Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Set Over Set - Should You Always Go Broke?

set over set in poker
If you play enough poker set over set is something that is going to happen to you eventually. It is a difficult situation to be in because you have what amounts to an incredible hand, but there is only one card in the deck that can allow you to win the hand.

And I don't think I even need to tell you how low the odds are of hitting that!

So in this article I am going to talk about what to do on those rare occasions in poker when you get set over set. Is there any way to get away and not go broke in these situations?

Set Over Set is Exceedingly Rare

First off it should be noted that getting set over set is an extremely rare occurrence in poker.

In fact, the math suggests that somebody will flop a higher set than you in a full ring cash game once every 7.8k hands. It is even more rare in a 6max game, where it will only happen once every 12.6k hands.

This is why set over set is commonly referred to as a "cooler". That is, a hand that is simply an unlucky break and pretty much everybody is going to lose all their money.

Let's assume for a moment that you do in fact put all of your money in the middle every time you are set over set. As we know, you will lose the vast, vast majority of the time.

However, it is important to note that you are going to cooler somebody else (by set over setting them) once every 7.8k or 12.6k hands as well. And believe me, they are almost surely going broke against you too.

So the key takeaway here is that set over set situations are exceedingly rare and pretty much everybody goes broke when they happen.

This makes the whole debate of whether or not you should always go broke when they happen a bit pointless.

This is because even if you stick all the money in the middle every single time this situation arises, your opponents are going to do the same when you happen to have the higher set.

So therefore, in the long run this is pretty much a neutral EV (expected value) situation.

Should You Always Go Broke With a Set?

Bet let's address the question or whether or not you should always lose all your money with a dominated set anyways.


Because we should always be looking for an edge in poker no matter how small especially in today's tighter games.

If we can successfully make a good fold with a lower set even just once every 10 times it happens, then we can turn this into a positive EV long term situation for ourselves and a negative EV one for our opponents.

This in turn will directly impact your bb/100 (also known as your winrate) in a positive way, which is the most important thing in this game.

But should you ever really fold a set especially at the lower limits where there are so many wild and crazy players?

Well, folding a set should definitely be an exceedingly rare event. In fact, the only time you should ever really be folding a set is when one or both of the following conditions are true:
  • You are against a tight/passive opponent who is giving you big action
  • The community cards allow for a lot of other nut hands (straights, flushes etc.)

The most important factor in nearly every decision in poker is the player type that you are up against. I am simply not going to be folding a set versus any fish or aggressive regs unless the board is absolutely ridiculously bad for me (e.g., four flush).


Because these player types have way too many hands in their range (and even total bluffs) that my set is miles ahead of.

And in the case of recreational players in particular, they tend to think about hand strengths incorrectly anyways. For instance, they will often massively over-value a hand like top pair.

Secondly, the board texture (especially by the river) is hugely important if I am ever going to consider folding a set.

On a dry uncoordinated board like:


There is very little chance that I ever fold because there are no possible straights or flushes that could beat me.

However on a board like:


There are multiple straights and flushes that could beat me and therefore it is easier to get away.

Lastly, you will sometimes encounter a crazy board like:


Where there are so many ways for you to be beat that folding your set to a big bet is almost trivial.

When Would I Really Consider Folding a Set?

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis though (or has checked out either of my books) knows that my whole poker game and strategy is heavily based around playing the player.

So assuming the board doesn't go totally crazy like in the last example above, the main determining factor for me is often a tight/passive player type. We have all seen these kinds of players at the micros.

Their stats might look something like this:

set over set poker
Typical nitty 6max regular

The numbers in blue are VPIP/PFR/AF. This is a typical tight/passive 6max regular. A VPIP of 18 indicates a tight player and an AF of 2 is definitely on the passive side.

This is essentially type of player which picks his spots and is very cautious at the poker tables. So you would be well advised to give them some credit when they start tossing the chips around.

By the way, for a complete breakdown of what each stat above means, check out my complete HUD setup article.

Another thing that is important to remember is that these types of players will typically be the ones who are playing on many different tables at once.

So when they wake up out of the blue and suddenly start giving you big time action, this is when the alarm bells need to start going off. They didn't just randomly pick you on one of their 16 tables to suddenly run a wild bluff against.

But still, should we really fold a set especially on a dry uncoordinated board like the first one above? To be honest, if it is just heads up with me and one of these tight/passive opponents, I am still going broke most of the time.

