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Avoiding a Cooler with Pocket Jacks

01/03/2018 by Jonathan Little
Hand Analysis

I recently played a fun hand from a $1,500 buy-in side event that I think is incredibly educational. With blinds at 400/800 with a 100 ante, a loose, aggressive player raised to 1,800 out of his 30,000 stack from third position at a nine-handed table. I found pocket Jacks on the button and 3-bet (re-raised) to 4,400 out of my 25,000 stack.

The purpose of my somewhat small 3-bet size is to allow my opponent to call and see a flop with a hand that I frequently dominate while also giving him plenty of room to get out of line and put in a 4-bet.

To my surprise, another loose, aggressive player 4-bet all-in for 25,000 from the small blind. The action folded around to the initial raiser who thought for about 15 seconds before announcing “all-in”. That wasn’t what I expected!

Now I have to figure out both players’ ranges and then see how my pocket Jacks fare against them. I imagine the small blind has a somewhat snug range, perhaps A-A – 9-9, A-K, and maybe A-Q. Against this range, my J-J is in decent shape, winning 50% of the time. I think the initial raiser, who pushed all-in on top of the small blind’s all-in 4-bet, has an incredibly strong range, perhaps only A-A – J-J and A-K. Against this snug range, my Jacks wins only 36% of the time. Against both players combined, pocket Jacks will win 28% of the time. That is not too often!

While I am getting decent pot odds (I have to put in 20,500 to win a 56,100 pot), I am getting roughly a break-even price. To calculate my pot odds, you take the amount I have to call (20,500) and divide it by the amount I have to call plus the current pot (20,500 + 56,100 = 76,600). This means I need to win 20,500/76,600 = 26% of the time to justify calling.

Since I will win 28% of the time and I only need to win 26% based on the pot odds, calling will return a tiny profit. However, in a tournament, you should strive not go broke. Calling in this situation will result in me going broke 72% of the time. That is not ideal.

It is worth noting that I may have made a mistake in estimating my opponents’ ranges. They may be a bit tighter than I estimated. If they are tighter than expected, my call quickly becomes unprofitable. Of course, they could also be much looser, but you will find that very few players are trying to get their money in poorly.

Taking all these factors into account, plus the fact that I think I am better than most of my opponents in this $1,500 buy-in event, I should fold, which is exactly what I did. Fortunately for me, the small blind had A-K and the initial raiser had K-K. By understanding the math behind this situation, I avoided going broke, allowing me to continue playing the tournament and finding profitable situations in the future.

It is worth noting that in this spot, you should also fold A-K. This means that the only hands you can profitably call with are A-A, K-K, and Q-Q. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you will be able to figure out the optimal play the first time you encounter it at the poker table. By studying the game away from the table, you will learn how to profitably navigate many common situations, such as this one.