Trips and sets are quite similar, but there is a significant difference. Both represent three-of-a-kind – most often a winning hand. To beat your hand, assuming you didn’t make a full-house, an opponent would have to catch a straight, a flush, a higher three-of-a-kind, or a full-house – all fairly rare.
Here’s a key question: Which would you prefer – a set of Aces or trip Aces? For best answer, let’s explore the differences.
Starting with a pair in the hole – say, it’s two Aces and a third Ace falls on the flop. You now have a set of Aces. Great! You could also make three Aces with just one Ace in the hole. That would be the case if two more Aces were to fall on the board. We call that trip Aces. Also, great!
But there is one very significant difference: With trips, it is possible two players have the same three-of-a-kind. Then, unless one or both of the two players catches a full-house (extremely unlikely), the kicker becomes all-important.
That happened to me recently in a $4-$8 limit game at the Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif. From the under-the-gun position, I was dealt A-10 diamonds, and stayed to see the flop along with several other players. I could hardly believe my eyes when the first two cards on the flop were Aces. That gave me trip Aces – bound to be a huge favorite to win the pot.
Jon, the player to my immediate right – the Big Blind – opened the betting. He was a rather loose and aggressive player. He could be betting with almost anything in the hole. It was even conceivable he was trying to steal the pot.
I decided to slow-play to build the pot; so I just called his bet as did two other players. The turn was a blank. Again, Jon bet out. Not wanting to chase the other two players out of the hand, I just called his bet. Both of the other two players did likewise. The pot looked pretty good to me, as I anticipated winning it with my big three-of-a-kind – trip Aces.
The river was another blank. Three Aces had to be the winner, I was certain. Jon made the opening bet on the river. I glanced to my left; both opponents looked as if they were getting ready to muck their hands. Good tells. Now, it would be best for me to raise the betting to build the pot further, assuming Jon would call my raise.
But then, I was somewhat staggered when Jon re-raised me. I paused to consider the situation. Jon could also have trip Aces. I thought my 10 in the hole was a pretty good kicker, but certainly not the nuts. So, I just called his re-raise.
Showdown: Jon had A-K in the hole. He had me beat all the way with his bigger kicker. To say the least, I was very disappointed and quite upset. As it turned out, I would have needed to pair my kicker to win that pot; I had just three outs after the flop – little did I know. That‘s an inevitable possible problem with trips. But that’s poker.
It would have been much different had I started with pocket Aces, and caught the third Ace on the flop. Then my three Aces would not be highly dependent on the strength of the kicker.
In both cases, trips and sets, your hand is not necessarily the nuts. Both are somewhat vulnerable. Keep that in mind as the hand progresses. An opponent could catch a straight, a higher set, a flush, or even a full-boat to demolish your three-of-a-kind on the flop. Should you be extremely fortunate and catch a full-boat on the turn or the river, then you could, indeed, have the nuts. (Four-of-a-kind is also possible.)
Otherwise, carefully observe the board. Is a straight or a flush possible? If not, you are on sound footing. Do whatever it takes to build that pot. It’s almost certain to be yours at the showdown. Good luck.