Flopping a set is one of the biggest rushes you can experience at the poker table. However, it’s not always the right play to go set mining. Doing so at inappropriate times could land you in trouble. Let’s take a look at the right way to play your pocket pairs and some common errors to avoid.

A pocket pair of Aces, comprised of the Ace of Clubs (left) and the Ace of Hearts (right)
Set mining can be lucrative, but it can also be a losing play. Choose your spots carefully.

What Does Set Mining Mean?

Before we get into the meat of this article, let’s first be clear about what we mean by the term “set mining”. Essentially, it refers to playing a pocket pair with the express intention of making three of a kind, which is known as a “set”.

Since the miner is looking for a set, we are usually talking about mid-sized pocket pairs and below. After all, everyone is going to be playing Aces and Kings no matter what.

In truth, you could be said to be set mining if you simply limped in preflop with your pair. However, the term is more commonly heard when one calls a big raise and looks to stack someone.

How Often Do You Flop a Set?

The odds of flopping a set or better with your pocket pair are roughly 7.5 to 1 against. That’s a little under 12%. So it’s fair to say that you’re going to be ditching your smaller pocket pairs on the flop pretty often. Yet when you do connect, set mining can be extremely lucrative.

Be Selective

The first thing to note about set mining is that you shouldn’t be doing it every single time you have a pair. For a start, like any other poker situation, your position is important. Lean towards mining when in position more so than out of position. Frequently calling big raises out of position is a mistake.

You also want to think about your chip stack in relation to others. If you’re deeper stacked in a tournament, for instance, you can afford to splash around a little more. If your opponent is very short-stacked, you won’t earn enough from your set mining to justify the outlay.  Regardless of whether you’re playing in a cash table or a tournament, you always want to make sure you’re mining against looser players. After all, they’re more likely to pay you off.

Pot Odds and Implied Odds

The next thing to think about when set mining is pot odds. “Pot odds” refer to the ratio between the size of the total pot and the size of the bet (read how to calculate pot odds here). Let’s say a player threw in a particularly big 3-bet preflop, perhaps 5x the size of the original raise. It would be hard to justify calling with anything other than a premium pocket pair in this spot. However, if the 3-bet were on the small side, like 2.5x, your pot odds would be much healthier for set mining.

Of course, flopping your set is no guarantee of getting a big payoff or even winning the hand. You still need to figure out whether it’s worth going after the pot post-flop. There are several factors to consider, including your opponent’s range and your table image. Be wary of using implied odds to justify a bad decision (implied odds are the amount of money that you expect to win on later streets if you hit one of your outs).

One last point on implied odds. Try to avoid mining against a smaller stack. Flopping your set happens so infrequently that you need to be paid off handsomely in order to justify it. This is not going to happen against someone with few chips.

Avoid Set Mining After a Preflop Squeeze

A common mistake is to call a preflop raise cold and then call again after being squeezed. According to solvers, making that additional call is a losing play. Because the ranges involved are so strong, coupled with the inevitable size of the 3-bet, the chances are that you’ll be making a long-term loss. You just won’t get all of your opponents’ chips often enough to make it a positive expectation play.

However, this assumes that you’re playing in a tough game against strong opponents. In a weak game, it’s safer to assume that your opponents are more likely to make mistakes. If you are certain that you’re up against a very poor player, you can justify making an exception. Just know that, in theory at least, set mining here could be a mistake.

Consider Players Still to Act

When facing a preflop raise, you must think about how many players are still to act behind you. The more opponents remaining, the bigger your pocket pair needs to be in order to be able to call. That’s simply because there’s a greater chance someone behind you will be holding a hand strong enough to raise. When that happens, as previously discussed, you’ll be in a disastrous squeeze situation, where you’ll likely have to fold.

It’s difficult to provide a hard and fast rule on what hands you can call with in each position. After all, a lot of it comes down to your opponents and their own playing styles. In a full-handed game, in early position, you shouldn’t call a raise with anything less than 8-8. However, if you were on the button, you could perhaps justify calling with as little as 5-5. If those at the blinds were exceptionally bad players, you could go right down to 2-2.

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