Pocket jacks and pocket queens bring a mixture of fear and joy to almost any player. They are definitely strong hands, but they are hardly invincible, either before or after the flop is dealt. The key to generating a profit with these tricky hands is being able to play them effectively pre-flop. While post-flop play is undoubtedly important as well, pre-flop is where some of the biggest mistakes are made. JJ and QQ play very similarly to KK and AA post-flop, but they are completely different than those two hands when it comes to pre-flop situations. As intimidating as these hands might be, the truth is that nothing is as complicated as it might seem.
There are three primary dynamics that should be given consideration when playing pocket jacks or pocket queens. You already know your hand strength. These hands beat everything in the deck except for pocket kings and pocket aces, so the odds are that you have a solid lead when the hand begins. You should be aggressive when playing JJ and QQ, but you should remain careful as recklessness runs rampant with these two particular hands. They seem like monsters, and they are certainly valuable hands, but they are not going to win every time.
JJ is only one notch below QQ on the scale of hand rankings, but sometimes it seems like they are a world apart. Some people play pocket jacks as if their only value can be derived from hitting a set or catching a bluff. While it is true that it is difficult to dodge the entire board when you have a lone pair of jacks, there will be plenty of times where they wind up taking down the pot. One thing you need to realize about pocket jacks is that they are a profitable hand, just not a wildly profitable hand. In other words, where you could win an entire stack pre-flop with kings or aces, this just isn’t the case with pocket jacks. Even as you progress onto the flop, jacks will continuously run into trouble. If you can pick your spots effectively, you will be much better off.
Defining when to be passive and when to be aggressive with pocket jacks is not exactly easy. In fact, you should actually be practicing a fair amount of both at the same time, however odd that may sound. Jacks are the type of hand that you want to play hard and fast up until you start to feel some resistance. They are a good hand until someone at the table indicates otherwise. Even then, pocket jacks will be a strong contender to win at showdown, but not quite as much of a favorite as if they were to go through the hand without resistance. Gauging and adjusting the relative value of pocket jacks is crucial.
Position is important with every single hand of poker that you play, and pocket jacks are certainly no exception to this rule. It is much easier to play this hand in late position, but you should be pressing the action no matter where you are seated. In any position, jacks are worthy of an open raise. If there are a few limpers or folds ahead of you, a raise is the only logical way to start building a legitimate pot. After you are dealing with a raise ahead or re-raise behind, however, you will need to re-think your game plan.
The decision whether to re-raise with pocket jacks is often debated. A re-raise in early or middle position is less likely to gain calls from inferior hands, but it will do the best job of telling you where you are at. On the other hand, a late position re-raise is going to gain more calls from weaker hands but will be less effective in telling you where you stand. Your exact play is going to come down to whether you feel like you need to know where you stand and/or if you will be able to garner calls from weaker hands. If neither is applicable, you shouldn’t re-raise.
Calling a re-raise or even re-raising again is much more tricky than even re-raising in the first place. If you call a re-raise, you are going to have a tough time playing the remainder of the hand unless you are able to land a set. At a certain point you are only going to be playing the hand for set mining value. The best time to flat call a re-raise with pocket jacks pre-flop is when you feel like your opponent might be bluffing or if you could put them on a range of TT and AQ+. In these spots, you can safely call, but you will still need to tread very lightly post-flop. Stick with your reads, but don’t be afraid to make adjustments.
Bet sizing with pocket jacks is important and is most relative to your re-raises. When re-raising with pocket jacks, you should make your bets fairly large. This will accomplish two different things: maximum value from your hand and an easier outlet for a fold if you are re-raised yet again. When a player has AJ, AQ or a pair worse than jacks, you want a call. At the same time, however, you don’t want them drawing to a set at a good price. As such, you should be squeezing every penny that you can post-flop. The other added benefit of a large raise is that you can get away from the hand if you happen to face a lot of resistance. If is much easier and logical to fold to a re-raise after you made a large bet than after you made a small one. You will know that your opponent is serious and that they do not plan on going anywhere.
QQ is a borderline super premium pocket hand. You will sometimes feel tempted to shove all of the money in pre-flop, while other times you will want to simply lay it down. Queens are very susceptible to being beaten, despite the fact that they crush almost every hand in the deck. Aside from KK and AA which will leave QQ drawing super thing, AK will also be tossing a coin with pocket queens. Unless you are comfortable with a lot of variance, getting queens all in pre-flop will set you on a shaky ride. There isn’t a lot of doubt that moving all in pre-flop with queens is profitable in many online games, it’s simply that you will need to suck out a fair amount, force a number of folds, and occasionally be way ahead when the money goes in the middle.
Position is important with QQ and will largely help to determine just how strong your hand is against your opponent’s average range. QQ in late position will be infinitely more valuable than QQ in early position. This is even more true when it comes to pre-flop play. While you might be able to get away from QQ on an AKx flop, letting go of it pre-flop is not going to be easy.
It goes without saying that pocket queens denote an open raise and re-raise no matter where you are seated. Unlike pocket jacks, there aren’t going to be many situations where a simple flat call is logical. You need to raise and re-raise pre-flop. Now, there will also be more situations where you can flat a 3-bet pre-flop, something that also can’t be said for pocket jacks.
If you open raise in early or middle position with pocket queens and get re-raised, you will need to decide whether you want to raise again or flat call. The trouble with flat calling is that you will be in some very tough spots post-flop. Likewise, the trouble with shoving is that you will need to be sure that you have your opponent beat. Many times a shove in these spots will force folds from weaker hands and garner calls from KK, AA and sometimes AK. In the end, position with QQ is not as important as the action and your opponents. You know that QQ beats everything but KK and AA. Now you need to decide if you have enough equity to shove all in pre-flop or if you should play it safely. No matter what, pocket queens will take you for a ride more often than not, whether it ends up being en route to a win or a loss.
Bet sizing for pocket queens is much in line with that of pocket jacks. Your re-raises should be very large in order to ensure maximum value from any weaker hands that are considering calling. These raises will not necessarily serve the purpose of allowing room for a fold, though this is one of the sidebets. If you are making sizable 3-bets with pocket queens in a 100 big blind game, though, there aren’t going to be a lot of situations where folding could ever be justified. If you have 25% of your stack in the middle, you will leave yourself no choice but to call. A large 3-bet will suck in your opponents, but sometimes you will be value betting yourself. Once you put a big chunk of your stack in the pot pre-flop, there is no turning back, whether you are holding pocket queens or 2 7 off suit.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk