In poker, some hands look great on paper but are quite tricky in reality. They could cause you all sorts of troubles if you don’t have enough experience and one of them certainly is Ace-Jack, both suited and offsuit. Many beginners seem to believe the hand is premium, but that is not exactly the case.
While this hand is surely profitable to play, there are some traps you need to avoid. I will try to examine them and give you some ideas how to play Ace-Jack correctly both preflop and postflop.
Of course, there are a couple of different things you need to consider. For example, are we talking about tournaments or cash games? How deep is the game? What is your position? They will help you determine if Ace-Jack is playable and what is the best course. Therefore, let us start by looking into some different scenarios.
Deep Stacked Games
Let’s say you’re playing in a game where both you and your opponents have big stacks of at least 200 big blinds. It could be a cash table or an early phase of a tournament, and in such situations, you should play Ace-Jack aggressively preflop, unless someone else shows strength. It means raising unopened pots and even 3-betting against late position raisers.
If you face another raise and someone, show a lot of strength, it is probably time to let the hand go. The reason is simple – while Ace-Jack is certainly a solid starting hand, it is way behind real premium hands like high pairs and Ace-King. The worse thing is that even if you hit something on the flop, you could easily end up being outkicked and losing a lot.
To sum it up, you should play aggressively when the stacks are deep, but always be prepared to fold if things get tough. Your primary target should be to take the initiative preflop without investing too many chips and getting committed to the pot.
Short Stacked Games
Things change quite a bit if you’re with a stack of 20 or less big blinds. This usually happens in tournaments and SNGs. If you are in such spot, you’re in a desperate need to double up, and you don’t have the time to wait for a premium hand. This is why Ace-Jack is a pretty decent hand in such scenarios, and your target should be to go all-in before the flop.
Of course, you should always be careful, and if there are two or three players showing strength before you, you should fold. It really depends on how short your stack is. You can afford to be more careful with the likes of 15-20 big blinds, for example. If you have 10 or less, you almost always want to go all-in with an Ace-Jack. You will be ahead or flipping often enough, so it’s the correct play.
The # Of Opponents Is Crucial As Well
Your stack is obviously important, but the number of opponents who are left to act is critical as well. Ace-Jack is a decent, but dangerous hand against 7 or 8 players and almost a premium hand against 1 or 2 opponents. You should be extra careful on a full-ring table and even might fold Ace-Jack from early positions if your opponents are good aggressive players. At the same time, you should raise and re-raise with it from late position or if you are playing a short-handed table.
Usually, the post flop play is more complicated, and this particular hand is not an exception. However, if you played it correctly before the flop, you should be in a good position most of the time. Once again, it depends on your position on the table, the number of opponents and who has the initiative. Let’s take a look at a couple of different scenarios:
The Perfect Spot
If you have the initiative, position and are heads-up, you made your life easy with your preflop play. You won’t necessarily have to hit something on the flop to win the hand. A simple continuation bet will often do the trick. However, you should again be extra careful if someone shows strength. Even if you hit a top pair with an Ace or a Jack, a check-raise might mean you’re beat.
The Not-So-Perfect Spot
Sometimes you will have the initiative in a multiway pot, but someone will be in a better position. These situations are probably the hardest to judge if you do not hit a solid hand and a lot of the time, you will have to give up. Barreling into few opponents without having any equity is not a good idea, and check/folding is a better option in that spot.
Even if you hit a pair, you should not overplay it. One pair hand is not as strong as you can thing if you are playing in a multi-way pot and facing aggression from your opponent. A lot of the time, you can end up being dominated or just confronted with a stronger hand. Therefore, try to play it small and proceed with caution.
Different Run Outs
The tricky situation comes if you flop the second pair on a flop like KJ4. Firstly, your hand is not strong enough to go for three streets of value, so you will do much better by checking on the flop and letting your opponent bluff. This way you will keep his range much wider with plenty of weak hands, and if he checks back, you can easily value bet later on. Moreover, you are not afraid of over cards, so you do not carry much of a risk here.
Additionally, if you flop additional equity like a gut shot or runner-runner draws even without a pair, you can use this hand as a bluff. Having an ace, you reduce your opponent chances of having top pair and Ace kicker, so he has fewer combos for bluff catching, and that is always nice. Moreover, that additional equity will lead to huge pots when you improve the hand and most importantly, it will be well disguised.
When you flop nothing just a couple of naked over cards you have to consider your position, opponents, and the board. A lot of the time firing a c-bet is fine, but if you do not have additional equity as discussed before, you should not over play the hand.
Obviously, like with everything in poker, it is very player depending. If your opponent is very aggressive, it could be a great hand to check and bluff catch after flopping a pair. If he is passive, you would be better of betting yourself and building the pot. To make the best decision you will have to rely on your reads, the general impression of the players or even some of the poker tells.
As you can see, Ace-Jack can give you some trouble. You should not be looking to win huge pots because most of the time you will take down a small one or risk of losing big if you are deep. However, when short stacked, it becomes a powerful holding, and you should not be afraid to play it for stacks.
Always be aware how your opponents play and adjust accordingly, only then you will be able to get the most of this hand.