Small Pocket Pair Strategy

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A large part of a good small pocket pair strategy is knowing how (and when) to setmine preflop.  I created this short and free video for ThePokerBank to show you how to setmine better in your games.  Setmining well isn’t too tough to do, but knowing what goes into it is more than half the battle!

There are many things we want to consider before we even try to setmine preflop.  The major considerations we want to look at BEFORE setmining are:

  1. The math
  2. Position
  3. The players left to act

When looking at the math we want to make sure that we are getting a good price on our setmine.  We don’t flop huge often with our small pairs so we want to make sure that the possible reward when setmining is worth the risk (our call).  This means that the effective stacks need to be deep enough to ensure we can actually win a home run pot the times we do flop a set (or better).

Effective Stack = The smallest of the stacks involved in a hand

Another element to the math is understanding how often our small pair will flop a big hand.  A small pair is going to flop a set or better about 12% of the time, which means it will also miss the flop the other 88% of the time.  That’s a lot of missing, but the 12% of the time we DO hit the board we hit it really hard.  We won’t win the pot EVERY time we flop a set (for the times we run into a better set or villain plays and hits a draw postflop), but we feel very confident the large majority of the time we flop big with a smaller pair.
Personally I like using the 25x rule when setmining.  This means that I want to be able to win at least 25x my preflop call when I setmine.

So if we are playing $1/$2 and villain opens to $6, I want there to be at least $150 ($6*25) in the effective stack.  Considering our hand flops huge about 12% of the time, 8.5x would be “breakeven”.  But that doesn’t consider the fact that you won’t always win a stack when you flop a set (for the times villain has AK on a low board), and you will sometimes flop a set < set.  Keeping this in mind, it means you cannot setmine when mid-stacking given you won’t have deep enough stacks.  The 25x rule builds a lot of safety buffer into a setmine and is a great guide to use.  That being said, it is only a guide and not the end-all-be-all when playing these small pocket pairs preflop.

Poker Setmining Math

Other considerations include position, which is a crucial element of a setmine.  For one, if we setmine in position we have extra ways to win the pot postflop.  We can stab if villain checks the flop, we can peel on good boards, and we can bluff when appropriate.  Being out of position makes all of these things much more difficult.  Being out of position also makes it tougher to get paid off postflop as your opponent has the ability to check behind the flop or turn and really minimize the final pot size (thus allowing us to win much less money than we need to).

And lastly, make sure to consider the players left to act.  If EP opens and you setmine from MP, there are still many players left to act (and even moreso if you are playing full ring).  Which means you could face more squeezes, something we pretty much never want to face when setmining a small pair.  Now if there are fish behind you it makes setmining even better since you can call and entice a fish to call as well…thus offering you an extra source of implied odds.  Just make sure to not be the player that constantly setmines and then gets squeezed out of every pot because you weren’t being aware!

There are other things you could consider as well, but this is a solid primer on setmining well.  If you ever find yourself setmining EVERY time you face a preflop raise with a pocket pair you are likely leaking.  In fact, this is the one of the first things I check when analyzing a player’s database and it amazes me how many players incur big losses because they setmine too automatically.  Make sure to look at the entire situation before calling and THEN make your decision.  And if you can’t call and setmine, you can always consider a preflop 3bet instead!


My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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