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When Losing is Winning
Why Bad Beats Are A Good Thing—And Cost $5 Apiece
“Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.” — Mike McDermott, Rounders
My first poker coach had a rule. You paid him $5—immediately on the spot—whenever you told a bad beat story in his presence. Not only are bad beat stories boring, he would say, but they show you don’t understand poker. By telling a bad beat story, you are whining about a poor result to a well-played hand. That’ll be $5, please…
The very definition of a bad beat is when you get your money into the middle with a dominating hand, but it loses to a grossly inferior hand. Aces cracked by a lower pair. Ace-King losing to Ace-Ten. A flopped set falling to a runner-runner straight. These are all brutally painful bad beats. But please don’t tell me about them. You played the hand correctly but just got unlucky. Get over it already.
Don’t like it? You know where the door is. By now, in your poker career, you should understand this is a game of probabilities and statistics. It’s a game of the long-run. It’s a game of running bad and running good alike. Play long enough and the bad beats will all even out. Our Aces will get cracked just as often as the next guy’s, and we’ll just trade that money back and forth—assuming we’re playing correctly and getting our money in with the best of it.
Let’s repeat this for clarity: the definition of a bad beat is a hand in which you get your money in well ahead of your opponent (i.e., you have superior equity), but then the bad guy gets lucky and wins. You made all the right decisions in the hand, but still lost. Ask any of the Phil’s, and you’ll see they couldn’t have played the hand any better, nor would they have had a different result.
Bad beats are frequently called suck-outs. At the time they happen to you, you know exactly why they’re called that: they suck. Bad beats sting. They make amateurs shake their heads, utter obscenities, or want to punch someone. Bad beats can cause tilt.
But winning players react differently. This is because they understand that the results of an individual poker hand are not relevant. What does matter is whether they’ve made well-reasoned, positive expected value decisions or not. What matters is whether they got their money in ahead or behind, whether they folded when they should have, whether they made the right decisions and acted on them or not.
And that’s all you really can do in poker; make good decisions repeatedly. If you do this enough times… well, you’ll make a lot of money at this game. Of course, you’ll occasionally lose to ugly suck-outs. And at the moment one of these bad beats happens, you may feel that you suffered an injustice.
Okay, fine. Let that moment come and go. Then remember something very important: you played the hand correctly. You did everything you were supposed to do. In the long-run, you’ve won. Smile, you’ve had a bad beat. It may sting a bit, but it really is a good thing. It’s literal proof that you’re playing the game well.
Still don’t like it? Fine, tell me your tale of woe. And then fork over five bucks, please.