Set mining hands are just as they sound, only good for sets. Set mining hands are those small pairs where you know you are probably only going to win if you make three of a kind. Yes, it is true that even the smallest of pocket pairs do have a bit of inherent showdown value, but you will seldom stack someone with a pair of fives.
Winning a raised pre-flop pot with a pair that doesn’t evolve into a set is hardly the easiest thing to do. Aside from needing to dodge actual landmines that would improve your opponent’s hand, you will also need to risk a lot of money on the hope that the other player is weak. Making big investments with small pocket pairs is not exactly step one to winning at poker. Small pocket pairs do not need to be played to the death, though. A smart player will be able to set mine with their pocket pairs. This will allow you to extract maximum value when you hit something big, and to also lose the least when you wind up bricking the flop altogether.
Small Pocket Pairs
There are some hands that are perfect for set mining, and other hands that are better played for showdown value in conjunction with set value. For example, TT and JJ can be uncomfortable hands to play, but they are definitely not set mining hands. TT and JJ will beat their opponent a large portion of the time. The only hands they are crushed by are QQ, KK, and AA, hardly the entire deck. As a result, playing these two hands for pure set mining value is a huge mistake. There are going to be spots where you are pretty sure that a set is the only way that your TT or JJ will win, though, so exceptions to this rule do exist. Don’t play your pocket tens and pocket jacks to the death pre-flop or post-flop, but don’t forget that they are still strong hands without the assistance of a third card on the flop.
Small pocket pairs are where the true set mining action is at. Needless to say, the bigger the pocket pair, the stronger your hand’s value. It is certainly not outside of the realm of possibilities for you to flop a set while your opponent also flops a better set. In these situations, you will be glad that you gave a little more value to pocket sevens than pocket threes. In other words, calling off raises pre-flop is much easier to do if your hand can beat a fair number of other starting pocket pairs. Remember, the more showdown value, the better.
Since TT and JJ are the cut off for hands that should be played for their set mining value, it is safe to say that anything less than TT will have frequent spots where they are used to fish for sets. A serious trouble spot for many players is a hand like 88 or 99 that misses a set, but remains as an overpair after the flop. The goal of set mining is to hit a set, but it can be hard to let go of 88 when the flop comes 2 3 5. In many situations, though, you will just have to fold your hand. You may have an overpair, but this won’t change the fact that you are still absolutely crushed by TT+. When you play a small pocket pair to set mine, play it to set mine. Changing your plan mid-way through a hand can often times lead to disaster. Yes, the ability to adapt is a positive attribute for any poker player to have, but sometimes you are better off sticking to the original game plan.
As with any hand in poker, your set mining hands are going to have a lot more value in late position than in early or middle position. Your true position in the hand is not going to be evident until after some action takes place. If you make a raise in middle position, force some folds, have the small blind call, and then get re raised by the big blind, suddenly you are sitting in prime position. Since the only people left to contend with will be forced to act before you on each street, you can effectively play your small pocket pair in hopes of landing a set. Even when you hit a set out of position, it is not easy to play. When you are in position, however, things are a lot more streamlined. No, the money isn’t going to instantly fall into your lap, but it will be much easier to extract maximum value.
Implied odds are perhaps the single most important factor in all of set mining. If you do not have improper pre-flop implied odds with your hand, set mining is definitely not going to be profitable. This is not just theory, either, it is an absolute fact. Pretend that you are in a .50/1 NLHE game. If you are playing with a $150 stack and your opponent has a $22 stack, you are not going to be able to set mine against a three bet. In this example, a three bet would likely cost you $6 or more. Say that you need to call off $6 with your pair of fours against a $22 stack who you are sure is strong. You will hit your set 1:9 or so times, but you will not even get paid off 100% of the time in those hands. With that said, just imagine you did actually get paid off 100% of the time that you hit a set; you still wouldn’t be profitable! You are paying $6 for the chance to win $22. If you only win 1 out of 9 times, this is hardly going to be a money making operation.
Set mining works best with implied odds when the stacks are deep. A deep stack will leave room for maneuverability and increases the chances of winning a bit pot. While deep stacks allow for big action, they can also be a tool in deception. A flopped set is not the type of hand that virtually any player will be able to identify. Because of this, a player holding KK will be hard pressed to fold on a flop of 659, regardless of what their opponent does. This is why set mining with deep stacks is an incredibly profitable play. You might need to call off a fairly sizable re-raise with a middle pocket pair, but if you know the re-raiser is super strong, why not shoot for a super strong, disguised hand? When players re-raise pre-flop, they will often get attached to their hands. Capitalize on other players’ inability to fold over pairs by set mining when the price is right.