Set Mining in Tournaments

Set mining in tournaments is an art in and of itself. You are
going to have scenarios where set mining is right and
profitable, but there will also be endless spots where the
numbers won’t justify moving forward. It’s often stated that
poker is a game of numbers and math. While the actual math
involved in poker, as it relates to skill, is often greatly
overstated, set mining is one of the plays that relies on it the
most. If you are unable to make some basic calculations as to
your chances of hitting and getting paid off with a set, you may
as well not play any small or middle pairs at all. Sure, pairs
have natural value, but they usually require significantly
improved strength if they want a chance at taking down a huge

Tournament play tends to create three different types of
stack sizes. There are times (like the beginning of an event)
where you have several hundred big blinds and can play many
hands without real risk to a good portion of your stack. The
next type of stack size will fall somewhere in between large and
small. It’s in these levels that you can play a lot of pots,
but you still need to be selective.

The last and final type of
stack in tournaments is small or even micro sized. When you have
a small stack, it means that you are hanging on by a thread.
You really need something to happen or you are likely to go
broke. Given this information, this article is going to analyze
the viability of and approach to set mining within these three

Set Mining with a Huge Stack

Set mining with a huge stack is going to be the most relaxing
time to ever play your pocket pairs. Your investment is going to
be small relative to your potential, a loss will not hurt you,
and you have the advantage in just about every way imaginable.
Now, the important thing to remember is that a huge stack (and
any other stack) is going to be in relation to your opponents.
If a tournament has just begun, you are really just average. The
potential in set mining lies in your ability to get all of the
money in the middle. If you are playing with hundreds of big
blinds but don’t have a real lead over your opponents, this is usually going
to require a big bluff or a cooler. When you do truly have a
lead, however, things are going to be much easier.

Let’s say that you are one of the chip leads mid-way through
a tournament. When you have a pocket pair, set mining is going
to require little more than playing slow pre-flop and slow
post-flop, regardless of whether or not you hit a hand. Your
stack size will enable you with the opportunity to call down
bets even if you don’t improve, which is one of the biggest
assets to set mining with more chips than other players.

Likewise, players will be more inclined to stack off if they are
short compared to you when you do manage to land a set. As
backwards as it might seem, a huge stack can often times allow
for the most passive approach (when you include missed sets). A
huge stack should allow you to win big pots, but it doesn’t
necessarily mean that you should always be playing big pots, and
there is a difference. Like anything else in poker, carefully
picking your spots is key.

Set Mining with a Moderate Stack

Set mining with a moderate stack is both the trickiest and
the easiest time to play pocket pairs. The reason for this is
that you’ll have few pre-flop options and that giving up
post-flop will be easy to do. Without the luxury of chips to
spare, you aren’t going to need to even consider the idea of
floating other players’ bets. If you call a raise pre-flop and
end up totally bricking the board, folding to most bets will
become second nature.

As cut and dry as this might appear, it’s worth noting that
sometimes you’ll still need to change gears and be aggressive.
Missing a set doesn’t always mean that you should give up. If a
player, especially one with a big stack in a tournament, seems
to be making continuation bets over and over, shoving to a flop
bet could very well make sense. Of course, this is heavily
reliant on the texture of the flop and so on and so forth.
Though messing around and getting fancy is usually a bad idea,
there are definitely some situations where creative play is
worth looking into.

Set Mining with a Small Stack

Set mining with a small stack is all but impossible to do.
The very premise of effective and profitable set mining calls
for proper pot odds and implied pot odds. If you are playing
with just a few big blinds, this is going to be irrelevant,
most everyone at your table will have you covered. In fact, you
won’t even be able to cover your odds with the amount of blinds
that you have left. For example, if you have 8 big blinds and a
player raises 3x, calling the bet with the intention of set
mining is flawed because you have next to no room to fold on the
flop. With a small or micro sized stack, set mining should be
converted into pushing or folding.

With all of that said, there’s a possibility that limping
would allow for set mining. If you are in late position with 11
big blinds and several players limp ahead, calling the bet could
set you up for a great double up opportunity. You are unlikely
to get all folds if you shove now, you have position post-flop,
and you can even give up if you miss and face bets. The reason
that set mining would work here is because nothing else really
does. It’s not so much that chasing after a set makes a lot of
sense in and of itself, but that the other options are worse.
Sometimes you just have to pick the best of the worst, and this
will be a recurring theme when you are nursing a short stack.