There’s something about being dealt a pocket pair in hold’em. It only happens on average once every 17 hands, so the novelty of having a pair dealt to you is perhaps part of the appeal. So, too, is the secret pleasure of already having a “made hand” even before the community cards come.
That said, pocket pairs can sometimes be problematic to play, especially when it comes to the non-premium medium pairs ( down to ) and small pairs ( down to ). While these hands often put a player in front to start a hand, they frequently aren’t going to remain best if a hand reaches the river, which can cause problems — especially for those who aren’t happy about having to give up their “made hand.”
Neil Gibson recently addressed in particular one approach often taken with small or medium pairs, namely, the strategy of seeking to flop sets and win big pots with them and when failing to do so to abandon them. This “set mining” strategy is based in large part on the lose-a-little-or-win-a-lot principle, and while flopping sets isn’t a common occurrence, such an approach can help increase the likelihood of playing non-premium pairs profitably.
Of course, before one starts “set mining” with pocket pairs, it is important not only to understand the odds of flopping a set but also to be able to assess correctly the chances of getting paid off adequately when you do. As Gibson notes, one factor that has to be considered are the effective stack sizes and whether or not it is worthwhile to call preflop raises in the hopes of flopping a set.
Gibson considers an example in which you are dealt early in a tournament:
Look at the pot odds being offered when the blinds are 25/50, an opponent raises to 150, and you’re considering a call from the big blind. There is 225 in the middle with the raise (your big blind of 50 is already committed), and you need to call 100 more to see the flop. Calling 100 to win 225 here would mean you are being offered pot odds of 2.25-to-1. That wouldn’t be such a good call if you know the only way you can win is to flop a set and the odds of that happening are 7.5-to-1. You’d want pot odds closer to that ratio (or better) to proceed.
But you aren’t looking merely to win the 225 in the middle. You hope to win a lot more than that if you flop a set. Thus it is important to consider both your own and your opponent’s stacks and think about how much more you can potentially win should you successfully hit that set.
Read Gibson’s explanation of how both the odds of flopping a set and the chances of getting paid off appropriately need to be considered in this situation in “Set Mining with Small-to-Medium Pocket Pairs.”