Ashley Adams has been playing poker since he learned it, literally, at his grandfather's knee 42 years ago. He's been a winning casino poker player for the past 11 years, playing primarily at Foxwoods Resort Casino but also in poker rooms all over the world. He has won at ring games and tournaments, at Stud, Stud8 and Hold Em, limit and no limit. He is the author of Winning 7-card Stud (Kensington, 2003) and over 100 articles about poker. He is due to publish Winning Baby No Limit Hold Em in 2006 and has recently been working with numerous charities on fundraising poker tournaments.
I recall some poker "advice" I read in a book on 7-Card Stud a while back. It flippantly suggested that no one really had to worry about how to play Trips on Third Street in Stud because it was very uncommon - happening fewer than one time in four hundred deals - and that regardless of how one played the hand, victory was nearly assured.
OK, that's one approach.
I have a few thoughts, however, that may well improve your game. From what I've experienced at the Stud table, while victory of the hand may occur most of the time when you're dealt Trips, the key is in winning the maximum amount of money when you win that pot. And that, I've found, depends greatly on how you play them.
Conventional wisdom is that you should slowplay Trips, lest you force everyone out with your raise. In truth, there are games and situations where that is the wisest approach. If, for example, you are in an extremely tight game, where players tend to concede all but the strongest hands to a raise on Third Street, and you're in relatively late position, then you may want to lay back until Fourth or maybe even Fifth Street before you initiate or escalate the betting action.
Imagine you sit with (J-J) J. The bring-in is to your left. The first five players fold to you. One player with a 6 and the bring-in with a 3 remain. Why raise? Your raise at this type of table and in your position and against those low cards will almost surely cause the bring-in and the other player to fold. You will win a tiny pot. Better to wait and hope that one of them catches a card that inspires hope. Raise on Fourth Street and you will be more likely to get someone to call. If they call on Fourth there's a much better chance that they won't throw their hand away on Fifth, Sixth or the River, insuring you a decent pot for your efforts.
That's conventional wisdom. Often it's the correct path. At least fifty percent of the time, however, I've found that this isn't the best way to extract the most money from those wonderful occasions when you're dealt Trips. This is because most 7-Card Stud games rarely play very tightly. Players on Third Street usually, in the typical game, want to find an excuse to call. So you want them to put more money in the pot - giving them an excuse to call all the way until the River.
Against players who are typically loose on Third Street, much depends on the action of your opponents. Invariably, I find good reason for raising with those Trips. Consider the following scenarios.
You're in early position. You have Trip 8s. No 8s are out. A couple of players have Premium cards - one with an Ace, one with a Queen. A number of players after you are fairly loose - not calling every hand but certainly not rocks. Raise here.
You raise, representing either a pair of 8s with a big kicker or a Premium Pair in the hole - or maybe just three suited cards with an Ace or a King in the hole. Other players make these move all the time at the Stud table. The players are sophisticated enough to recognize that you may well be doing the same. They don't put you on Trip 8s because it's a very rare hand and because conventional wisdom would not have you raising.
Most of the time, at least one and probably two players will call your raise. They'll do this mistakenly, thinking you have less than you do. And, perhaps, they will do it deceptively, with a Premium Pair themselves, higher than what they think are your pair of 8s - thinking they are lulling you into thinking you have the highest hand at the table.
Their calls will be very expensive for them and very lucrative for you. If they are foolishly slow playing a higher pair, they will probably bet as the high card on Fourth Street (assuming you don't hit another 8). If they get tricky, or if they improve to Two Pair, they may try for a check raise. Either way, they are sliding down a very slippery slope with their strategy, committing themselves more deeply to a hand. You can raise their bet or, if they check, you can let them raise you and you can raise them back. Very few Stud players are strong enough to fold after they have set up a check raise or after they have initiated a bet with a decent hand on Fourth Street. Similarly, once they have put in these additional two or three bets on Fourth Street, they are much less inclined to fold on later streets - seeing the size of the pot they have built with their temerity.
So a raise on Third Street is helpful. If they then re-raise you on Third Street, then I'd tend to slow down. Let them think that their raise scared you off of your medium pair high kicker or Premium Pair in the hole. Your initial raise, however, will convince them that you're not slow playing a monster. So you'll be able to take advantage of their misimpression later on.
I tend to play high Trips, like Kings or Aces, similarly - unless of course I believe that my opponents are so tight that they might fold to a Premium Pair in this situation. So, for example, with Trip Kings on Third Street in early position, I would raise if I thought there was a good chance that at least someone would call me. Again, however, if I thought there was a reasonable chance that everyone would fold to me, because they were tight enough to fold on Third Street if they thought I had a pair of Kings, then I'd just call along and hope that someone else raised, so I could call.
From my experience, in most 7-Card Stud games (though not all) there are usually at least a couple of players who must see Fourth Street unless there are two bets to them. Accordingly, if someone has raised in front of me on Third Street I will often just call behind them when I have Trips. But I don't always play it this way. Sometimes, against opponents who are particularly stubborn, or if my image has become one of being hyper-aggressive or tricky, I will make it two bets. I make it two bets if I really believe that the raiser has a hand - and if I think that he will doubt that I have much of a hand. This situation sometimes arises after I've been caught bluffing with a scare card. Other times it happens when I'm against sophisticated players who understand that a raise with a second best hand often makes sense to limit the field. Here's an example of that.
I'm in late position with an Ace. An early position King raises. He is a pretty solid player, and knows all of the moves at the Stud table. He is not new to the game nor very tight. No other Kings are out. He is followed by a 9, held by a typically loose and passive player. The table is relatively loose. A few players usually call a Third Street raise. I have Trip Aces. There is a Queen after me. The 9 calls the Kings raise. I want to raise here. With my raise I am saying, in essence, "I don't know whether you have a King. Maybe I have an Ace in the hole. More likely I have a pocket pair or three suited cards. But I surely don't want to play this hand more than heads up against the King. Queen, please fold so my pocket pair and Ace kicker have a good chance of winning. King, if you really have Kings, feel free to re-raise to insure that this loose 9 folds, leaving her dead money behind." There is a very good chance that the King will call or even re-re-reraise me. If he does, and the 9 folds, then I surely want to call, not raise. And all of this action has surely set the hook deep in the King's mouth. He'll call all of my bets now until the River or, perhaps, unless I get an exposed pair or, surely, another King.
One final consideration: Low trips on Third can be beat if there are a lot of callers to the River. They only improve to a Full House about 50% of the time. They sometimes lose even when they do improve. And when they don't improve, they sometimes lose to Straights and Flushes. So in very loose games you want to raise to limit the field to give your Trips a better chance of winning the pot.
In sum, though you should slowplay those Trips in a tight game or if you otherwise fear that a raise will surely get everyone else to fold, they can usually win more money if you are at least moderately aggressive from Third Street on. In this regard, I find that it's better to set the hook early and hard, before they figure out your hand, rather than hoping that by slowly dangling the bait they'll fully swallow the bait.
[I]Ed Note: Plenty of Stud, and other games always being spread at Royal Vegas Poker