The reason why is that at the lower stakes I still believe that enough wacky stuff can be going on for me to be ahead sometimes. They can be overvaluing a hand like an overpair for instance. Also, it is just really damn hard to fold a set!

Something that is also extremely important to note here is the type of set we have. On a dry uncoordinated board I am never folding middle set. Top set is quite literally the best hand possible so that obviously never gets folded either.

The reason why I am always willing to felt middle set in this spot is because my opponent has an equal chance of having a higher set or a lower one. And this is not even to mention a whole host of other non-set hands that I destroy.

So, if I am ever going to fold a set (which is exceedingly rare), it will only ever be bottom set.

The One Situation Where it is Correct to Fold a Set

Ok so enough build up!

Is there actually a specific spot in poker where you can correctly make an incredible fold with your bottom set versus a higher set on a harmless board?

Yes. There is one.

This is the extremely rare situation where you are up against multiple tight/passive opponents with bottom set on a dry uncoordinated flop. Furthermore, before the action even gets to you there is a CBet by the preflop raiser and a raise by one of the preflop callers.

As crazy as it might sound, this is a situation where if you continue on in the hand there is a good chance that you will be shown a higher set by the flop raiser.

The key thing to remember here is the player type. Simply ask yourself why a tight/passive player would make the insanely aggressive move of raising the preflop raiser (with more people left to act behind as well!) on a completely harmless board like:


I will tell you why. It is because his 99 or 55 has your 22 absolutely crushed.

I gotta be honest though, even in a somewhat obvious spot like this, I don't always make the right fold. It is especially hard at the lower limits because I just assume that everyone is bad until I am proven otherwise.

However, this is a rare situation that you might want to be on the look out for. As difficult as it might appear at first, being good enough to fold bottom set here can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Set over set situations are one of the most common types of hands that you will see posted on poker forums in particular. This is because everybody wants to know if they should have gotten away.

Often they really just want to hear those four magic words to soothe their pain "it's just a cooler".

And to be honest, it is just a cooler in the vast, vast majority of cases. To go around routinely folding sets (especially at the lower limits) is a serious mistake that will negatively affect your winrate in a big way.

And also, it is important to remember that even on the rare occasions that you are behind to a straight or a flush, you still have 10 outs to a full house or quads. This is by no means an insignificant amount of equity.

So to answer the age old question of whether or not you should always go broke when you are set over set, the answer is yes in the vast majority of cases.

As I discussed above this situation is extremely rare and most of your opponents are always going broke when the roles are reversed as well. Therefore, even if you decided to stick all the money in the middle every single time, it would be close to neutral EV in the end.

However, there might be one or two rare spots where a couple of tight/passive nits are in a raising war in front of you and you have bottom set on a dry and uncoordinated flop. I am not saying that you should always fold here but alarm bells should be going off at the very least.

Let me know in the comments below how you approach set over set situations. Are you able to make a sick fold in these spots sometimes?

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folding trips in poker


  1. In my 46 yrs of playing I have only been able to fold if I wasn't already all in against a obvious flush or straight ( I.E.) four on the board.

    1. Yup and there is nothing wrong with this. I'd much rather get stacked than make a bad fold. Hopefully this came across in the article as well.

  2. You've forgot the rake.

    As for the rest, like Doyle Brunson once said: "If you lost small amount with a set - most likely you played it wrong".

    There's also a couple of good articles by Tommy Angelo about the "your opponents will do the same in this spot"-concept. He calls it reciprcality. You can find it on his website:

    1. I love Tommy Angelo's stuff and reference it often in my blog posts! His stuff about reciprocity is indeed brilliant.

  3. It was more than three years ago but I vividly remember folding a set of eights playing live $2/$5 with >150bb effective. Tight/Passive older guy 3bet in the SB after I raise CO. Flop was J-8-x, he bet big I call. Turn is A, he bets, I raise, he tanks then shoves. I tanked for what felt like an hour and folded. Never saw his hand. I think that's the only time when the board wasn't horrible.

    1. Sounds like it was probably a good fold to me. The only non-set hand he could have here that 3Bet ships the turn is AJ but he probably just flats this hand preflop. The fact that it was deep also changes things. Good fold imo.

  4. If a set mining nit calls preflop and I have bottom set on a board like JT5 rainbow, and then he raises my cbet I immediately begin to curse the poker gods and go broke anyway.

