How best to play jacks on the turn when bets get much bigger

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We will address how best to play J-J on the turn when the bets get much bigger – double in limit games and all the way to “all-in” in no-limit games.

The turn is a critical decision point in every hold’em game. Let’s consider the issues and options in this case.

If your pocket Jacks remains the probable high hand on the turn – i.e., there is no A, K or Q on the board, in which case an opponent likely would have your J-J beaten – recognize that it is still quite vulnerable.

 The only way you can protect it is by betting to force out threatening drawing hands – the bigger the bet, the better. Ideally, you want your opponent to have poor (low) pot odds compared to his card odds. The fewer opponents staying to see the river, the more likely your J-J will survive. Who doesn’t dread being rivered? But it does happen. What can you do to minimize the chance?

Since your opponents can only guess as to the strength of your hand, it’s a good idea to bet out with your J-J, using the Esther Bluff tactic to help persuade as many opponents as possible to muck their cards.

By the same token, there is always the chance that an opponent has caught a set or two-pair, while your J-J has not improved. On the turn, if a tight player comes out betting, or raises you after you make your bet, best be cautious. He may very well have you beaten; then you would have just two outs – a huge longshot! On the other hand, give less credence to a tricky or aggressive player; consider reraising him.

On the turn, with four cards showing, if the board is threatening with a draw to a straight or flush, caution would be prudent. If you really believe an opponent may still be drawing, then go ahead and make your bet. Make him pay to see the river! Otherwise, just check and call a single bet. Fold if there is a lot of betting and raising; almost certainly, your J-J is beaten by one or more opponents.

If an opponent bets out before you on the turn, try to get a “read” on his hand, giving due consideration to the type of player he is, and how he has played his hand up to this point. Look for any tells you might glean from observing him? Does he usually have a betting pattern?

Then use your judgment: What are the chances he has your hand beaten? How many chips are in the pot relative to the size of his bet that you must call to stay in the hand? That’s the pot odds; if they are higher than the chance he has a better hand, then a call is in order. Otherwise, fold your J-J.

Best of all: What if you catch a third Jack? Of course, it’s great if you make a set of Jacks on any street. However, that won’t happen very often; with just two more Jacks remaining unseen in the deck, the odds against flopping a third Jack are 7.5-to-1; and much higher on the turn. When it does happen, consider slow-playing or sandbagging to try to build “your” pot on the turn. Check-raising can build a monster pot if there are several opponents staying to the river.

Yes, as we said before, playing pocket Jacks is a big challenge. Hope that no Ace, King, or Queen falls on the board; better yet, hope that you catch a set of Jacks – especially with a small pair on the board. opeHope

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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