Set mining in the micro stakes is one of the oldest ways in online poker to “get rich quick.” Even the worst poker players know how to set mine, but only strong players know how to effectively set mine for long term profit. There is a very big difference between set mining and getting lucky from time to time and set mining for repeated success. A number of different factors come into play with profitable set mining, but there is nothing that is all that difficult to understand. The skills behind set mining are not at all difficult to master in the micro stakes, and the real challenges will only present themselves once you move up to small stakes or medium stakes games. In the micro stakes, set mining is one of the most basic and fundamental ways to essentially print money.
The idea behind set mining is that flopped sets are hard for opponents to spot, and as a result they are generally easy to make a lot of money from. Most advanced players in higher limit games have learned how to tell when someone is likely to be holding a set, but this is not something that your average micro stakes player will be able to pick up on with any sizable amount of success. If you know why you are playing your small pocket pairs, you are already on your way to playing them to their fullest potential. After you understand the defined goal of a random pocket pair in set mining, you need to have a complete game plan. A complete plan for set miners consists of knowing how much can be invested pre-flop, what should be done on a flop where the hand hits or misses, and how to proceed with the remaining post-flop play. In total, there are three primary elements to successful set mining.
Pre-flop is the time where you will decide whether or not your small pocket pair is worth playing for set value. The types of hands that you will most often play for sets are anything below pocket 10s. There will be situations where 88 and 99 are going to be sound favorites, but TT+ is generally considered the cut off point for pure set mining hands. You shouldn’t only be looking to flop a set with TT or JJ, as you are then sacrificing all of the inherent value that these hands will have at showdown. Many players are scared to play TT, JJ, and even QQ because they don’t know what to do if they don’t land a set, but this is nothing more than a weak skill set. Don’t sit around and call bets with TT+, make open raises and re-raises; squeeze out the existing value in these hands.
If you have a small pocket pair, your position will play a significant role. As is the case with just about every other hand in poker, late position will be a great advantage. You will be able to best tell whether your opponents are very strong, moderately strong, or somewhere in between. The pre-flop goal with set mining is to keep the pot relatively small. Once you have invested a lot of money pre-flop, you have begun to sacrifice a lot of the value in any potential set that you might hit.
Implied odds play the most pivotal role pre-flop. If you are sitting at a 50NL table with a $100 stack, you probably have more money than most, if not all of your opponents. In this situation, you should look to set mine against players who have a fair amount of money to play with. If a player raises pre-flop and they only have $25, calling their bet is fine, but calling a re-raise would be a mistake. If this same player had a $75 stack, however, calling a re-raise would be perfectly fine.
Pretend that you made an open raise to $2 with 66 at .25/.50 NLHE. If a player in late position re-raises to $8 and has a $50 stack, you will essentially be calling $6 to win $50. If you think that you will flop a set and win their stack more than 1 in 8 times, this would be a profitable call. You should also factor in the likelihood that you will win the pot without hitting a set, according to the odds that you see fit. The smaller the stack size of your opponent, the less likely that you will have proper odds to set mine. Set mining works the best when both you and your opponent have big stacks. It is OK to call initial raises and play small pots in hopes of hitting a set, but the idea behind set mining is that you will almost only get paid off when you hit your card. Don’t get playing pocket pairs confused with set mining.
Hitting the Flop
If you are fortunate enough to hit a set on the flop, you will be well positioned for a big win. The exact way that you play your hand will depend on the particular situation, of course, but you shouldn’t be trying to force anything. Using the example above where you open raised to $2 with 66 and called a raise to $8, the pot is now roughly $17. If the flop came 6A9 rainbow, you are in great shape. Your opponent could very well have some sort of ace, which would definitely allow for your set to get paid off. If, however, they had JJ-KK, you will not be making that much money. As such, you should figure out where you stand before you make an effort to extract value.
Following up on this example, you will either be able to check call, check raise or lead out. The odds are that a check will induce a bet from your opponent no matter what they have, so this will all but guarantee that some additional money enters the pot. With that in mind, a check raise would scare off any non-ace hands, and would even slow down big hands like AJ-AK. The best play in this particular spot would be to check call. A check call ensures that some value is being extracted from your hand, your opponent is not scared, and you will have later opportunities to make more. This example will be expanded upon below in the “playing after the flop” section.
Missing the Flop
Again building on the 66 hand at 50NL, let’s imagine that the flop came 5A9 rainbow. In this instance, you have nothing but a small pair. You have running straight cards as well, but not much else. Given your strength and your opponent’s pre-flop aggression, the best move is to slow down as much as possible. This should be a fold almost 100% of the time when your opponent bets the flop. If you have a strong read or have a good plan for the rest of the hand, you might consider getting tricky, but this is a very high variance play and is unnecessary in the micro stakes. Since the entire goal of set mining is to lose the least when you miss and make the most when you connect, it is best to simply give up when you brick the flop. You don’t want your opponents to know when you do have a set, so it will be that much more difficult to convince them that you do have a set when you have missed. Bluffing in these situations is absolute suicide for your bankroll, in both the short term and the long term.
Playing After the Flop
How you play the turn and river will depend on how you played up to that point, and also how the board changes as the hand progresses. Using the example above, given a flop check call, there are a ton of options for how to play the turn and river. For the sake of example, assume that the board doesn’t change anything dramatically. It is an ace high board and we have a set with no draws to be afraid of. Given these circumstances, a turn check raise followed by a river shove would be just perfect, given cooperation from our opponent. The safer route, if they have an ace, would be to lead the turn and river, but only a check raise is likely to earn the whole stack. If you feel like your opponent is good for some value, but not an entire stack, bet away. If you think that your opponent won’t be able to let go of their hand, however, check raising is the way to go. You should always look for the play that will make you the most possible money, not the most theoretical money. If your opponent is only going to give up anyway, betting out and earning a fair amount is much better than check raising and winning nothing additional at all.