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The Wrong Way to Play Trips

12/04/2018 by Jonathan Little

I was recently told about a hand from a $50 buy-in online tournament that illustrates a common mistake many recreational players make on a regular basis. With blinds at 30/60 with a 5 ante, everyone folded to our Hero in the cutoff who raised to 150 out of his 1,600 effective stack with A8. Unknown players on the button and big blind called.

The flop came 988 , giving Hero trips. The pot was 510 with 1,450 remaining in the stacks. The big blind checked and Hero checked as well.

Hero told me that he thought checking was a good play because the board should be much better for his opponents’ range than his. While it is true that the opponents should have more eights than Hero, he should essentially always want to bet with his best made hands and draws. With his best made hands, he wants to extract value from worse made hands and draws, and with his draws, he wants to pick up the pot immediately. By playing in this balanced manner, his opponents will have no idea as to whether or not he is value betting with a premium hand or semi-bluffing with a draw. In general, on boards where Hero should have more decently strong hands than his opponents, he should bet frequently and for a small size. While I understand that Hero should have relatively few trips in his range, he should also have lots of overpairs that would like to bet for both value and protection. I would have bet 200 in this spot.

The player on the button bet 250 and the big blind called. Hero decided to go all-in for 1,200 more.

While I am fine with the idea of trying to play a big pot, Hero went about it in a way that makes it obvious that he likes his hand. If Hero likes his hand, it is likely an overpair or better. Since the opponents should have almost no overpairs in their ranges and Hero has an eight in his hand (making it difficult for the opponents to have trips) this check-raise all-in should almost never get called, which is the opposite of what Hero wants. Playing in this manner also makes it impossible for the opponents to continue bluffing on the later betting rounds. While check-raising is not terrible, I think calling will lead to more profitable spots for Hero, even though he will get outdrawn by the various straight draws from time to time.

From talking with Hero, it seems like he is working on his game and starting to think about how his range fares against his opponents’ ranges, but he went wrong in thinking that a check-raise all-in was better than a straightforward continuation bet. Had Hero bet the flop, his opponents may have pushed all-in with their draws, allowing Hero to get all-in as a big favorite. He would have also gotten called by the inferior, but decent made hands, such as J-9. As played, Hero likely left significant money on the table.