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Texas Holdem Poker

FLOPPING A SET - Part 1


by: Lou Krieger

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 you.

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.

Flopping a Set Part 1 / Flopping a Set Part 2 - Your chances of getting a set, what you need to know.

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