BY RUSS SCOTT
SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
TEXAS PLAYER ASKS IF ALL-IN MOVE WITH POCKET JACKS WAS CORRECT
A reader in Texas questions his play with pocket jacks in a tournament after being re-raised by an opponent in the small blind. Let’s sort through his options.
Q: Early in a tournament with blinds at 10-20, I raised to 75 with pocket jacks and the small-blind player re-raised to 275. My initial reaction was to just call and then move all-in after the flop if no overcards came, which they didn’t. Instead, I pushed all-in, he called with A-K suited and beat me when an ace came on the river. What do you think? — Cecil O. in Kaufman, Texas.
A: This is a great question, Cecil, because pocket jacks can be a tricky hand to play in Texas hold’em.
You don’t say what position you were in — early, middle or late — but as the first player entering the pot you certainly needed to raise. Your bet of 75 chips, nearly four times the big blind, was just about the perfect size to force out most drawing hands, small pairs and anyone holding ace-rag.
But A-K is a different story. Nobody is going to lay down A-K in that spot, and his re-raise to 275 was pretty standard, putting the pressure back on you.
You had four choices at that point:
* Fold — Definitely not your best option, unless you knew the player well and were certain he only would make that play with pocket aces, kings or queens. If you thought he had A-K or A-Q, you certainly couldn’t fold.
* Call — A smart play. You had position on your opponent, acting last on each betting round. That gave you a built-in edge in making betting decisions. Your first instinct was a good one — “wait until after the flop to move all-in if no overcards came and have a lot better chance to make him lay down A-K.”
* Raise again — Not the best choice because a raise to, say, 700 chips would have left you pot-committed — too heavily invested to fold. Remember, it was early in the tournament and you had plenty of time to recover if you lost this hand. This play works only if your opponent was on a stone-cold bluff, thinking he could push you off your hand.
* Move all-in — A reasonable but risky play. If he held a bigger pocket pair, you’d be a huge 4-1 underdog. If you thought he had A-K or perhaps A-Q, then pushing all-in as a slight favorite was an aggressive move that could double your stack and put you in a strong chip position. The downside, of course, was possible early elimination.
You chose the second-best option by moving all-in, and I can’t fault your aggressiveness. Unfortunately, however, you actually did your opponent a favor.
Many players today like to play A-K boldly. They happily push all-in pre-flop, knowing they’ll get to see all five board cards without having to make tough betting decisions after the flop if they don’t hit an ace or king right away. My guess is he gladly snap-called your all-in bet.
The math says that’s a good move with A-K. There’s a 50 percent chance an ace or king will hit the board at some point, but only a 32 percent chance one will come on the three-card flop. An even-money bet is a green light for most players.
That’s why I think just calling his 275-chip re-raise would almost always be the best play, except when you are short-stacked and have to make a stand. Following your first instinct — to just call, then move all-in if no overcards hit the flop — probably would have won you the pot.
That said, Cecil, I’ve seen many players refuse to give up on A-K after a worthless flop, despite just a 13 percent chance of hitting an ace or king on either the turn or river cards. If your opponent was that type of gambling player, then your bust-out on this hand was unavoidable.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
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