Sets vs. Trips: What’s the Difference and Why Is It Important?

min read
Three aces lying on scattered blue, red, and white poker chips.
BetMGM Sep 12, 2023, 12:52 PM

Many beginners, and even some more experienced players, mistakenly think that the terms “set” and “trips” are interchangeable. While both terms describe three of a kind, there’s actually a significant difference between the two.

This article is here to explain both the semantic and the strategic differences between sets and trips in poker. Whether you’re playing in-person or online poker, this knowledge will help you improve your game.

Two Sides of Three of a Kind

Yes, the terms “sets” and “trips” both refer to three-of-a-kind poker hands. However, the key difference depends on your hole cards.

If you’re holding a pocket pair and the third card comes from the board, that’s a set.

On the other hand, imagine you’ve assembled three of a kind with just one hole card and two board cards. In that scenario, you have trips.


Your hand is pocket 10s. The board reads ace, jack, 10, 7, 4. In this situation, you’re holding a pair and the third 10 comes from the board. This is a “set of 10s.” 

Or, maybe your hand is king-queen. The board is king, king, 10, 9, 4. You’ve once again assembled three of a kind. However, two kings come from the community cards, with just one from your hand. Here you have “trip kings.”

Probabilities on the Flop

In order to hit a set on the flop, you need to start the game with a pocket pair. The odds of the third card appearing among the first three community cards are +828.

If you’re hoping for trips, however, you’ll need two hole cards of different values. The odds of assembling three of a kind on the flop are now significantly lower, at just +7,307.

Sets vs. Trips: Which Is Better?

Surely sets and trips are equally good since both hands are different forms of three-of-a-kind? Well, not quite.

Texas Hold’em poker is a game of hidden information. With more knowledge, you can make better choices. Thus, you’ll want your opponents to discern as little information as possible.

That’s what makes one type of three-of-a-kind better than the other. Can you already figure out which one? If not, don’t worry, as the next paragraph will reveal all.

Sets Are Stealthy

One of the major things poker coaching teaches is how to figure out what your opponents might be holding. You can deduce this from several factors, including the way they’re playing and the visible cards on the table.

In Texas Hold’em games, it’s relatively easy to spot a potential straight or a flush. You notice that the board is connected or that the flop contains three spades, for example. In both scenarios, alarm bells will ring for most players.

However, what happens with a rainbow board that looks something like queen, 9, 7, 4, 2? A hand like pocket 9, for instance, makes for a powerful but incredibly well-disguised set.

And that’s where the power of the set comes from. Your opponents typically won’t see it coming, thus adding to the pot when they shouldn’t. Sets can be great hands for stacking average players and taking down decent pots.

Trips Are Telegraphed

In contrast, trips play out very differently. Perhaps your hand is king-9. The board is queen, 9, 9, 7, 3. You’re betting somewhat aggressively. What will your opponent think?

Anyone who is not a complete beginner will consider that you’re holding a third 9. That’s just what immediately jumps out from that particular board.

As such, they’ll adjust their play accordingly. If they don’t think they can beat you, they’ll simply fold. Winning with trips is definitely possible, but you’ll almost always take down significantly smaller pots when compared to sets.

On top of that, trips open up the possibility of your opponent having the same three of a kind. In the previous example, it’s not hard to imagine your opponent holding ace-9. You’ll lose in that spot, due to them having a higher kicker.

How To Play Sets vs. Trips

If sets are stronger than trips, should we play them in different ways? Absolutely.

How To Play Sets

Sets can be played far more aggressively. Your opponents won’t be able to figure out your hand as easily. They may be more willing to commit chips to the pot thinking you might be bluffing, for example. 

However, as always, you still need to pay attention to the board and to the tendencies of your opponents. Three of a kind is a powerful hand, but far from unbeatable. If it seems your opponent is likely to assemble a flush or another higher-ranked hand, proceed with caution. You don’t want to be losing chips unnecessarily.

How To Play Trips

When you have trips, you’ll rarely surprise anyone with three of a kind. This is due to two cards being face-up, particularly if you play online poker tournaments, where your opponents are typically more experienced than recreational players in brick-and-mortar casinos.

What happens if you bet a significant amount of chips in such a scenario? Well, unless your opponents have strong hands, they’ll likely fold. Even if you win, you won’t bag that many chips. But there are two ways you can overcome that issue.

The first is to ensure that you balance your range, something you should be doing all the time anyway. Logically, you should bluff some of the time to keep people guessing. If you never bluff, your opponents will know for certain that your hand is good whenever you raise.

Secondly, you might want to check some of the time. Hopefully, another player will hold a hand like top pair, or simply try to take a stab at the pot. You can then call and allow them to keep firing, or go for a check-raise. Either way, you’re building a pot. 

Set Off on a Winning Trip

Now you know the difference between trips and sets in poker. These small details can all add up to help increase your win rate. Even the most fractional of edges will compound over time. Of course, you do actually need to put the theory into practice for a lesson to really sink in. 

So, why not register at BetMGM online casino and hit the tables right away? All of the most popular poker variations are available, with cash games and tournaments alike. What’s more, you can take a break and enjoy blackjack, roulette, and many other thrilling online casino games.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.