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Set Mining Fundamentals

Trip Aces

Smallish pocket pairs are typically dominated in full-ring games. However, when played under the right conditions, they can be extremely profitable.

While it isn’t vital that you know the detailed math behind every move you make at the table, statistical competence begins in knowing some basics. For instance, the odds of flopping a set are 7.5/1. There are a number of great places to brush up on probabilities (a simple Googling will show you).

Although 7.5/1 does not appear to be much of an advantage, when you hit a set, the payoff is usually larger than with other hands because sets are very difficult to detect. Of course, a set is when you hold a pocket pair and spike a third card (trips are when the board shows two of the three cards). Straights and flushes are much more easily to delineate.

If your opponent holds AA and you were dealt 55 and the flop comes K 9 5, they will be confident that they are in great shape and, unless another ace comes along, they are susceptible to losing a large pot. So what are the best conditions to go set hunting with your baby pairs? First, let’s review the concept of implied odds.

Implied odds

Implied odds are a type of estimate based on how the betting will go if you make your hand. That is, if you make your desired hand, will the pot grow in size enough to make such a decision profitable. It is an inexact science because, well, you have no idea how future rounds of betting will go. Therefore, you must look for the best opportunities to set mine in order to put the odds in your favor and avoid the common leak of playing too many small pairs too fast making the occasional set worth too little.

Your opponent’s style

You want your opponent to have a big trigger when they make their hand. For example, how strongly will they play top pair or two pair? If they overplay their hands in such situations, the 7.5/1 odds of flopping a set become well worth it if your opponent will stack off with marginal holdings by the river. Let the aggressive maniacs try to blow you off the pot and try to get all-in. Sure, you need to observe the board for the draws that crush you (and some villains will stack you by hitting their long-shot on the river) but, over time, you will take down many large pots against the agro-donks and maniacs out there. Sets play extremely well against the bad players. Shocking, I know.

Be aware of how your opponents might see you, too. Believe it or not, there will be some good players who catch on to what you are doing. I can still remember one fella from a 1/2 table in Vegas in 2012. He played his baby pairs to perfection in the right situations which requires patience. He didn’t win many pots but they were monsters. And everyone kept running into him because, well, people are not that observant at live 1/2. Over the span of 4 hours, I folded top pair and two pair and, as kind as he was, he showed that he hit a set each time. So exclusively set-mining against less aware opponents is a good idea. For more about table image, check out a post from last month.

Stack size

Spiking a set against a short-stacked opponent holds much less value than a deep stacked player (over 100bb). The amount of times the shorty will hit their few outs in a hand that goes-all in is not enough to warrant playing smallish pairs against them. Simply put, you’ll be dominated too often against a player with a quick trigger finger for pushing.

Number of players

If you are a tight player, you might not feel that great about flat-calling the raiser pre-flop with your 33 in late position. At best, you are up against two broadway cards like AK or KQ. At worst, you are against a bigger pocket pair. The math gets bad. Even if you hit your set, have you called a player who you can clean out? If they are, are they deep stacked enough to make it worth it? It is usually a mistake to flat-call in this situation. But if you there already two callers before you, this changes. It becomes cheaper to see the flop and the pot-odds dictate that it isn’t a mistake to get involved. In addition, the extra players usually means that your set will meet action if you hit. Someone will like their hand and you can tangle with them.

Buyer beware

Knowing some of the best situations or conditions to play a set can make this powerful hand very profitable. However, be ready for some turbulence when you, rightfully get it in with the best hand and get out-drawn or (gasp) run into a larger set. In his Little Green Book, Phil Gordon writes that set-over-set should never enter your mind. The chances of this happening are 1 in 100 hands or so. In the end, you still have to see the board with a clear mind and get a read on your opponents hand. Make the flush and straight draws pay and play aggressively from the lead.

Hopefully, this gives you something extra to consider as you play your smallish pairs that rarely profitable unless they dramatically improve.

Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. He is ready to speak to you about your poker play at www.KellyDoell.com

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