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I had a situation today that had me wondering whether I should call or fold after missing the flop with a low pocket pair:

I had pocket 5s in a 1/3 game. I raised to $15. There were 3 callers. The flop came 3J9 rainbow. I checked, the next player bet $25 and the pot had roughly $35. Two players folded. Should I have called or folded?

Looking at this in terms of pot odds and equity, I have a 4% chance to draw another 5 card and make a set (2 outs * 2 using the rule of 2 and 4). If I call, I am betting $25 to win a $85 pot, so I need to be right 29% of the time.

Those odds are really not in my favor. However, it might still be profitable due to implied odds.

My question is how can I quickly determine whether to call or fold in this type of scenario in a live game? I know there is an implied odds equation that allows solving for the amount I'd need to earn on future streets but I need something simpler for quick decisions in a live game.

Currently what I do is I tend to call and see one more card if the bet is at most pot-sized and the bet is small (10BB or less). My reasoning is that if I hit the set on the turn, I can often end up stacking my opponent. Another reason is I often see opponents c-bet the flop and check the turn, so I often get to mine two more cards instead of one.

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More than 9 times out of 10 you should be folding.

Off of the top of my head (correct me if I am wrong) you need 10:1 or better to make calling preflop with a small pocket pair profitable for set mining (including implied odds on later streets I believe).

If you don't hit the flop the general rule would be to fold to any bet, but there are some exceptions.

The implied odds would have to be huge for it to be worth it to call a bet on the flop when you do not hit a set (since you have ~8% chance of hitting a set if you get to the river). You would have to win around 13x the post-flop bet for it to be profitable, so it would be better to call if it is a multiway pot or if you are up against an opponent that has a deep enough stack.

The following would be scenarios where you may want to call a flop bet some of the time:

  • your opponents have very deep stacks and you and you think they will pay you when you do make your set
  • The board has a very dry texture (lower chance of straights/flushes means your set will be the best hand more often when you do hit it) including paired boards because you will have a boat if you hit your card
  • you have a read that your opponent(s) may be weak and you think you may be able to bluff them on a future street with your holdings
  • you have a very deep stack and can survive the variance this play will create
  • you have a read that your opponent(s) will not bet the turn allowing you to see 2 cards for the price of the call instead of one

keep in mind that this is a very high variance way to play, you will not hit your set and lose the hand a large majority of the time. The general idea of set mining is to call preflop (preferably for a good price), hit a set on the flop, and value bet/raise relentlessly depending on how likely your opponent is to call.

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