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Texas Holdem Poker


by: Lou Krieger

While two is company and three is a crowd — even in poker — a crowd is often desirable, particularly when it means you’ve flopped a set. Sets can be big money-makers because of their built-in deception — flop one and your opponent won’t generally realize it until it’s cost him a few chips. Last issue discussed how to play a set in a variety of situations, and we’ll pick up right where we left off.

When you’ve flopped a set and the board is threatening, you may need to exercise some caution, depending upon how ominous that threat is. Suppose you were trapped with a pair of sevens behind an opponent who raised before the flop. You called, along with a number of others, and the flop was Ad-Ks-7d.

You’ve flopped a set, but a raise from one of your opponents before the flop offers a clue that he might have flopped a bigger one. In reality, however, you’ve probably trapped the raiser, who is more that two-and-a-half times as likely to have raised with A-K or A-Q than a pair of aces or kings. But you can’t be sure, and you might be the one who is trapped behind his set of aces or kings.

It’s also possible that someone is drawing with a hand like Kd-Qd, and you also have to think about the implications of a diamond falling on the turn or river. While you may win this hand, there are also a lot of ways to lose it, and not one of them qualifies as a bad beat. This is not a comfortable situation: you’ve flopped a set but have to play cautiously.

Now, to make matters even worse, suppose the pot were three- or four-bet before the flop. If your opponents are not all maniacs — the kind who will make it four bets on the weakest of holdings — the chances of an overset is even more likely. After all, there may not be many hands most rational players will cap the betting with, but aces and kings are definitely two of them.

You’re in the judgment zone here. At best, an educated guess about the range of hands your opponent might be holding is required. Because you’ll seldom be sure, when you lose to a bigger set it is bound to cost you some checks. Whenever you get the feeling that you might be in this situation, damage control and cautions play are the orders of the day.

If the turn card is benign, you can checkraise to define your hand. If you are called, it’s likely that you have the best hand. But if any disciplined player reraises you, you probably are looking at an overset — and while I realize that a set is difficult to release, it might be time to at least consider the possibility.

Whenever the board is three-suited or three-sequenced you might already be up against a made hand — and that’s another danger you’ll need to deal with. Regardless of any intrinsic value your set might have, in this situation your equity in the pot may have been reduced to a draw. If there is very aggressive action, assume that your opponent has a flush or a straight, and that you need to improve to win. If the turn card either four-suits or four-sequences the board, your once proud and might set has been reduced to a holding that can beat only a bluff. Regardless of the board, however, you won’t want to release your hand in most circumstances. After all, on the flop you’ve go one chance in three of improving to a full house or better, and as long as you’ve got two or more opponents you’re getting the right pot odds to draw. If you’re up against one opponent, you probably shouldn’t release your hand either, since you’re more likely to be bluffed in a heads-up situation than any other.

Occasionally you’ll be lucky enough to flop a set of aces, only to see the turn bring a third suited card to one of your hole cards. Suppose you held Ah-As and the board reads Ac-Qh-Th-6h on the turn. If one of your opponents bets, go ahead and raise when it’s your turn to act. If someone has a flush you still have a reasonably good chance to outdraw him on the river, since another heart will complete your hand, as will the remaining ace, or any other card that pairs the board. If you make your hand on the river and your opponent bets, you can raise without a care. If the river card is a brick you’ll probably have to call unless there is a bet and a raise in front of you. Betting this kind of hand aggressively provides a chance to capture a very big pot if you get lucky. And who knows, you may also have the best hand — even when the river is no help at all.

Flopping trips is an entirely different proposition than flopping a set. “What’s the difference,” you say? “After all, three-of-a-kind is still three-of-a-kind.” There is a big difference, however, between holding a pair in your hand and seeing that third card flop (a “set”), and seeing a paired flop match one of your hole cards (“trips”).

If you flop trips, you won’t be sure that you are the only one with three-of-a-kind. And if someone else also holds that same set of trips with a bigger kicker, you are in trouble. It’s also possible that a paired board will give one of your opponents a full house. This can happen in either of two ways. If you flopped trips while your opponent holds a pair that matches the third board card, he has a full house. You are stuck with three-of-a-kind, and staring, I might add, up a rather steep hill.

Your opponent can also make a full house when he flops trips and his side card also pairs the board. If you hold K-Q and your opponent holds K-J, you were a big favorite before the flop. But if the flop was K-K-J, your opponent has a full house, and your trips will be severely punished once the betting limits double. Moreover, unless a queen or an ace comes on the turn or river, your opponent will know he has the best possible hand, and will be able to bet and raise with no hesitation. At some point you’ll suspect you’re beaten, but not soon enough to avoid some chip depletion.

Trips can, however, be a wining hand, and frequently are. Nevertheless it is important to realize that when the board is paired, all of the inherent deception that’s present when you flop a set is gone. Everyone can see that the board is paired, and if your opponents continue to bet into a paired board, at some point you’ll have to credit them for a hand that is either helped by that pairing, or can beat it.

Unless they have a very powerful hand, a paired board can also make your opponents cautious. The consequence of their caution is that you will not garner nearly as many bets as you would if you held a well-disguised set. If the paired board only yields trips, you are vulnerable to a full house, and caution, rather than aggression, is usually the course of action you’ll take. Even though trips win much of the time, they tend to inhibit the kind of aggressive play required to build a large pot, and are vulnerable unless you fill up.

While sets and trips are both three-of-a-kind, the ramifications of their difference are significant. You can expect to win significantly more money, and win more often with a set than with trips.

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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