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Jackpots (Jacks Or Better To Open)

This game has several unique features. First, the pot seldom offers more than 2 to 1 odds in the early stages; in the classic game, there are eight players, each antes a quarter to start the pot with $2, and the limit is $1 before the draw, $2 after the draw (or any ante, first limit and second limit proportionate to those figures). Unless at least three players are in before you and no one has raised, you must throw away all bobtail straights and four flushes. Since you know that the maximum hand is a pair of jacks, you can play no less than kings as second man and need at least aces thereafter. The game is usually played by casual and unknowing players who stick around with any low pair and often with less, but if the game is played seriously there is little action and it is chiefly a game of waiting for the big pot. After all, you will figure to hold a hand as good as aces only once in six or seven deals.

The average winning hand after the draw is jacks up.

Jackpots is a game for sandbagging. You should seldom open if you are earlier than fifth man, and then you should have kings; only the sixth or seventh man can dare open on jacks or queens. It is almost incredible that a man in first or second position can gain by opening, because with a fair hand (up to kings) he is likely to be beaten before the draw and with a better hand he will do better by waiting for someone else to open and then raising if there are not too many players (or, in a wide-open game, even if there are). Three of a kind or a pat straight are a good pass in the first three positions. If no one opens, don't grieve; probably your maximum gain would have been the antes if you had opened, and you are better off in the long run waiting for big action on good hands.

The foregoing assumes the usual rules—that the opener bets first. Therefore the opener automatically endows himself with the worst position, and the player who checks before the opener and then comes back in will have good position. He will act last or nearly last.

I give you the record of a game in one of California's best legal clubs, playing jackpots, simply to show to what lengths experienced players will go to avoid being the opener: Jackpots; eight players; pass and back in. A (worthless) checks;

B (Q-Q-Q-6-6) checks; C (worthless) checks; D (9-9-9-8-3) checks; E (A-A-A-A-2) checks; F and G (both worthless) check; H, dealer (Q-Q-J-7-4) opens. A drops, B raises, C drops, D raises, E stays, F, G, H drop. B raises, D stays, E raises. B raises, D stays, E raises. B raises, D stays, E raises, B and D stay. No hand improves; B and D check, E bets, B calls, D drops. E wins.

It is noteworthy that not only the second player, B, with a pat full, and the fourth player, D, with three nines, refused to open, but even that the fifth player, E, with four aces dealt to him, refused to open. The dealer, H, was justified in trying to steal the ante on his pair of queens, and he was very wise to drop when he saw what the situation was. Probably D stayed a bit longer than he would have if he had read the situation correctly, but most players would have done as he did. The hero of the hand was the fifth player, E, who was willing to let his four aces pass without profit if he could not make a killing on them. Mathematically, there was as much chance that there would be openers after him as that there were sandbaggers before him. This was a celebrated hand because the pot was relatively so large and the play was so unusual. Nevertheless it is an example of the tactics used by many of the most successful players in jackpots.

The disadvantage of opening and the advisability of playing for the killing are if anything intensified when a jackpots game is played with table stakes, as it often is. In such a game the ultimate bet can be very large and the advisability of playing for the big pot is even greater.

I have played more in a jackpots game of draw poker with high stakes or table stakes than in any other game, and my ad¬vice to a player in such a game is as follows: Don't worry about the quarters that roll away round after round; they will not affect your winnings materially, even if the stakes are high and they happen to be dollars. Don't grieve when you have a big pat hand, choose not to open, and see the hand passed out; you wouldn't have won much anyway. These are normal hazards of the game. There are many games in which the average pot is $3 or $4 and the extraordinary pot is $40 or more. A few of those big pots in the course of a long session will make a player a winner regardless of his results on the other pots.

But remember (as I said in the section on Money Management) that this approach is mathematically unsound when the overhead is high.
 
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