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Sneaking into a hand with a small pocket pair and flopping a set is one of the best feelings in poker, and many big pots are won this way.  But when should you setmine and when should you not?

Given that one holds a pocket pair, one flops a set on average 11.8% of the time.  This translates very roughly to 1/8 of the time.  Thus, many players believe that in order for setmining to be profitable, on has to make at least 8 times the amount of the preflop call.  In reality, this is incorrect.  While sets are extremely strong hands and very likely to be good at showdown, they don’t always win.  It’s not uncommon to flop a set and lose to a flopped/turned/rivered straight or flush.  In addition, it is unlikely but not impossible to flop set over set.  Thus, while one flops a set with a pocket pair on average 1 out of 8 times, one has to make more than 8 times the amount of the preflop call in order to break even from setmining due to the fact that sets don’t always win.  While it’s impossible calculate an exact amount, it’s safe to say that one has to make on average reasonably more than 8 times the amount of the preflop call for setmining to be profitable.

In addition, simply flopping a set isn’t a guarantee of a big pot.  Think of all the times where you’ve flopped a set and the preflop raiser either check/folded or bet and then shut down.  In fact, most of the time when you flop a set, you won’t get any action.  Yes, you might stack your opponent if you flop a set and he has an overpair, but most people raise preflop with much more than just big pairs.  If they have ace high and you have a set, you’re gonna have a real hard time getting the money in.  Thus, each time you flop a set, you have to make more than just 8 times the preflop call on average in order to break even from the times you flop a set and don’t get action.

So considering these two facts, when should you setmine?  Like most things about poker, this question is very situationally dependent and doesn’t have a clear answer, but here’s a few guidelines.  Against very tight players who only raise big hands preflop and have trouble folding overpairs, you can lower your setmining requirements a bit.  These types of players are very likely to stack off if you flop a set and are not likely to have a hand that can beat a set postflop, so you can setmine with stack to pot ratios (SPRs) of as low as 10:1 or 12:1.  Against very loose players, you should raise your setmining requirements.  These types of players play a wide range of hands, so most of the time postflop, they won’t have a hand strong enough to pay you off.  In addition, they’re more likely to play hands that can draw out on you postflop like suited connectors and suited aces, so your set is less likely to hold up to the river.  Against such players, an SPR of at least 20:1 might be best.

In addition, there are several other factors to consider when setmining.  The skill level of your opponent is critical.  In general, better opponents are less likely to pay you off if you flop a set, so you should raise your setmining requirements against better opponents and lower them against weak ones.  Exactly which pocket pair you are holding is also important.  It makes a big difference whether you have pocket deuces or pocket 8s.  With pocket 8s, you have some showdown value if you don’t improve.  You also are more likely to flop the higher set if someone else also flops a set.  Thus, you should raise your setmining requirements with smaller pocket pairs and lower them with bigger ones.  There are many other factors at play also, but considering these along with the ones mentioned earlier should give you a good idea on when to setmine.


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ALL IN Magazine Contributor Zhijian Xing