Poker Strategy: Trips, Sets and You

It’s the hand that sneaks up on many players unawares and its unassuming nature gives you the chance to make a lot of money. We’re talking about three-of-a-kind. First of all, though, we need to clarify the difference between a “set” and “trips,” since that’ll help define the conversation a bit. A “set” occurs when you’ve got a pocket pair and a third card hits the board. “Trips” is when one of your hole cards meets a pair on the board.

When you’re holding a pocket pair, there’s a 10.78% chance that you’re going to flop a set. Most people like to slowplay them, since they’ll hold up through the river, but you should be open to other ways to play the card as sometimes a bit of force can get a lot done.

Slowplaying is most appropriate when you think your opponent is weak, regardless of whether you have position on them. When you’re holding three of a kind, you should let them see a cheap turn and/or river because your hand strength is overwhelmingly in your favor. You can also slowplay if you have reason to believe your opponent bluffs a lot and the flop is such a mess that it’s unlikely that they hit anything. As an example, you’ve got JJ and you’ve put him on A-K or K-Q on a flop of J72. Check to him and let him hand you the rope that you’re going to hang him with. If he keeps playing and hits his K or Q, he’s likely to get into you for a lot more money before everything’s done.

However, if you are in position, you might want to consider playing fast, especially if you think your opponent has a strong hand like overpair or top pair. Raise him, let them bet or check or (hopefully) check-raise you. If there’s no A or K on the flop, run them a bit ragged. Aces and King tend to be scare cards when you’re fast playing and players really slow down if one shows up and they don’t have one in the pocket. Try to get the most value out of your opponents when you can.

A lot of players consider trips to be worse than sets because someone else can flop a full house and beat you, but the odds are definitely on your side as there’s less than a 1% chance of someone flopping a boat with a pair in the hole. The bigger vulnerability to trips is someone else outkicking you with the same trips, particularly if you have trip face cards with a low kicker. If you’ve got a weak kicker and have flopped trip aces, betting/raising is usually the wise choice.

Don’t be afraid to push things a bit when you’ve got trips. I’ve found that as long as your opponent has been playing consistently aggro, you can definitely tap them for more money than they’d normally pay out. Remember that poker is a game of control and as long as you’ve got some control over the table, you’re going to make out more often than not.