot of suited Ax combos might want to call for the backdoor flush possibilities. I suppose that Villain could call with backdoor straight combos as well. There are some 8x combos that I think Villain could call with but not many. It is very unlikely that Villain is going to have a 2 in this spot. The pot is now $70. The turn comes a 7 of Spades. That is one step closer for any backdoor Spade flush and gives any T9 or 65 combos the open ended straight.
Looking at this board I think to myself that I can still be a huge favorite to win the hand. If Villain just turned a better two pair, I am still ahead. I can still get called by hands that are now drawing to the straight. The great thing is that with my Jacks I am blocking some of their outs to the straight. Now the question is what should my bet sizing be in this spot? I decide that betting about two thirds pot is a good size and arrive at making a bet of $45. Villain tanks for a long time and finally decides to call after thinking for 3 to 4 minutes. I wonder what they could be calling with that they had to think about it for so long. Villain must be worried about an over pair and not hitting their draw. The pot is now $160. The river comes an 8 of Clubs. This should be relative brick and I should be good!
I decide to go for max value and make a large bet on the river. If villain called with a 7 then there is a good chance they will call with a 7 on the river. I make a bet of $150 and Villain calls, a lot faster than they did on the turn. I table my hand and reveal that I have pocket Jacks and Villain tables A8 of Spades for a rivered three of a kind! I question if there is anything else that I should have done differently…
The first thing I must mention is that the solver I use only uses heads up play. Because of this I have to make some assumptions about the way that I played the hand. The first assumption that I am making is that my bet sizing on the flop is good. The solver I am using suggest to size up a little on the flop, but I assume this is because its heads up. With multiple players in the hand, I don’t have as much equity as I would have if the hand were heads up. Multiway I have 55% equity vs heads up where I would have 88% equity in the hand. Because of this I think a small bet on the flop is better to start building the pot and get some value and at the same time see if someone was trying to trap.
Moving on to the turn using the small bet size that I made on the flop. I can see that the solver does make a bet of about three quarters pot. I had decided to go a little smaller in my sizing, but it was close to what is suggested. The only other thing I could do is check but I have no reason to check. I think the best decision is to continue to bet your hand and just hope that you are getting called by worse. At this point in the hand there are only three hands that I would be losing to, pocket 8, 7 or 2. I can’t fear those hands because they are so unlikely when compared to the rest of Villain’s capped range that I am winning most of the time.
When I get to the river with my hand the solver recommends that I continue betting. The difference is that the solver suggests that I should be betting smaller than I did. The solver recommends that I should have bet about half pot instead of going so big. The solver also assumes that Villain did not make it to the river with A8 of Spades. On the turn it shows that Villain should have raised instead of calling. What does that mean for the hand that I am playing? I can only assume that the bet sizing is smaller to get value from missed hands and if Villain deviates then I can get away from the hand if raised.
Overall, I think I played the hand well. There isn’t anything that I could have done differently. Some work can be done on bet sizing, but I was close to what could be considered optimal sizing. Unfortunately, this is just one of those times where Villains gets there. Looking back at what the solver recommends it makes sense for Villain to raise on the turn. They have so much equity when they turn the flush draw with top pair (two pair) and top kicker. Its not going to be a raise 100% of the time but it is a real possibility to win the hand. The biggest take away from this hand is that you shouldn’t be playing passively when there is a chance to win the hand.
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