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When I set mine I usually raise pre flop with my pocket pair to build a large pot.

I use the 10 to 1 rule for stack size to bet ratio when calling with a small pocket pair, but when you're raising you can only get an idea of who could call you. I also rarely bluff when doing this since it's almost always a multi way pot in low stakes holdem. I suppose my question is:

Is there a downside I'm missing to betting with a small pocket pair in any position for the sole purpose of flopping a set?

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@k to the z: "When I set mine I usually raise...". If you're raising you're not really set mining ; ) And flopping a set cannot possibly be the sole purpose of raising preflop with a PP: very often when you raise preflop you win the blinds (no matter if you have 72o or AA)... –  TacticalCoder Feb 1 '12 at 14:30
    
Ha. You haven't played much 1/2 have you? Every raise gets called. I see a pre flop raise take the blinds once a session, maybe. –  k to the z Feb 1 '12 at 20:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Using PP's solely to flop sets isn't a winning strategy.

(note: I'll stick to talking about open-betting pre-flop and not cold-calling which leads to similar post-flop situations, but infers different ranges for all players involved. Also, I consider small PP's 22-88; mid PP's 99-TT; and big PP's to be JJ-AA. JJ is a special case. Closer to being a mid PP IMO, as I find it's commonly misplayed and is often better considered more like 88, 99, TT than it is QQ, KK, and AA.)

In short:

Think, "Are our Implied Odds (IO) favourable?" and "Will we have enough Fold Equity (FE) later in the hand?". Playing with this in mind with marginal equity, yet high potential hands like PP's is good due to commonly having high IO whilst having low FE, and vice versa.

If your level of post-flop skill is such that flopping sets is how you plan to make money with PP's then it's likely that you'll be missing a ton of value, if not losing with them. That said, these will be some of your most profitable hands if played correctly, shorthanded or full ring. To that end, improving your hand-reading will help you play those PP's best when you only have one pair, a draw or thin value to bet with instead of the monsters that you're already comfortable with.


Long version:

As a starting point, your odds of hitting a set on the flop with a pocket pair is

around ~7.5 to 1 or ~11.8%. That is...

1 - (48/50)*(47/49)*(46/48)

...represents your chance of not hitting a set on each sequential community flop card subtracted from 1 to get the overall chance that you do hit a set within 3 cards. You can continue this until the river to get ~19.22% or ~4.2 to 1 of hitting a set.

Generally, mid to large PP's 99-AA are likely profitable from anywhere due to their underlying strength. They have all the advantages of small PP's, plus the addition of better showdown value.

Specifically, opening a small pocket pair from any position should be considered with regard to just a few important things:

  • Number of players yet to act and their aggressiveness.
  • Implied Odds and Stack to Pot Ratio (consider width of ranges and the equity opponents are willing to stack off with)
  • Your image

In detail:

  • Small PP's (22-88) play better against the extremes of player types. Namely tight and weak, or loose and aggressive. This should affect whether you decide to open these hands in the first place. Generally, the more numerous and aggressive pre-flop the opponents left to act are, the less inclined you should be to open. Consider folding more often in that case. And vice-versa.

  • Tight-Weak opponents will play a range that will give you lots of action with overpairs, TPTK and strong draw type hands, or just give up very easily vs mild aggression the times when you have air or marginal equity and they have the same. Loose-Aggressive opponents will play a range that is wide and weak that will commonly bluff repeatedly and also allow you to get greater value with your marginal hands, the times when you don't have a set. They'll also react aggressively when you bet into them. Both are typically what you'd consider good IO situations. The middle ground between these extremes is more difficult to navigate as you'll often (~7.5 to 1 against flopping a set!) not have much equity and will commonly lose at showdown if you get there.

  • With regard to your image, how aggressive you are, and your likely range should (but not always, depending on opponent adjustments) dramatically alter how profitable you are pre- and post-flop with PP's. Depending on the players left to act, opening from EP and MP with small PP's (22-66) will be more difficult when you have aggressive, shortstacked or combinations of those types of players behind, as they can price you out of your implied odds.

Considering whether players cold-call, 3bet, squeeze, float post-flop cbets, etc. against you should make you consider tightening or loosening your opening standards. The simplest example would be opponents who are IP on you. Opening is less attractive with aggressive opponents yet to act. Conversely, if you have weak, tight and passive opponents who fold too much and/or allow you free passage to hit your strong equity hands at favourable odds, then opening small PP's becomes a better prospect.

