Bad Beats
Jan 11, 2006  
2006 Jason Kirk  

There's nothing worse to many players than taking a bad beat. If you need proof, just check out the chat box of the next table you sit at online and see how many players type in things like "I never win with aces." This is often true of beginning players, but plenty of people who have been playing the game for a long time will swear that their big pairs always lose and their opponents always draw out on them. The first person to travel the tournament circuit charging people $1 apiece to listen to their bad beat stories will be able to enter himself into every main event and stay in the best hotel rooms wherever he goes. (If you find yourself in this line of business at some point in the future, you can make out a check for $10,000 payable to me - consider it a finder's fee.)

Most people have selective memory when it comes to poker. They conveniently forget the times that their cards do hold up, focusing instead on the1-outer that hits the river. It's not hard to understand why. The bad beat sits very near the heart of the drama that makes poker the most popular reality show on television. The potential of the deck to dole out a bad beat and send a Mike Matusow or Phil Hellmuth spiraling into mega-tilt is the stuff that keeps people watching to see what the next card will be. It's not exciting to remember the times when your kings held up against two underpairs, so most people file their wins away and save room for the tough losses they experience.

Everybody takes bad beats, but strong players are especially vulnerable to them. Players who routinely play only the strongest hands simply won't be drawing to win as often as their looser opponents. As Lou Krieger once put it: "You have it in your power to turn a bad beat around simply by realizing this simple truth: The more bad beats you encounter, the luckier you are. It's a sign that you are playing against opponents who continually take the worst of it, and if you can't beat someone who always takes the worst of it, you can't beat anyone." Beginning players who have learned to tighten up and find the bulk of their losses coming to opponents who suck out shouldn't have to do anything other than play more hands to see their bankroll increase.

It's especially important during a bad run at the tables to remember that bad beats are part of the game. Sometimes in the midst of a bad stretch that human tendency toward selective memory can take over, preventing you from . One good way to combat this is by keeping track of your play so that you can go back and look at how you've won and lost your money. Seeing that you've handed out some pretty horrible beats yourself can give you a little needed perspective on the game. So can looking at how much money your loose opponents lose over time, rather than focusing on the one hand where they caught a miracle card to steal a pot from you.

Those of a more adventurous attitude when it comes to playing poker have been known to embrace the bad beat. Phil Gordon uses the term "implied tilt odds" to describe the phenomenon of increasing your EV by bad-beating an opponent into a downward spiral of losing. An approach of pursuing implied tilt odds aggressively can be extremely valuable at short-handed tables, building big pots that can bring a once-proud opponent to his knees with a quickness. Some players have the skill and courage to pull off such an approach at full tables as well, and watching them in action can be beautiful to behold.

If you find that you're often upset by taking bad beats, it's worth asking yourself whether you're taking the game entirely too seriously. After all, it is just a game. With all the disease, war, famine, and poverty in the world, your one-outer loss on the river for your entire stack isn't really very significant at all. You'll still go home and sleep in your bed tonight, and wake up and go to work tomorrow, and come back home that evening to keep living your life the way you did before the poker gods declared your opponent to be their favorite when the queen of clubs hit the river. Poker is best enjoyed when it's part of a balanced life, and keeping it in perspective can be the first step toward enjoying every card you're dealt.

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