A pair in the hole, whether it's 2-2 or A-A, presents a fantastic opportunity if you're lucky enough to flop three of a kind -- otherwise known as a set.
Flop three of a kind, and it would be rare that someone else in the pot will have you beat. Quite often, though, your opponents will catch their straights or flushes on the draw and crush your trips.
While flopping a set is very fortunate, you must protect your hand, while at the same time getting maximum value for it. This presents a dilemma: How do you bet the hand?
Here are a few key pointers that will help you decide whether it's better to bet aggressively, or to sit back and let your opponents bet for you.
This is probably the most important variable when deciding how to play a set. For example, if you're dealt K-K and the flop comes K-7-2, check the flop and give your opponents a chance to catch up a little bit.
Since you hold pocket cowboys, the flop gives you the obvious lead. The hands you can trap are A-A, or the smaller sets of sevens or deuces. Best of all, if your opponents have any of those hands, you'll likely get all of their chips.
But what if there's a textured flop like Q-10-8, and you have 10-10? This is what's known as an action flop. There's a three-card straight on board as well as a flush draw. The only hands that can beat you at this point are J-9 or Q-Q, but keep in mind, there are several hands that could draw out on you.
A player holding K-J, for example, could beat you if he catches an ace or a nine to fill his straight. Someone else holding Ah-Jh, could win with a heart, nine, or a king.
A set, in this situation, should not be slowplayed because your opponents will probably call if they have any piece of the board. Play the hand aggressively, and take the pot down now.
Type of opponents
If you're playing against an opponent who habitually bluffs when others don't bet, don't take that play away from him when you hit your set.
Let's say you have those pocket kings again, and the board comes K-7-2. Play coy and check to him. You can even check to him on every street and let him bluff all the way.
If you bet the flop, the bluffer will probably fold since it's highly unlikely that he has much of a hand. However, if you check, he might see that as an opportunity to bluff the hand through.
Conversely, if you're up against a player who will not bet with a drawing hand, there's no sense looking to trap him. Bet your trips and hope that he found a hand good enough to call you with.
Your seat at the table is a big factor in determining how to play a flopped set.
Let's say you called a small raise in a five-way pot with pocket threes. Then the flop comes K-10-3.
You're the first player to act. What should you do? Check.
It's quite likely that one of the other four players in the hand will bet such a flop. If no one bets, that's not so bad either. If the turn is an ace, for example, you'll be able to trap a player holding A-K for even more chips.
Now, if you're in last position, everything changes. You'll be able to see what everyone does first; there's no downside to the flop being checked around. If everyone does check to you, bet! With any luck, someone will think you're trying to steal the pot, and they'll raise you.
More chips for you.
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& copy; 2006, Card Shark Media.