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Implied odds is perhaps the most important concept in deep-stacked No-Limit poker.
And set mining is one of the simplest and most effective ways to take advantage of it in Hold'em.
Set mining consists simply of playing pocket pairs, while knowingly dominated, exclusively trying to flop a set. The idea is to have a hand large enough to play a big pot, while keeping it disguised well enough to stay under the radar and get paid.
Before you can really understand the ideas behind set mining, you have to have a firm grasp of implied odds. Daniel Skolovy wrote a slick article on implied odds. If you need to learn, or would just like a quick refresher, check it out here.
Quick Look at Some Numbers
Let's start with a hypothetical situation:
You're dealt 9♥ 9♦ on the button; a player in middle position raises four times the big blind with A♠ A♣. You call; the two of you go heads-up to the flop.
The chances of you flopping a set are just a bit better than 8-1 against. Since it's not important to be exact at the poker table, using 8-1 will serve our purposes just fine.
This means out of the nine times you make this call, you're only going to flop a set once.
You put in just under 50% of the money pre-flop, and are an 8-1 dog. You had horrible pot odds, and at the pot-odds level, it appears you just made a huge mistake.
Luckily, if you do flop your set on a flop such as 2♣ 3♥ 9♠, you're going to get paid, and paid well enough to make up for all those other times you missed.
The odds of flopping set over set are in the neighborhood of 1-98 - we'll say 1-100 to make things easy. This means that if you flop your set on a nonthreatening board like the one above, you are going to be willing to get all your money in.
Although you will lose your stack when you flop a lower set, it is rare enough that it's still very profitable to set mine, disregarding this risk.
If we get all the money in with our top set of nines on the 2♣ 3♥ 9♠ flop, A♠ A♣ has only a 10% chance of winning the pot. As you can see, the implied odds are huge, even though our pot odds are tiny.
To set mine profitably, you need to be playing in a very deep-stacked situation. Being deep-stacked means playing with an absolute minimum of 100BB.
Ideally, you should only apply deep-stacked strategy to situations when you're playing with a stack of over 200BB.
The odds of you hitting your set and winning the pot are very slim pre-flop. You are a 4-1 dog with nines against aces. When you play this hand, you need to be in a situation where you can win a pot large enough to make up for all the times you lose the hand, which will be the majority.
This makes set mining a very poor idea in short-stacked poker and almost all tournament situations. Especially in non-major online tournaments, it is rare to be truly deep-stacked in a tournament.
Before ever considering whether or not to set mine, you need to take a look at your opponents' stack size. Your only goal with a set mine is to win a stack, or double up. You can't afford to do any less.
Show Me the Money
Because set mining is almost exclusively flop-dependent, you want to put in the least amount of money possible until after you see the flop.
If the pre-flop raiser raises too much, it can upset the fine balance of keeping the net gross of your few wins above your net losses. On top of this, when you do flop your set, you still need to get paid.
In a serious deep-stacked situation with strong players, everyone will be playing with the same understanding: no player wants to get serious money into the pot without having a very large hand.
On the flop from earlier, there is simply no draw or hand that would be willing to put large money into the pot. Aces beats pocket tens through kings; since you didn't reraise pre-flop, chances are you don't have kings, and maybe not queens.
This means aces can only beat two possible hands willing to go to war in this pot.
A bad poker player will be willing to get it all-in with aces here; this is where your skills in reading your opponents become important. If you're up against a player who can't fold aces, then no matter what you do, chances are you're going to get it all for a big pot.
If aces bets out and you just call here, what could you be calling with? If you have an overpair, why would you call?
If you put him on a c-bet or a bluff, it makes more sense to raise and see where you stand. There are no draws, so the only thing that would flat-call on this flop has to have aces beat.
That is, unless the player holding aces has no respect for you, and thinks you'd donk off your stack with any sort of pair. If you're up against a good player here, chances are you want to raise and make it look as if you're on tens and are trying to end the pot right there.
Most often aces will just call and check the turn to you. Now you can keep on value betting. Think and bet exactly as you would if you had tens and believed he was bluffing. You want to bet small enough to make him want to call.
If he is behind, aces have a lot of outs against anything but a set. Even If you have two pair, aces have five outs on the flop, and eight on the turn. If you keep it cheap they'll stick around.
Hopefully they'll decide you're bluffing, or the board will pair, making them think they just counterfeited you.
When you have a set, you want to take the time to think about what your opponent has, and what they can put you on.
Choose a hand that makes sense, which they can beat. Then play as if you have just that.
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