How to Play Jacks or Better

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Jacks or Better Rules & Instructions

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  • 2-5 players 


  • Standard Deck of 52 Playing Cards
  • Poker Chips
  • A Dealer’s coin (optional)

Additional Setup Notes

  • The standard order of poker hands is in effect (High card, pair, two pair, etc.)
  • In straights, Aces can either play high or low but cannot connect a King to a 2 (i.e. A, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10, J, Q, K, A are both valid straights, but Q, K, A, 2, 3 is not)


    Build the best poker hand possible that is above a pair of Jacks.


    Before playing, decide who will deal first and what the ante will be for each round. Each hand, the players will ante, then the dealer will give each player five cards.

    The first person clockwise from the dealer can either check or open the betting if they have a pair of Jacks or better. Play goes in a clockwise direction and each player can either check (if betting has not been opened), call (if betting has been opened), raise the bet, or fold. This betting round continues until all the remaining players have called for the correct amount or checked just like other versions of poker. 

    Once the first betting round is over, each player can choose to discard up to five cards and replace them. Once every player has drawn the appropriate number of cards, the second round of betting begins. Starting with the person clockwise from the dealer, each player has the opportunity to open the pot, but only if their hand is a pair of Jacks or better.

    If a player cannot open the betting, they check and the next person is allowed the option to open. Once the betting is opened, players can either call, raise, or fold.Once the action has ended, everyone shows their hands and the pot is awarded to the player with the best hand. It is typical that the player who opened the pot should also show that they had a hand which allowed them to open the betting, even if they folded.

    If someone opens before the draw, they usually keep their discarded cards on the table so that it can be determined they opened the betting legally.

    During the second round of betting, if no player is able to open betting because they do not have at least a pair of Jacks, the cards are collected and the deal passes clockwise to the next person, but the pot remains on the table.

    Players will then ante again and a new hand will be dealt. Usually in casino play if this happens three times in a row, the fourth hand will not require an ante to play. However, you can institute any limit you want if playing in a casual setting.


    Once all the betting action is completed, the pot is awarded to either the final active player or whomever has the best hand.


    In order to open betting after the draw, a player must have at least a pair of Jacks.

    For example, if before the draw your hand is the Ace, King, Queen, Jack of spades and the 2 of hearts, you cannot open the betting because you only have a high card which does not beat a pair of Jacks. However, if you discard the 2 of hearts and receive a 10 of spades to complete the straight flush, you may open betting in the second round. 

    The reverse situation can also occur and is known as “splitting openers”. For example, if you are dealt the Ace, King, Queen, Jack of spades, and the 10 of hearts, you can open betting before the draw. During the draw, you declare that you are splitting openers and can discard the 10 of hearts in hope of receiving the 10 of spades to complete the royal flush (though this may not be strategic).

    If you split openers, you should keep your discarded cards on the table so that you can prove you were able to legally open the pot.

    Jacks or Better Variations and Alternate Rules

    Jacks or Better is a very common video poker game that plays differently than it would in person. Typically, you place your bet, receive your hand, and then decide which cards to discard. The strength of your resulting hand determines the pay out. This makes the game similar to blackjack in that you are playing against the house rather than other players whose hands you would have to beat to win the pot.


    What happens if someone opens the betting but they do not have the required hand?

    If a player opens the pot, then declares they did so falsely, they can retrieve any bets they made except for their opening bet and now has a dead hand as long as the first round has not ended already.

    Any other active player can open the betting continuing in play order. If a player before the false opener had a strong enough hand, but checked, they cannot open retroactively. If no player opens the betting, all bets can be retrieved except for the antes and the false opening bet.

    Play always continues (even if the opener declares a false open) if two players call the opening bet, someone raises the openers bet, or if the first round of betting has concluded. The opener does not get their bet back.

    If I have an opening hand, do I have to open?

    Not at all, that is just the requirement to begin the betting for the table. You are free to check and wait to begin the betting.

    If a player opens, but I do not have a pair of Jacks or higher, can I call or raise the bet?

    Yes. You only need a pair of Jacks to open. Once betting has been opened, you can call or raise no matter your hand (just make your bluff convincing!).

    writer colin tichvon

    Colin Tichvon | Writer

    A Yahtzee enthusiast and card shark in the making. Though his favorites are euchre and cribbage, Colin loves to try new games and share them with others.

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