Posted by on Jul 9, 2011 in Craig's Corner | Comments

You are sitting on a stack of $185 in a $1-2NL game and you are under the gun. You’ve straddled to $4. The game is 8 handed. Three players limp in and the SB, sitting on a stack of $375, raises to $35. You have pocket 4s. If you put the raiser on a big pocket pair do you call? If your answer is yes, you have a leak that is costing you much over the long term.

Consider that odds are you will flop a set less than once every 7 times you hold a pocket pair. This means that one time in 7 to 8 times you are dealt a pair, the odds dictate you will flop a set. Conversely, 6 to 7 times you will not flop a set. (The actual odds are about 7.5 to 1) Assume each time you flop a set (assuming your opponent does not flop a set, and no over cards hit the board that will slow your opponent down) you will double up. The rest of the time you will fold.

So where’s the leak? You double up or fold…easy game, right?

For all the people that think poker is about gambling it is an easy game, but poker is a math based game. If you want to start winning seriously you have to consider the ramifications of making this call every time. All you need to do is look at the math to see that your play is a long term loser.

Because you start the hand with $185 that is the most you can win. Assume you are dealt pocket 4s seven times one night, and each time you are dealt pocket 4s, your opponent is dealt pocket Qs. Each time your opponent raises to $35. Each time you call. Six times you will fold, one time you will flop a set and win $185. This means that for the six times you folded you invested $210. The one time you win, you win $185. You will realize a net loss of $25. Remember, all this assumes you do double up on the hand. There will be plenty of times you don’t win another dollar, thereby increasing your losses.

Of course, in the right scenarios set mining can be profitable.

First – You are in a multi-way pot and you are either closing the action or are one of the last to act. In the actual hand that prompted this post, I mentioned there were other limpers. While it was unlikely anyone else was going to call the $35, the player with pocket 4s didn’t consider that one of those players might have limped in only to re-raise. If that happens you most likely have to fold your hand without even seeing the flop. If you are closing the action, or close to closing the action, at least you will likely see the flop. In addition, because you are not heads up, you have the opportunity to win more than double your stack.

Second – You and your opponent are sitting on stacks equal to about 10x the raise. In this scenario you and your opponent would need to be sitting on at least $350. You might ask why so much. If I’m losing $210, then don’t I only need to win that amount the time I do flop the set to break even? You aren’t playing this game to break even. You are playing to win money. You have to win more than $210 to make up for not only the times you have to fold after putting in $35, but also for the times you put in $35 and you don’t win any more money. You will not double up every time you hit a set. The only way you are assured of making profitable calls is by playing pots where the implied odds (the odds to win more than what’s already in the pot) make your call profitable.

After this hand played out, discussion ensued where one player stated it was a proper call because his odds were 4-1 and his $35 call netted him $185. This player was grossly mistaken. He was referring to the odds that an underpair will beat an overpair in an all in situation. If pocket 4s and pocket Qs got all the money in preflop, pocket 4s can expect to win once every 5 times. However, pocket 4s can win a number of ways i.e. flop a set, make a straight, make a flush, which accounts for the better odds than purely set mining.

There are only 52 cards in a deck. The math is simple. You and your opponent account for four of those cards. You have two chances in 48 to find the card that beats him. The reward better be worth the risk, otherwise, instead of seeing you on the felt, you will slowly, but surely, be seeing the felt yourself.

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