Set and three of a kind in poker is not just a three of a kind

A fairly strong combination of three cards of the same rank, as newcomers to the game of poker may have noticed, is referred to in poker slang in two ways: “trips” or “sets.

In essence, it is still the same combination, differing in the way it is formed:

  • A set is a combination in poker of three cards (three of a kind) made up of two pocket cards and one board card. That is, you have a set if a third card falls to your pocket pair on the board;
  • Trips in poker are the same combination, only made up of one pocket card and two board cards.

Even though it’s basically the same combination, the odds in poker of getting three cards on the flop are different. For a set, it’s 10.78% (8.3 to 1), and for a triple, it’s 1.35% (73.2 to 1). Based on these odds, it’s clear that it’s about nine times harder to put together a triplet poker hand than a set. This is logically because it is much easier to “catch” one card out of two than two cards out of three. The lower chances of trips have even spawned a saying among experienced poker players: “Sets win, but trips lose money”. Let’s see how true that is.

Guess the Trips

The fact is that trips in poker is a very recognizable hand. Any paired board, especially if it’s dry and shallow, with little explicable activity from your opponent will allow you to put the presence of a triplet in your opponent’s hand. That’s why players even with top pair and top kicker act much more cautiously in such situation. Consequently, a triplet in poker rarely has a high EV in poker.

Set in Hold’em Poker

Of course, a lot depends on one’s ability to read one’s opponent and one’s history of playing with him when playing a triplet. But in any case, with a triplet in hand, it’s hard enough to force your opponent to put a lot of money in the pot. However, this is not the weakest point of the trips combination in poker.

The vulnerability of a triple is that it can be beaten by the same triple, but with a stronger kicker. This is especially true in the situation of ace trips. Therefore, with a weak kicker, your best bet is to raise your poker bets. If your hand is strong, it’s more likely to win, if not, you’re more likely to meet a raise or a rebuke and drop your weak triplet.

The Unseen Set in Poker

The situation with a set in poker is quite different. High odds of getting one allow you to have a high mathematical expectation for a preflop call, so playing small pocket cards is profitable. A set is invisible, so the opponent with the top pair and the top kicker most of the time might think the opponent has a top pair with a weak kicker, paying the EV of the player’s hand with the set.

The lack of visibility of the set in poker leads even experienced players to defend their hand in such situations, and it would seem that the set could be played more passively if you don’t have more than 20% of your poker stack in the pot. However, given the fact that the probability of a set is much lower than, for example, a par, straight or flush, it’s worth breaking the pot to increase equity in poker over the distance if you get one.

The combination of trips and sets in poker

It’s hardly correct to call a poker combination of three cards a “three,” given such different equity and the draws of a set and a triple. Each type is worthy of its own name and should be the only one in the conversation of professionals.

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