Friday, April 08, 2011

Game, set, but no match

In the current issue of Card Player magazine, Steve Zolotow has a column about the difference in hold'em between a set (pair in your hand matching a card on the board) and trips (one in your hand matching a pair on the board). I would have thought that anybody who has played for more than a minimal amount of time would already understand why there is no contest between them, though Zolotow says that "many inexperienced players fail to realize how much difference there is between trips and a set."

He goes on to illustrate one way to view the difference: If the board is 7-4-2 and you're holding 4-4, there are only three possible combinations of cards (the three ways to make three 7s) an opponent could be holding that have you beat. But if the board is 7-4-4 and you're holding 4-2 (he picks this unfortunate example, apparently not knowing its unique power; we'll let that slide for now), there are 43 combinations of two hole cards an opponent could have that are ahead of you--even though nominally these two hands are equivalent at the moment (4-4-4-7-2).

He also points out that it's often harder to win an opponent's entire stack with trips than with a set, because the trips are more exposed, and players with overpairs tend to be alert to the obvious danger.

All true enough. But he fails to point out another way in which a set has a big advantage over trips. Suppose the board is A-9-9. You have 9-10, your opponent has A-K for top pair/top kicker. You get it all in. If he catches another ace on the turn or river, you're toast; his aces full will crush your nines full.

If, however, we keep his cards the same, but give you 9-9, with a flop of A-10-9, you have the same five-card hand as in the first example (9-9-9-A-10), but now binking another ace will do your opponent no good. He will make trip aces, but the same card will elevate you to a full house. He will have to catch both the turn and the river with some combination of aces and kings (or a straight or flush) in order to prevail.

(In this situation, when the guy with top pair sees another ace come, he often celebrates for a few seconds, thinking he has pulled off an upset, before somebody points out to him the painful truth.)

A set is, as a general rule, so much better than trips that it's not even close. I think I had figured that out pretty early on in my live play. I wonder if Zolotow is right that this truth is not widely recognized among less-experienced players.


bastinptc said...

Imagine how difficult this concept is for those holding a pocket pair who, when the board pairs, are quick to point out on showdown that they have two pair. I hear it all of the time from the causal player. Trips must seem like a windfall.

Anonymous said...

grump! its summerlin from ur home games, i have joined the game starting in few mins but i am chatbanned so cannot talk noooo!!!

just letting u not being ignorant or anything lol

gl and keep up the blog!!

Mr. Clean said...

I think Zoloft...Zolotow, sorry...made the comment from the frightening trend that's been spreading amongst live poker.

Board is A-A-9. Player bets, other guys folds. Guy proudly proclaims, "Yeah. I have a set," and turned over ace rag.

Terminology mistakes don't bother me when they're mistakes. When they're confidently incorrect, it makes the hairs on my neck stand.