    1. Haha. Nothing tilts me more than getting coolered by a nit!

  5. I folded bottom set. It was the exact situation you described where there were two nits starting a raising war. Thankfully I was in position. I still called the flop bets, but they started going nuts on the turn and I knew at least one of them had a better set. Turned out they both did! It was a three-way set-fest and I was smart enough to get out of the way. (That time, anyway...LOL!)

    1. Haha, I have seen this happen several times before also.

  6. I had this hand yesterday. I wonder what the odds are on this one happening again! Thanks for the knowledge bombs Nathan. They're always appreciated. BTW it's supposed to be +28 here in Vancouver today!

    1. No prob SF, glad you liked the article. Nice, Vancouver summers are always amazing!

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  8. This happened to me just last night early in my session.

    -Effective Stack (100bb)
    -MP w/ 7's & no one is in the pot yet so I bring it in for 4bb
    -A tight/passive player on the button 3Bets me somewhat light. I've seen him do this before multiple times w/ QQ+/AK so insta-peg him in this range. I also love calling his 3bet OOP in this type of situation because I usually don't hit my set but more often than not can pick up the pot against the nittier type player w/a 1/2 pt donk on the flop.

    This time flop comes 7 10 3 rainbow giving me middle set. I check to him figuring a cBet is imminent which I'm planning to call not 3bet just yet cuz he'd snap shut like a clam and fold anything but bullets. I plan to stack him on the turn if he's got that big pair & am ready to check/fold my set if an A or K falls and be cool w/ it. But he checks right behind me....

    Turn card is K (still rainbow). Because his usual play is to pot the flop w/a big pair on this type of board, not wanting to miss another bet, and thinking he possibly hit the AK I value bet 70% of the pot expecting a healthy raise & then I'm putting it all in the drink. He calls....

    A meaningless 2 hits the riv. I value bet about 80% of the pot expecting a raise & then you know what I'm doing. He calls... & flips over 10's... giving him a higher set than me & playing it SO bad that he only cost me around 55bb.

    Long story short I would have DEFINITELY gone broke on this hand. In this case my opponent saved me 45bb and I was VERY happy about that. This proves your point of WHY you should go broke more often than not w/a set in the micros. That point being poker is a people game and people do some STRANGE stuff (especially in the micros) which more often than not will make you a ton of long term profit in various ways.

    1. Crazy hand. I would just be laughing and saying thanks on the inside. Seen this kinda thing at the micros many times though.


    Would this be one of those special cases where you should fold bottom set? I think that it would be possibly a fold if there was no flush draw.

    MP= spewy fish I go out of my way to find. 37/27 raising something like 32% there. Very aggressive pre and postflop.

    BB= 25/18 only 80 hands and his stats look overly aggressive. Which I think is a sample size issue.

    Is there a more profitable way to play this hand?

    1. Both players sound pretty crazy so I don't think I am ever folding here.

  10. Very nice post. One situation:
    1) SB 58/33/0/infinite (VPIP/PFR/3B/AF) 29BB
    2) BB 24/10/1/2 101BB
    3) UTG 54/15/0/9 63BB
    4) hero 23/13/7/4 170BB
    5) empty
    6) BTN 20/16/4/3 103 BB

    UTG limp, hero QsQd raise 6BB, BTN fold, SB call, BB fold, UTG call; pot 19BB (38cents)
    Let's say that for both SB (especially) and UTG I had a very small sample size (so the 3B stats in not really meaningful), but with a VPIP > 50 they were big fish, that's for sure

    flop: Qh Td Jh

    SB all in 23 BB
    UTG call -> pot 65 BB (1,30 €) SB 0 left, UTG 33BB left

    hero, top set on a drawy, coordinated (flushy) board ...

    What would have you done? Fold? A top set? Really hard. Call? To create a pot of 88BB with 33BB left behind? Or raise all in?

  11. This is why I don't fold my bottom set even against nits and massive action in front of me. Might not be 100% accurate, played on site where you can't use tracking software. Just remember this hand really well since it ended up being a 4-way all in on the flop and the end result being kind of sick.

    UTG (nit)
    MP (reg)
    CO (reg)
    BU (Hero)
    SB (super fish)
    BB (nit)

    Hero has 55

    UTG raise 4bb, MP fold, CO call, BU call, SB call, BB call

    Flop (20bb)
    59T rainbow

    SB bet 1bb, BB raise to 20bb, UTG all in, Hero call, SB call, BB call

    SB had 76s, BB had T9s, UTG had AA

    Even nits can go broke with aces and top two pair so I'm not folding a set on this flop at least. The fish sucked out of course and hit not his gutshot but a damn backdoor flush.