Fun spot with pocket jacks

Fun spot with pocket jacks

At a European Poker Tour event, I played a fun hand with pocket Jacks that stirred up quite a bit of discussion.

In a $2,000 buy-in event with blinds at 200/400-50 and 20,000 chip stacks, a tight, aggressive kid raised to 900 from second position. A European kid who I did not know called on the button. I looked down at the beautiful Jh-Jc.

While most people said they would 3-bet for various reasons, most of which are quite speculative, I usually call in this situation. The purpose of calling is to keep the pot manageable while making it impossible for me to be put in a difficult spot before the flop. Notice if I 3-bet and anyone calls, I am going to be unsure where I stand on any flop. On low flops, if I bet and get much action, I can never be happy. If an overcard flops, I am also not going to be able to proceed too well. If I get 4-bet before the flop, I will also be in a difficult spot. While calling preflop will occasionally lead to me being outdrawn after the flop, I am confident that it is the best play, especially if you do not have a reason to develop an overly aggressive preflop image from out of position.

The flop came Kd-Th-4h. I checked. The initial raiser also checked. The cutoff bet 1,300 into the 3,350 pot. I called and the initial raiser folded.

Facing a small bet from the player in position, I don’t see any other great play besides calling. While folding may appear to be a reasonable option because there is a King on the board, you must realize that the initial raiser almost certainly doesn’t have a King or better made hand and the cutoff could easily be betting with a wide range simply because he has been checked to. Getting amazing pot odds, folding would be too tight. I am also not a fan of check-raising because that will allow the cutoff to call with all made hands that beat mine as well as all decent draws. Against that range, my J-J is in terrible shape. The best play is to call, forcing the cutoff to stay in the pot with his entire range.

The turn was the (Kd-Th-4h)-Jd, giving me a set.  We both checked.

Quite a few of the people I told the hand stated that they would lead on the turn, hoping to get value from a King while also charging the draws. They fail to realize that unless I make a giant bet, almost all of the draws will be getting the right price to call. If I check, I will also almost certainly be able to extract some amount of value from a King on the river. While I may miss out on one bet when my opponent has a premium King, checking induces my opponent to continue betting with most of his marginal range.

Almost no one who commented realized that I could easily be beat at this point in time, even though I improved to a set. If I lead and my opponent raises, I will be in a terrible situation that will often result in me losing my stack. If I check and my opponent bets, I usually have the best hand and can continue calling, giving my opponent the opportunity to bluff the river. While my hand is certainly strong, there is value in making it difficult for me to go broke in any individual pot, especially when I take a strong line and my opponent still wants to put his stack in. If the turn happens to check through, as it did, I will have an under-represented hand that I can easily value bet confidently on the river.

The river was the (Kd-Th-4h-Jd)-6d. I bet 3,800 into the 5,950 pot and my opponent called, giving me the pot.

When the turn checks through, I think value betting is somewhat mandatory, even though the backdoor flush draw arrived. If my opponent raised my river bet, I would clearly be in a tough spot, but I would probably make a snug fold unless I got the vibe that my opponent was bluffing. Some users commented that they would check on the river, fearing the possible flush, but given most players would continue betting the turn when they pick up additional outs with a backdoor flush draw, I think I can reasonably discount that hand. Also, it is very likely that my opponent has a one-pair hand that will pay me off. Checking is an error unless I had a good reason to believe that my opponent had absolute air, meaning he will almost always fold if I bet whereas he may bluff if I check.  While it may appear that I missed out on some value, I also made it nearly impossible for me to go broke while also keeping opponent’s range wide.

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Author: Steve Bowman