In poker, they say pocket aces are only good until the flop. In other words, despite having a great starting hand, there is no such thing as a sure thing. That being said, let's take a look at one of the biggest payout hands – but sometimes one of the most difficult to play: the flopped set.
Most of the time, in a game of Texas Hold'em, you hold an advantage over your opponent when you are dealt a pocket pair, or two cards of the same value. The higher your starting pair, the better your odds of winning the hand. We have previously discussed the difficulties of playing a hand like pocket Jacks, as many players will call a pre-flop raise with hopes of pairing their queen, king or ace. Now, we will examine the course of action you should take when your pocket pair hits on the flop.
Making a set, or three-of-a-kind, on the flop only happens roughly once out of seven times you are dealt a pocket pair. But even when that happens, your hand is not always a shoo-in for the win. As the flop is revealed, notice if there are two or three cards to a straight or a flush. You may have to bet aggressively to avoid draw-outs, or you may have the hand locked-down and seek the best way to extract chips from your opponents.
Suppose you flopped middle set from early position on a dangerous board, showing possible flush opportunities or gut-shot straight draws, with three or four players still in the hand.
For this example, let's look at a hand like 8h8c with a flop reading Js 8s 6d. Assuming you raised pre-flop, a pot-sized bet after the flop could weed out the players with weak draws. It also informs you of what players who stick around may be holding. Top pairs and strong draws may come along with your bet. An opponent's raise over your bet could suggest a made hand, so be aware. There are few things as discouraging as flopping a middle set to a higher set and losing all the way down.
At the same time, they could be under the impression that their top-pair, top-kicker hand, or an over-pair is in the lead. You still hold a chance to boat up, or make a full house, if the board should pair – a powerful hand that would render a flush helpless.
Be cautious of what comes out on the turn. If the turn card is a rag, where it is likely that no one on a straight or flush draw benefitted from it, make an aggressive bet here to win yourself the pot. An unthreatening card in this situation would be 3h. There is no shame in taking down the pot with a set before seeing the river.
If all three cards on the flop can play to a flush or straight, look for signs that may suggest your set could be behind. Techniques discussed in previous columns, like the check-raise all-in or a minimum re-raise, could suggest that your opponent favors their hand a little more than you should be favoring your own.
Flopped sets are tough to lay down, so play these hands with caution. If you make it to the river, and your set is all you have to a board showing four cards to a flush, you might be smart in laying it down to an opponent's all-in bet.
Flopping a set in late action would require more aggressive play, especially with a drawing board.
For example, suppose you were dealt 7d7s, and the flop came out Ac Qc 7h. While the flop is likely to be in your favor, there are plenty of threats. Here, a big bet, twice the size of the pot, could do the trick, getting drawing hands out of the way. You may even get a caller, sitting on a hand with a big ace, which, statistically, would pay you off.
Because of the risks here, an all-in bet after the flop on your part is not out of the question, especially with a large pot built up. Consider what your opponents may have called with, pre-flop, and try to deduce the hands they would play, judging by the bets you make.
Looking at the same starting hand, suppose the flop came out Ac 7h 2d. You would want to play more passively here, in attempts to disguise your set, especially with three or four players left to play in front of you. Call a bet ahead of you, or consider checking if it gets around the table. A subtle minimum re-raise could work in your favor, too. Making a bet too big may scare off middle or high hands, such as AQ, that could potentially earn you a lot of chips.
Now that you're a little more knowledgeable of what to do in particular hands, go try your luck. Check online at sites like FullTiltPoker.com or PokerStars.net. Keep in mind, there are plenty of opportunities to play live games without risking much money or any at all.
Poker at the Beach still offers casino-style Texas Hold'em games every night of the week except Wednesdays in Rehoboth Beach, along Coastal Highway in Lighthouse Plaza. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and tables will operate until midnight, Mondays through Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays. Poker at the Beach is open on Sundays from 1 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
A casino-style rake will be taken throughout the evening and donated to local community charities in Sussex County. You can even try your luck in other styles of poker games, like Omaha and 7-Card Stud. Players are able to buy in with a minimum of $20 and a maximum of $150, each night, so there are no worries of losing too much. Check out www.pokeratthebeach.com for more information.
If you're still a little skeptical of throwing down your own cash in a game, check out Resort Poker League throughout the area, every day of the week. Players can play for free at local restaurants and venues for chances at winning gift certificates, vacation getaways and a variety of other prizes. Bonus chips are awarded for frequent play, early registration and food purchases. For more information, including participating venues and times, visit www.resortpokerleague.com.
Still not sure if you're ready to take a seat at the felt? Check out the biggest poker event in the world, the World Series of Poker's Main Event on ESPN, airing Tuesday nights this month. The table has been set for nine players in Las Vegas as they put their chips on the line for the quest for $8.5 million and the coveted Main Event bracelet.