• ‘It’s Just Pocket Jacks’

    Date: 2007.06.11 | Category: Poker | By: Phil Hellmuth   

    During a no-limit Hold ’em tournament at this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP), I told poker star Gavin Smith, “I should have folded before the flop, after all it was just pocket jacks.” Smith claimed that I inspired him, and he went on to finish — two days later — in second place. Since then, Smith and I have been telling each other, “It’s just pocket jacks!”

    Meanwhile, I’ve been playing poker at my desired level, but some bad luck stopped me from breaking through the first five days of the WSOP. Finally, on June 6, I made money, and made it to the end of the day — with more than $90,000 in chips. How did I celebrate breaking my own “all-time cashes” record of 57 (now 58)? At 3 a.m., I went for a hard workout. The record I really want is the most bracelets won, and, with 120 players left, I’ll have a shot at my 11th WSOP victory (you can follow at cardplayer.com).

    Speaking of pocket jacks, let’s dissect a couple of hands that I played in today’s tournament. With the blinds at $200-$400, Player A opened for $1,200 in early position; Englishman John Gale called the $1,200, and Player B made it $2,500 to go. I looked down at pocket jacks, and said to myself, “Oh man! Now what do I do?” Upon closer inspection, Player B had about $6,000 in chips, and I had about $8,000. Generally speaking, pocket jacks is not a good hand to play when it is raised and reraised in front of you. On top of that, what really scared me was the minimum reraise from Player B. How could he only reraise $1,300? How indeed, unless he had exactly pocket aces! So I threw my hand away. Player A threw away pocket 10s, Gale threw away A-Q, and Player B flashed the ace of spades. Because he flashed exactly the ace of spades, I wasn’t convinced that he had pocket aces, but, oh well. Certainly, he had A-K at the very minimum. Even if it was A-K, I was only a small favorite to win the pot. Player A did sort of say that he had pocket aces.

    A few hours later, with the binds at $1,000-$2,000, and a $300 a man ante Player C opened for $5,000 under the gun, and I looked down at pocket jacks in the second position. I was in the process of winning several pots and running my chips up pretty good. On the one hand, I was running hot and feeling strong. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be derailed by pocket jacks. This time, Player C had $31,000 total, and I had $50,000 (at least).

    It was all down to my “read” of Player C. Player C had just announced that he never raised with a hand as good as A-6, and this played on my mind a bit. As I counted out $30,000 in chips, it was obvious to the other players that I was considering making a raise. Finally, I had to make a decision, and without a strong read on Player C, I elected to call. Another player called, and I immediately thought that he had pocket 10s or pocket nines. I even announced, “I know you only have two outs.” The flops was Ah-9h-6h, and Player C checked. I bet out $4,500 with my Jh-Jc (yes I had a flush draw). The player with 10h-10d called, and then Player C moved all-in. I couldn’t call.

    I mean, what if Player C had As-Kh? In that case I would have only two jacks in the deck that I could win with (two outs). The third player showed his pocket 10s as he folded and said, “Why did you bet, you cost us both $4,500?” Good point! Player C then showed the As-Qd, and I was upset because I knew that he would not have called a reraise with A-Q.

    So the swing was this: if I raise it up, then I win $11,000 on the hand (Player C’s $5,000, plus all of the antes and blinds). By just calling, and betting the flop, I lost $9,500. A $20,500 swing! Of course, this was immediately apparent to me, and I chastised myself for not having a better read on Player C. Why didn’t I read him for A-Q or a hand that he could not call a reraise with?

    A second question was this: Why did I bet the flop? Because I knew that the third player probably had 10s, and I didn’t want Player C to hit a free card with K-Q, or whatever hand he had. Plus, I did have a flush draw. I wish I had studied Player C better when the flop came down, or talked to him a little bit. Maybe I would have figured out that I needed to check. Maybe the next card was a jack, and then Player C moves all-in and gives me $25,000 in chips, plus the whole pot! Maybe the turn card would have been a heart, and I could have charged the man with 10h-10d an additional $15,000. Maybe I’ll win the tournament anyway!

    Pocket jacks should be folded pre-flop when:
    A) You have a short stack
    B) There is a raise and a reraise in front of you
    C) Your opponent has a short stack
    D) None of the above

    Answer: B