When I peek at my hole cards and see a pair staring back at me, my
prayer to the poker god is always the same: “Let me flop a set,
please” I silently intone, while waiting for the flop to render
it’s always capricious and sometimes cruel judgment. Most of the
time my prayers go unanswered. But sometimes they do reach the sky,
and I am lucky enough to flop a set. In fact, I’ll flop two sets
just about every 17 times I’m dealt a pair — which means
the poker god smiles on me about as frequently as he blesses you. And
the odds against currying his favor, should curiosity get the better
of you, are 7.5-to-1.
If you’re rash enough to play every pair regardless of position,
you could expect to flop a set in a typical casino hold’em game
about every three-and-a-half hours. Since you probably won’t play
every pair you’re dealt, chances are there’ll be days when
you won’t flop a set at all. Don’t despair. Neither the
cards nor the dealer has it in for you, it’s just that the poker
god chooses to express himself through the random distribution of cards
— and you ought to expect it.
There’ll be other days however, when you’ll flop three
or four sets in a session, and sets have the potential to be big money
makers whenever you’re lucky enough to have them hold up and you
know how to extract an extra bet or two from your opponents.
It’s important to realize that you have some natural deception
built into your hand whenever you happen to flop a set. Most opponents
will not assume you have a set until after they’ve had to call
a raise or two, and by then it’s usually too late. But you can’t
play each set the same way. A variety of variables can influence your
play. They include: position, the number of players in the pot, whether
the board is threatening or benign, and — based on your assessment
of the action before the flop — the range of hands your opponents
might be playing. All these factors should be taken into account in
determining how to play you’re set.
Suppose there were six or more players active before the flop. In early
position it’s usually best to check with the intention of raising,
or check and call — and try for a checkraise on the turn, when
the betting limits double. If a player to my left bets and is called
by a large number of players, I will generally raise on the flop. Many
players, especially in low limit games, will call one bet on the flop
with overcards, or with second-pair, or some other marginal holding,
in an attempt to catch an inexpensive miracle card on the turn.
If you call and plan to checkraise the turn, you may not get that call
from many of your opponents once the bets have doubled. Suppose you
were holding a pair of sevens and one of your opponents called with
A-Q. If the board looked something like 9-7-4 of mixed suits, your opponent
might call one bet on the flop in hopes of catching an ace or a ten
on the turn. But if the turn doesn’t help him, he’s not
likely to cold-call a raise — or even call another bet.
Raising on the flop traps anyone in search of an inexpensive miracle
card for two bets instead of one. If the turn isn’t any help and
they fold in the face of a bet, your raise will have succeeded in getting
more dead money into the pot. Even when the do get lucky and make pair
one of their overcards, they’ve only succeeded in trapping themselves
for additional bets on the turn and the river. While they will occasionally
get lucky and outdraw you, they are underdogs; the very sort of opponent
who should be made to pay dearly for his abysmally slim chance of beating
Suppose you are on the button with a set and are up against a large
number of opponents. If there’s a bet and a lot of callers, this
is the time to raise. Your opponents will not put you on a set. Not
yet, anyway. Their natural inclination will be to figure you for two
pair, top pair with a big kicker, or perhaps an overpair. In for a single
bet, they will surely call the second one. Even when the board is threatening,
you must make your opponents pay for their draw.
Remember, with a set you not only have a good hand, you have a drawing
hand too. Suppose you have that same pair of sevens but this time the
board shows Qs-7s-4d. Even if you knew with complete certainty that
one of your opponents held As-Js — the nut flush draw —
you can’t allow him to draw for free. The odds against your opponent
making a flush are 1:86:1, and you are the favorite. Moreover, he’s
not the only one with a chance to improve. You are drawing too. In fact,
any of seven turn cards (3 queens, 1 seven, or 3 fours) give you a full
house or better, and if the turn card doesn’t pair the board,
there are ten river cards that will improve your hand. If you get very
lucky, the card that pairs the board will be the four of spades, making
your full house and your opponent’s flush. When that happens,
you’ll get all the action you want, and you’ll love it.
When you’re facing only one or two opponents it is better to
keep your intentions under wraps until the turn, when you can try for
a checkraise from early position whenever you believe one your opponents
will bet. If you don’t think that either of your opponents will
come out betting, your chances of checkraising are nil, and your best
course of action is to bet and hope they will call you to the river.
When the pot is small and you are last to act, you’re probably
better off calling the flop with the intention of raising the turn.
If your opponent doesn’t bet the turn, you will have to bet and
hope he calls. If you bet and he folds, don’t berate yourself
for leaving money on the table; there’s not much you could have
done differently in that situation, since your opponent probably didn’t
have much of a hand.
In the next article we’ll look at what happens when you flop
a set and the board is threatening. How should you play it? Is passive
or aggressive play better under those circumstances. You’ll also
see what happens when you flop three-of-a-kind with a pair on board
rather than hidden in your hand. There are big differences between flopping
a set, and making trips when the board pairs. Stay tuned.
a Set Part 1 / Flopping
a Set Part 2 - Your chances of getting a set, what you need to know.
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