Set mining - exploiting the implied odds
A while ago I read an article on this very site bashing the value of small pocket pairs as starting hands. While under certain circumstances small pocket pairs are indeed quite unplayable, to generalize on their weakness would mean to ignore the implied odds completely.
Yes, small pocket pairs are indeed playable and they are because of the excellent implied odds they carry. Because of the fact that implied odds are pretty much the only factor small pocket pairs have going, they work best with poker variants and betting structures where the implied odds involved are big. FL poker for instance is more of a math-based structure, whilst PL and FL are rather implied odds-based. What that means is that playing small pocket pairs will make more sense in PL and NL games, though it can sometimes be profitable in FL too.
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Here’s how the implied odds work.
As the author of that other article pointed it out, simply looking at the individual mathematical odds in each hand taken separately will yield the conclusion that playing small pocket pairs is a negative EV move. What that means is that if you’re looking to win the hand on your small pocket pair alone, you will inevitably fail, and if you’re looking to make a set, you have adverse odds to go up against (basically what you need is a 2-outer). Still, hunting for sets (also known as set mining) can be very profitable on account of the implied odds.
A set miner’s task is relatively simple. He picks up his small pocket pair (like a 4,4) and he takes it to the flop with one goal in mind: to see another 4 land. If the 4 doesn’t land (and most of the time it won’t) our guy folds. Won’t that make him drop a lot money in the long run? Of course it will. But here’s when the implied odds come into the picture. Suppose our guy makes a small set after a whole bunch of missed ones. The peculiarity of a set is (supposedly, a set is a three of a kind with 2 cards in the pocket, while trips are 3-of-a-kinds with two cards on the board), that it’s a very well disguised monster. Because it’s so well disguised, opponents will have a tough time picking up on it. Therefore, the set miner will stand a great chance to win a lot of money on his set, mostly off guys who have a top pair or a two pair. The odds are so nicely stacked in the set miner’s favor, that the pot he’ll take down with his made set will probably more than make up for the money he loses on the hands in which his set fails to fill up.
Basically, after having lost a bunch of hands, our player will recover all that money, plus he’ll be left with a little something extra on the side. This is how the set miners take advantage of the implied odds.
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Other great implied odds hands are suited connectors (on account of their ability to make straights and flushes) and suited one-gappers. In cash games, it’s rather obvious how you can exploit your implied odds. You can do it in tournaments too, but only if you’re deep-stacked and you can afford to play optimal poker. Otherwise, you want to stay away from such implied odds hand as much as possible.
Set mining is often an option at short handed aggressive tables too. In such cases though, following the flop, you can’t automatically fold as you’ll end up giving up too much money to the preflop raising frenzy that way. Under these circumstances, you need to explore other options on the flop as well (like firing that second bullet).