I hope that helps. :)

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"Using PP's solely to flop sets isn't a winning strategy" I disagree. Set mining with low PPs can be a winning, though sub-optimal strategy if done correctly. Open-raising and then playing fit/fold is not the correct way to play them, though. –  John Dibling Feb 1 '12 at 14:32
    
"Tight-Weak opponents will play a range that, when you hit your set, will give you lots of action with overpairs, TPTK and strong draw type hands, or just give up very easily vs mild aggression the times when you have air or marginal equity." Not quite right. W/T opponents will give action based on their hand (not yours) and the action they face. If they have a good hand, they will give some action. If they don't, they won't. –  John Dibling Feb 1 '12 at 14:35
1  
@JohnDibling Yeah, that's what I said. –  Toby Booth Feb 1 '12 at 14:40
    
If your referring to my second comment, that's not exactly what you said. You said they would give action when they had a hand, but not give action when you didn't have a hand. It has little or nothing to do with whether you have a hand. They are looking at their own cards. –  John Dibling Feb 1 '12 at 14:43
    
You're misinterpreting what i'm saying, but I'll go over it again to clear it up. –  Toby Booth Feb 1 '12 at 14:44

I would say it would be flawed to raise every time with pocket pairs in order to hit a set but depending on the players at the table it MAY (and this is a big may as it hinges on your opponents sloppy post flop play) not be incorrect to at least call in every position to hit a set. This largely hinges on you winning typically about say 12:1 on your money when you hit your sets and this is largely possible at a lot of poorly played tables live right now.

Say, for instance, you have 5c5d UTG and you opt to call $2 with $298 behind. UTG+1 calls $2 then the next guy raises to $16 and you have two callers. So now you have $55:$16 on your money meaning you have to call $16 to possibly win $55. or 3.43:1 on your money which is a far cry to $12:1 however that being said if you would typically make 12:1 or more on your money after you hit said set then you could then call the $16 to try to spike your set and from looking this scenario that would be a pretty safe assumption.

So if we miss we check and we are done but lets say we hit. Flop comes 5s 7d kh. You can either risk check raising here to trap dead money or lead out 1/2-2/3 the size of the pot. Both plays have pros and cons but with a lot of loose sloppy players where you are going to make this playing adjustment I would make the first check raise play more often then the lead out. Say we check UTG+1 bets $18 dollars and another player comes along for $18 and you now can raise $67-$90 dollars into the $107 dollar pot and you should get called with way the best of it quite alot if not getting reraised allowing you either way to get all your opponents money in the pot most of the time in the two subsequent bets.

The reason you want to try to get about 12:1 on your money is in these instances you are still going to lose all your money some of the time so you want really good compensation for those times you lose and if you can't get it or you don't think you can bluff people with good fold equity it is better to fold most of your pocket pairs when you don't have good implied odds from a set mining standpoint.

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Oops silly me you aren't getting $55:$16 you are getting $55:$14 so that makes your odds slightly better but not much. I would also like to note in my opinion this way of playing a small pocket pair would be way better then getting fancy and say reraising when it comes back around because you think you have some fold equity on the $53 dollars this will both make your opponents fold too often when you could stack them on the flop, get reraised and pushed off your hand when you could stack them on the flop, and reduce your pot odds every time you get called. Winning the pot more is not worth it. –  Scientifik Feb 5 at 0:45

A lot depends on what position I'm in. If it's early position, I'll often fold, but sometimes raise with 2-2, hoping to "steal" some equity. In NO event would I just call from early position.

If I get 1-2 callers (counting the two blinds), with just overcards, I'm okay because they won't always hit on the flop, and I'll win my "fair share (one out of two or three respectively). If there are 5-6 callers or more (counting the blinds), I have enough equity for a set. The "bad case" is 3-4 callers, too many overcards, too little "set" equity.

In LATE position, it depends entirely on the number callers. Five or more (not counting the blinds), and I'm "in," possibly with a raise that will keep people in if I hit a set (or four to a straight or flush). Alone on the button, or with one caller, I raise, and try to drive out the blinds.

Two or three callers, I'm out, because if the blinds don't call, I don't have enough set equity. Naturally, I'd fold to any raise.

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Yes, there is a downside. Several, actually.

You're building a bloated pot, often from out of position with a hand that has no equity aside from its potential to make a set, because you have already decided that you're not going to continue if you "miss."

So basically, you're burning money by doing this, and there are three ways to fix it:

  1. Don't raise preflop.
  2. Find a way to win even when you don't make a set.
  3. Fold preflop.

Number 1 above implies open-limping, something that I cannot advise in good conscious to new or learning players. So I would suggest that you start by just folding these hands preflop until you get a chance to work on your game sufficiently so that you can find equity with these hands that doesn't include sets.

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Chances of flopping a set = 8:1. I'm getting at least three to four callers in a game where people only 3 bet QQ, KK, AA. The stacks are deep. When I do flop the set I constantly make 10x my original bet. See how I'm making 2 extra bets minimum? I'm not burning money. You also don't bluff in this game. Especially in a multi way pot. People call with middle pair no problem. –  k to the z Feb 1 '12 at 20:28

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