One of the trickiest decisions people make when learning how to play Jacks or Better is whether to keep a low pair or a high card. You’re essentially choosing between making more money or winning more hands. In Jacks or better, the majority of wins come from pairs (jacks and up), which pay even-money. The low pair won’t win you anything on its own, but it can lead to trips, which pay 3-1, and quads, which pay 25-1. You can choose to play it safe for lower payouts, or hope that the low pairs net you a more fruitful payout.

We’ll illustrate the dilemma with an example. Let’s say you land two Sixes (clubs and diamonds), a Queen of spades, a Four of hearts, and an Eight of diamonds. What would you hold on to? For the highest expected return (aka the most money), you should hold on to the low pair and swap everything else. The expected return is 0.8236. If you hold onto just the Queen, it yields an expected return of 0.4822.

Alternatively, you could hold onto the low pair and the Queen, for an expected return of 0.6753. But you’ve got to keep in mind, holding onto that Queen means there’s a lower chance of capitalizing on the low pair.

The only time you should swap out low pairs is when you have a chance to land something higher up in the rankings. If you have four cards to a flush, and the fifth card is part of a low pair, you should go for the flush instead of the low pair. Even three cards to a royal flush should be pursued over a low pair. But when your low pair is up against flimsier competition, like a high card that’ll likely lead to a pair, the low pair is where the value’s at.