How to Play a Set

When you make a set in poker – IE 3 of a kind, you stand to profit. How much you actually profit will be determined by how well you play your sets. If you slowplay in the wrong situations you could end up getting outdrawn. Likewise if you play overly aggressive you could scare your opponents out of the pot. In the following article I will tell you my best practices for playing a set in poker and tips on how to play sets more profitably.

When Should You Set Mine

First of all, let’s start at preflop. Before you make a set, you have to draw to one profitably. This means going to post flop with a pocket pair and set mining for the right price.

If you have to pay too much money to hit your set you will not profit. The odds of flopping a set with a pocket pair are around 7 and a half to one. This means, if you call a 3 big blind raise preflop, you need to make around 22 big blinds when you flop a set on average, just to break even.

This is of course assuming that no one else calls, you don’t count the dead money in the blinds and you never win the pot when your small or medium pocket pair is the best hand post flop. In reality, you will win the pot sometimes without flopping a set reducing and other players will cold call preflop improving your odds sometimes.

In general, it is better to set mine when stacks are deep. Say you have 150bb effective stacks, it is much more profitable to set mine at this stack depth than if your opponent has 40bb. The reason for this is simple. Sets are strong hands that want to play big pots. When your opponent has 40bb you can only win 40bb, when your opponent has 150bb, you can win 150.

Another situation that favours set mining is when your opponent has a strong range. Let’s say you raise under the gun with pocket 7’s and a very tight opponent 3-bets you from the big blind. In this situation you put your opponent on a range most likely consisting of AA and KK. You also expect him to maybe play AK or QQ like this also, but you are not sure. In this situation you can call if stacks are deep enough to try and hit a set to stack your opponent.

Let’s assume you raise to 3 big blinds and your opponent 3-bets to 10 big blinds. In this spot you have to call 7 big blinds to see the flop.  This means you have to win approximately 52 big blinds to break even on your preflop call. Because in this situation you are 120 big blinds deep and you think your opponent can only have strong hands, you decide that it is profitable and decide to set mine your hand.

However, let’s take this situation and change it. Let’s say you are on the button with the same hand and your opponent 3-bets you from the small blind. In this situation, you think that your opponents range is much wider and includes many more hands. Because your opponent range t is not very strong, you cannot expect to win at least half of your opponents stack when you flop a set, and therefore decide that you cannot profitable set mine. You decide to fold.

Playing A Set As The Preflop Aggressor

So you raised it up preflop, your opponent called and now you flopped a set. Imagine your raised 88 from early position and the flop comes down Q82.

I think most people will agree with me in saying that you really only have one option, that option is to bet.

By checking you give your opponent the opportunity of checking behind and this is something you do not want. When you have a strong hand you want at least one bet to go in on every street, therefore checking as the preflop raiser in this seems bad.

Say your opponent calls your flop bet, I will generally keep betting almost always on the turn. Even if the board gets a bit scarier with a flush completing card rolling off. Worst case scenario, your opponent raises you and you call to draw at a full house and crack your opponents flush.

By betting on say a scary turn flush card you achieve the following:

  • Continue to get value from worse hands like top pair.
  • Protect your equity any time your opponent has 4 to a flush.

Obviously the downside of betting when a turn flush completing card rolls off is that when your beat, your opponent will usually raise. However, I think that disadvantage is counteracted by the benefit of protecting your equity and getting value from worse hands.

Playing A Set As The Preflop Caller

In general I will only slowplay on dry boards or if my opponent is particularly aggressive. I wrote a fantastic article about slowplaying which goes in to great detail about what situations are good and bad for slowplaying. I suggest you check that out if you are interested.

I will also frequently play my sets fast, especially if the board is wet or if my opponent is a weak player/calling station.

Importance Of Position

Being in position makes your set that much more valuable, the reason for this is that you can ensure that at least one bet goes in to the pot on each street. Let’s take two examples:

  • You are in the big blind, your opponent is in position. You flop a set of 5’s on 5J9 and decide to go for a checkraise. You check and your opponent checks back the flop, thus reducing the size of pot you can ultimately win.
  • You have the same set of 5’s and you are in position. If your opponent checks you can ensure a bet goes in on the flop, if your opponent bets you can decide whether to raise or to slowplay.

The difference between being in position and out of position effects the amount of control you have on the hand. Being in position makes flopping a set that much more valuable and profitable. In essence you get to dictate whether the pot is big or small when you have position.

Playing A Set In A 3-Bet Pot

Because the pot to stack ratio is much smaller in a 3-bet pot, it gives you more scope for slowplaying when you are in position. In a 3-bet pot it is easy to get the stacks in the middle with a ½ pot continuation bet, ½ pot turn bet and 2/3rd pot river shove.

For that reason, by calling a bet on the flop, you are not necessarily limiting yourself from getting your opponents stack. This thus makes slowplaying a much more viable tactic.

Playing A Set: Conclusion

Hopefuly the article above has taught you the various factors you should take in to account when you are either drawing to a set with a pocket pair, or playing a flopped set.

Players should always use their intelligence to decide whether drawing to a set is profitable.

Likewise, once you have flopped a set you must evaluate your opponent’s tendencies, their range and how your opponent views you. Once you have all of these variables in your head, it should be very easy to make a decision and play your set in the most optimally.