You call a big re-raise with pocket sevens and stare anxiously as the dealer reveals the flop…
Queen… Jack… SEVEN!
As soon as you see that seven, your anxiety fades and your eyes dart to count your opponent’s stack. You’re going to try to get it all.
There is nothing in poker like this — the thrill of hitting a set. But chasing this feeling at the wrong time is one of the most common and costly mistakes you can make at the table.
So, when should you set mine, and when should you toss your pocket pair in the muck? I’m about to give you 5 tips that will help you answer these questions.
But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.
What is set mining?
Set mining is the act of calling a preflop raise with a pocket pair with the sole objective of flopping a set.
If you miss — which happens about 88% of the time — you will fold your hand as soon as you are faced with a bet. But if you hit, you will try to build a pot and win as much money as possible from your unsuspecting opponent.
Now, let’s get into the tips.
1. The more players there are behind you, the stronger your pocket pair needs to be in order to call a raise.
With many players behind, you’re at a high risk of being squeezed out of the pot when a player behind wakes up with a hand strong enough hand to 3-bet. This is a disaster scenario for your small pocket pairs, which will often be forced to fold before seeing the flop.
For example, when UTG raises in a 9-handed game and you are in UTG+1, you should only call with strong pocket pairs (TT+, 99+, or maybe 88+ depending on the raise size) since UTG’s range is extremely tight and there are 7 players behind. But if you were on the button, you can probably get away with calling pocket pairs as low as 55.
Keep in mind you can call more pocket pairs if the players behind are weak and unlikely to 3-bet. For example, if you’re on the button and both of the blinds are weak players, you can justify a call with every pocket pair down to 22.
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2. Don’t set mine after cold-calling and getting squeezed if the original raiser calls
This might come as a shocker to you (unless you spend a lot of time experimenting with solvers).
According to software PokerSnowie (which features the closest available estimation for optimal preflop solutions) overcalling in these situations is a losing play. The ranges involved are simply too strong and the 3-bet size is almost always too big to make set mining a winning play.
This advice is more geared towards high-level games because, against two very good players, you will not get to stack either one of them as frequently as you need in order to profit. In weaker games (which are extremely common) neither the squeezer nor the initial preflop raiser will have the necessary skills (range vs range understanding and/or discipline) to render your overcall negative EV. So, versus weak opponents you can call, take a 3-way flop, and hope to strike gold.
On the other hand, if the original raiser folds and the pot odds look good, you can always set mine.
3. Consider the 3-bet size before set mining.
Most charts that you find online (like the ones provided in the Upswing Lab) are based on the presumption that your opponent is 3-betting to a standard size — 3x the original raise when in position and 3.5x the original raise when out of position.
If, however, you encounter a player that uses smaller or larger 3-bet sizes, make sure that you adjust those ranges inversely proportional to their 3-bet size. In other words, you can set mine more often against a smaller size and less often against a larger size.
This happens because as your opponent’s 3-bet size changes, so do your pot odds and the stack-to-pot ratio.
For example, some online players squeeze to more than 5x the original raise size. According to PokerSnowie, you can only call such a raise with JJ or better. But if the a player squeezed to a very small size, say 2.5x the original raise, you can justifiably call with your lowest pocket pairs.
4. The tighter your opponent’s 3-betting range is, the more pocket pairs you should call with.
This is a very important concept that can turn the previous tip on its head.
Imagine you raise with 55 to 2.5bb and your in opponent 3-bets to 12.5bb from the button (100bb effective). You’ve played with this player a lot and believe his range is made of only AA and KK.
You need to call 10bb to win 28bb which means, according to your pot odds, you need 36% equity to call. 55 only has 19% equity versus a range of AA and KK, but you should still call.
Why? Because almost every time you will flop a set, you will take his whole stack. You will flop a set ~12% of the time — about 1 out of 8 times. This means that, when you do flop the set, you have to win a bit more than 8 times your preflop call (10bb) minus what is already in the pot in order to profit.
So, in this case: 85bb – 28bb = 57bb is the amount you must win from his stack when you flop a set in order to justify calling. This is very achievable since he has 87.5bb left in his stack, and you’ll likely get all of it unless the board runs out scary for his AA/KK.
If your opponent has a wide 3-betting range, on the other hand, you will not be able to profitably call because you will not win his stack often enough when you hit a set. He simply won’t have a hand strong enough to pay you off most of the time.
5. As the effective stack gets lower, more of your pocket pairs work best as 4-bet shoves instead of 3-bet calls.
When the effective stack drops to around 50bb, assuming you are facing a pretty strong player (somewhat balanced), there is little difference between calling and 4-bet shoving. This means that, if you are not very confident in your postflop game, you should elect to 4-bet all-in.
This applies most often in tournaments, but make sure you consider the stage of the tournament before shoving! For example, you probably wouldn’t want to make this play when there are a lot of shorter stacks and you’re close to the money bubble.
Set mining is fun and profitable when done right, but it can also be frustrating if you don’t understand the underlying mechanics at work.
Want to learn more about playing small pairs? Check these out:
Tournament Players: How to Play Small Pocket Pairs in Tournaments
Cash Game Players: How to Play Low Pocket Pairs in Cash Games
And make sure to re-read the tips above when you feel you are uncertain about these spots.
That’s all for this article. I hope you enjoyed it and that you find it useful and, as usual, if you have any questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to use the comment box down below!
Good luck, grinders!
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