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Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Facing Two All-Ins With Pocket Jacks

Little Breaks Down A Tricky Spot From A Live Tournament

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Jonathan LittleI recently played a fun hand from a $1,500 buy-in side event that I think is incredibly educational. With blinds at 800-1,600 with a 1,600 big blind ante, a loose, aggressive player raised to 3,600 out of his 60,000 stack from third position at a nine-handed table. I found pocket jacks on the button and three-bet to 8,800 out of my 50,000 stack.

The purpose of my somewhat small three-bet size is to let my opponent call with a hand that I often dominate while also giving him plenty of room to get out of line and put in a four-bet, which I will happily get all-in against.

Much to my surprise, another loose, aggressive player four-bet all-in for 50,000 from the small blind. The action folded around to the initial raiser who thought for about 15 seconds before also going all-in. That was not what I expected!

Now I have to figure out both players’ ranges and then see how my pocket jacks fare against them. Most players in the small blind will have a tight range, perhaps pocket aces thru pocket nines, A-K, and maybe A-Q. Against this range, J-J is in decent shape, winning 50 percent of the time.

I think the initial raiser, who pushed all-in on top of the small blind’s all-in four-bet, must have an incredibly strong range, perhaps only aces through jacks, and A-K. Against this snug range, J-J wins only 36 percent of the time. Against both players combined, pocket jacks will win 28 percent of the time. That is not too often!

Hand Range Equity
JJ 27.93%
99+, AQs+, AQo+ 28.48%
JJ+, AKs, AKo 45.59%

While I am getting decent pot odds (I have to put in 41,000 to win a 112,000 pot), I am getting roughly a break-even price. To calculate my pot odds, you take the amount I have to call (41,000) and divide it by the amount I have to call plus the current pot (41,000 + 112,000 = 153,000). This means I need to win at least 41,000/153,000 = 26 percent of the time to justify calling.

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

It is worth considering 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, 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 entire stack 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 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 offsuit because it has 24 percent equity (A-K suited has 28 percent, making it close). 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, so you do not make costly mistakes when you encounter them for the first time. ♠

Jonathan Little Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and best-selling poker author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. If you want to learn how to play fundamentally sound poker and increase your win rate, check out PokerCoaching.com. Click here to try PokerCoaching.com for free.