Ace-Jack offsuit is a solid starting hand in No Limit Hold’em. It’s usually worth playing, but there are certainly situations in which you should let it go before the flop.
This article covers how to play “ajax” in a variety of common preflop situations. Plus, tips for playing it postflop when you hit and miss the flop.
On your mark, get set, go!
As I always do with these starting hand articles, let’s run through each common preflop situation first.
When holding two of the highest cards in the deck, you almost always want to raise it up. Ace-Jack is no exception.
Ace-Jack should be raised from almost every position, except when playing 9-handed from the first two positions. If you’re at a very soft table, especially one lacking aggressive 3-bettors, you can consider playing it from those early positions as well.
Limping with it is completely forbidden as it will lead to smaller pots being won by you on average over time.
Against a Raise
When facing a raise, the best course of action depends on your opponent’s position and also your own.
Even though Ace-Jack offsuit is very strong in an unopened pot, when someone raises from early or middle position, it is usually not strong enough to contest the pot in a profitable manner. The one clear exception is when a player raises from the hijack and you are on the button.
Pro tip: This advice assumes that you are playing against opponents with decent preflop strategies. If you are playing against a weak player’s raise, then you can start calling or, even better, 3-betting with Ace-Jack to isolate said weak player in a heads-up pot.
When a player raises from late position, then you should always contest the pot with Ace-Jack by either calling or 3-betting.
In general, Ace-Jack offsuit plays great as a 3-bet (for value/protection) since doing so cuts down the field, reducing the chances of a multiway pot. That’s quite important when you have a hand that plays so marginally in multiway pots, as Ace-Jack offsuit does.
When you are in the small blind facing a raise, I recommend always 3-betting or folding. In other positions, there won’t be a big expected value (EV) difference between calling and 3-betting.
A Quick Word on Calling vs 3-Betting
When facing a raise, some players actually choose to play a 3-bet or fold strategy from all positions except the button and big blind. This has a few notable upsides, including:
- A 3-bet or fold strategy is easier to remember and execute in-game.
- You pay less rake on average with a 3-bet or fold strategy (super helpful in high rake games).
- You prevent the possibility of being squeezed by a player behind.
If you play in games with aggressive players and/or high rake, playing a 3-bet or fold strategy might be a good idea for you.
Further reading: Should You Stop Cold-Calling in Cash Games?
Against a 3-Bet
Ace-Jack offsuit is not a good hand with which to call a 3-bet unless the opponent’s range is wide (e.g. you raise from the button and face a 3-bet from an aggressive player in the small blind).
However, Ace-Jack offsuit is a good 4-bet bluff candidate. Both the ace and the jack have great blockers/removal effects, reducing the number of AA and JJ combinations in the opponent’s range by half and the number of Ace-King combinations by a quarter.
I would caution against 4-bet bluffing with this hand when you’re up against a tight range and/or if you initially raised from a relatively early position. However, anytime you raise in late position with Ace-Jack offsuit and face a 3-bet, consider putting in a 4-bet bluff.
Against a 4-Bet
When facing a 4-bet, you should basically always fold Ace-Jack offsuit. It has served it’s purpose of getting some thin value/protection by 3-betting, but now that your opponent has decided to play the 4-bet game, Ace-Jack offsuit is simply too weak to continue.
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3 Tips for When You Flop Top Pair with Ace-Jack
Tip #1: Top pair with Ace-Jack is usually worth a stack in 3-bet pots.
Top pair is a much stronger hand in 3-bet pots than in single raised pots because the stack-to-pot ratio is much smaller. This increases the value of hands like top pair and decreases the value of speculative hands, such as draws.
Whenever you hit any top pair with Ace-Jack in a 3-bet pot, extracting value should be your top priority. Keep putting money into the pot!
That’s not to say top pair isn’t valuable in single raised pots too — it absolutely is. But when the pot is relatively small and you have a lot of chips behind, you should generally be a bit more cautious.
Further reading: Single Raised Pots vs 3-Bet Pots: How Should Your Strategy Differ?
Speaking of playing cautiously in single raised pots…
Tip #2: When out of position in a single raised pot, consider checking if the board is very connected.
Playing cautiously in single raised pots is especially important on connected flops.
You should play more defensively because there are a lot more turns that will make the rest of the hand very hard to navigate. If you bet on the flop and one of those dicey turn cards fall, you’ll find yourself playing a bigger pot than you want with a now-shriveled up top pair.
For example, suppose you open-raise in the hijack, the button calls and the flop comes J♦ T♠ 7♦. You have top pair with top kicker, but any 8, 9, T, Q, K, or diamond on the turn would be bad for your hand. That’s 24 bad cards out of a total of 47. That’s over half the deck!
In spots like this, lean towards checking on the flop to control the size of the pot and avoid dicey situations on future streets.
Tip #3: Tread carefully in multiway pots!
In multiway pots, every player has to play tighter because the burden of defense is shared between multiple players. In other words, players facing a bet have to play tighter to account for the other players. Thus, when they do call, they have significantly stronger ranges than they’d have in a heads-up pot.
Further reading: When Should You Bet the Flop in Multiway Pots?
3 Tips for When You Miss the Flop with Ace-Jack
Tip#1: Be more inclined to bet if you have some backdoor draws.
When you miss the flop, you will always have at least one overcard to the board, giving you the chance to make top pair on the turn or river.
If you have some backdoor flush draw or backdoor straight draw to go with your overcard(s), you should be more inclined to bet.
Tip #2: When you are in position in a heads-up 3-bet pot, you should almost always c-bet unless the board is very coordinated.
Keeping up the aggression on the flop works well because, as the 3-bettor, you will almost always have the range advantage. And because the stack-to-pot ratio is relatively small in 3-bet pots, the proper strategy to use is a high-frequency, small bet size strategy.
Tip#3: After defending from your big blind, you should check-call on the flop if you have at least 1 overcard and the nut backdoor flush draw.
For example, suppose you defend your big blind versus an early position raise with A♠ J♥. The flop comes Q♠ 4♠ 2♦, you check and your opponent c-bets small.
This spot is usually worth calling, barring a very large bet size or very tight opponent. Calling with this hand will help you deal with continued aggression if the turn is an ace. Additionally, you can turn your hand into a very effective semi-bluff if the flush completes on the turn. You can even bluff on the river when the runout completes a lot of draws.
Ace-Jack offsuit is a nice and profitable hand, but you need to be careful with it when faced with aggression. By following the advice in this article, you should be able to navigate much more smoothly than most of your opponents at the table, thus making less mistakes and winning more money over time.
If you enjoy this type of content or you have any feedback or questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment is the section below and I will gladly reply!
Here’s what I suggest reading next: When Should You C-Bet with Middle or Bottom Pair in Cash Games?
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
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