Jim’s All-In Poker Vol XIII: Bad Beat

Bad beat stories.  Everyone has them, and nobody wants to hear them.  So why is every poker game filled with them?  Why do poker players insist on regaling us with their stories of hands gone wrong, miracle rivers, and other ways in which they lost a hand?  Meanwhile these same players never tell us about the times that they made questionable calls that worked out for them.

I have long said “For every bad beat story, somebody else has a miracle river story”, but for some reason we never hear the latter. 

I believe the answer is simple.  Humans have a need to tell others about the negatives in their life.  In poker, they need to justify why they went broke.  So they repeat the same stories over and over, trying to convince us that they really are a great player, but just happen to run in to bad players that get lucky.

Normally, I have simple responses to bad beat stories. 

Poker 4 acesFor instance, if you start your story with “I had 5-8 offsuit in the big blind, and the player on the button min-raised me”, I can normally stop you right there.  The bad beat would have never happened if you had folded (that) junk to begin with, even to a min-raise.

A perfect example from my own play:  The first 15 minutes of a big money tournament, I’m in the big blind holding 7-9 of hearts, and one player raised the standard three times the big blind.   Everyone folds to me and I call.  The flop is 7-9-J, and I end up being eliminated from the tournament by Trip Jacks.  Is this a bad beat?  Not at all!  I overplayed bottom two pair, thinking the guy had Aces, and was sent home before my seat even got warm.   Wouldn’t the story have been much more acceptable if I had folded my hand, not willing to risk major chips early on with such a suspect hand?

Or, if you tell me “I had Pocket Aces, and was first to act, so I just called hoping someone would raise”, I can point out the problem right then and there.   In fact, I can normally stop you after “I had Pocket Aces”, since most people overplay Pocket Aces after the flop.  Think about it; if you had the Ace of Diamonds and the Ace of Spades in your hand, and the flop came down 7-8-9 of Hearts, would you call someone’s All-In?

This past Saturday night I was the big blind, with 2-5 offsuit.  One player limped in, and I just checked.  Flop came 3-4-8.  I checked, and the other player made a minimum bet.  Now I have an open ended straight draw, and the bet was minimal, so I called.  Why not see one more card?  And that card was an Ace.  I checked my straight, and the other player tosses out 3,000 chips.  He either has A-K, or has played A-A very poorly (as he ill-advisedly just limped), so rather than risk a bad river, I simply shove all in.  He called before my chips hit the felt, and turned over Pocket Aces.  My straight held up, and took him out of the tournament with his own bad beat story.  But honestly, if he had hit the full house on the river, would that have given me a bad beat story of my own? 

Poker 1Another way to respond to a bad beat story is simply to recite the odds of what happened happening.  For example, in most heads up situations that don’t involve AA over another pocket pair, you’re usually looking at the best hand being no more than a 60/40 favorite to win by the time you get to the river card.  If the 40% hand hits, it really isn’t a bad beat.  A pretty decent hand hit their draw and won. 

Even if you are a 90%+ favorite to win a hand (See last week’s article for my report on that), the other person still has outs.  If he is willing to risk the chips, and hits his draw, he wins.  It isn’t bad, it is just another hand.  As I’ve said many times, you want someone to call when you are a 90/10 favorite to win.  In fact, you want them to call for all your chips.  If you replay that same scenario 100 times, you will win 90 or more of the hands.  Then you will press on with the tournament and not even think about the fact that you won when you were supposed to win.  But there will always be those 10 times that you don’t win.  And those are the hands that you will remember and cite for us over and over again.

Poker TableI’m not trying to tell you not to talk about poker at the poker table.  I expect you to.  If you play as much as I do, you tend to talk about poker everywhere you go.  I put poker terms into everyday conversation with non-players, so of course I am going to talk about poker hands with poker players.  All I’m asking you to do is to tone down the attitude about the hand.  You were shocked when a player called with a gut-shot straight draw, and there was only one card left in the deck that could win it for him.  We, on the other hand, could finish the story for you, because of course the Jack came on the river.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be having the conversation.  If you’ve played thousands of hands, nothing is surprising anymore. 

So go forth and play the game.  Enjoy the camaraderie and competition.  Be happy when you win, but accept that you won’t win every time.  Sometimes even Doyle Brunson gets sucked out on.  It is part of the game.  In fact, it is what makes the game interesting.  If we won every time we had Pocket Aces or Kings, there would be no reason to play the game.  We would just sit there and wait, and everyone would break even.  The only person who would make any money would be the dealer.  

Submitted 8/21/09

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