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Most beginning poker players have an idea how to play big pairs. However, some struggle once they start getting dealt smaller and middle pairs. Some overplay their hands while others miss opportunities by sticking to strict ABC poker.

Today we are going to take a look at playing small and middle pocket pairs. We’ll start by explaining the concept of set mining and move forward to give examples of the best times to set mine along with other situations where players should open up their range to include small and middle pairs.

Set Mining Explained

When playing small and medium pairs, your primary objective is to hit a set. This is often referred to as “set mining.” A low or medium set will typically get paid off thanks to deception value and the inability of players to get away from an overpair to the board.

However, one must keep in mind that you will only flop a set 12% of the time. As such, you need to be careful with the frequency with which you set mine. If you try and set mine every time you get a small pair and don’t hit, you are going to blow a large portion of your stack. Annette Obrestad revealed a few years ago that she seldom risks more than 10% of her stack in a set mining attempt. You may be wise to adopt a similar strategy, at least until you are comfortable with the concept.

Now that we have explained set mining, let’s look at times where you want to consider set mining and other spots where you want to consider playing small and medium pairs.

Hyper-Aggressive Players

Set mining is a way that you can take a nice pot from your overly aggressive opponents at the table. These players want to continually steal pots and bully you around, so use that aggression against them.

In this type of scenario, you obviously want them in a heads-up confrontation whenever possible and with position. Even if you don’t have position, this can work provided you’re heads-up.

The key obviously is hitting your set. When this happens, you often will want to slow play the set and let them continue trying to bully you around. The exception is if the flop presents a straight or flush draw. At this point you want to make a bet to either make them pay to continue in the hand or get them to fold.

If you get to the turn with this player, you will have to decide based on their play whether you want to raise/check-raise them or simply call and see the river. If you have position, you can try a raise and then bet them if they check. If out of position and you think they won’t call a river bet, check raise them and hope they pick up a second pair or catch their ace when they’re chasing with A-K.

Family Pots

Family pots are a great time to try and set mine. Often, these pots will be relatively cheap to get into or the odds are correct to call a reasonable raise. For those newer to the game, a family pot is one where you have four or more players seeing a flop. Some wild games will have nearly every player going to the flop. These are brilliant times to set mine and when you hit, prepare to win a big pot.

In a family pot, don’t be afraid to fast play your hand as you are going to probably get at least one player that is going to give you action. For those that are just learning Texas Hold’em, it will be better for you to fast play your hand. Even if everyone folds, you still got a nice pre-flop pot.

Six-Max and Four-Handed Games

Six-Max and Four-Handed poker changes the dynamic the game. Medium pairs become a strong holding and have a better chance to win on their own at showdown. Small pairs are still more set mining types of hands, but they do have a better shot of winning on their own than in a full ring game.

You’re going to raise a lot more with these holdings in middle and late position than you would in a standard game. If you play these hands and flop a set, definitely lean towards fast play on the flop if a draw develops. Since players are opening up their range, drawing hands will pop up a bit more frequently. Make them pay to outdraw you.

Heads-Up Poker

This is one area where your small and medium pairs are going to have the best chance to shine. All pairs are strong in heads-up poker. While deuces through fours can be vulnerable, they are going to win more often than in other forms of Hold’em. Don’t be afraid to raise it up with these pairs pre-flop as you only have one opponent to contend with.

You’re going to be much more aggressive with these pairs after the flop for the same reason. We know how hard it is to connect with the board in a normal game, so remember that when playing heads-up and keep the pressure on.

When you actually hit a set, this is a good time to slow your roll and try to extract maximum value. When you feel it is appropriate, still make them pay when there’s a draw on the board, but don’t assume they have a draw every time. A set in this situation could win the game for you.

Little Pairs Can Mean Huge Rewards

When played correctly, small and medium pair can help you win massive pots in larger games and help you keep the pressure on your opponents in short handed and heads-up games. If you’re newer to poker, take a more conservative approach to set mining but don’t be afraid to take a few shots.

In most ring games, you don’t want to overcommit pre-flop and if you do not hit your set, be ready to fold to action. When you hit your set, do what is necessary to extract maximum value. Also, don’t be afraid to bet to force a fold on the flop if you feel its right. It is better to win a small or reasonable size pot with your set than to underplay the hand and lose a sizable portion of your stack.

Finally, your small pairs are going to play much stronger in short-handed and heads-up. Make the necessary adjustments to keep the pressure on your opponent and stack them when the time and situation are right.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.