How to handle Bad Beats

Over the long term, poker is a game of skill, but anyone who has played the game knows that, in the short term, there is a significant amount of luck involved. Even with the best game-theory optimal strategy, a good read on opponents, and a solid grasp of the dynamics of the table, the cards can still run against you, delivering a bad beat.

Bad beats come in a variety of forms, but the general characteristic is a hand that is strongly favored to win at a certain stage ends up losing due to a bad run of cards. Even with the best understanding of probability theory, players will get themselves in spots where their very strong hand ends up getting capped by a “worse hand.”

The best players understand the variance in the game, and generally know that unless they have 100% in the hand, there is a chance to lose. They play the game for long-term results, without focussing on short-term wins or losses.

But even the best players can fall victim to bad beats, and the mental difficulties they can bring. When playing for significant money, short-term results can have a significant impact on even the most seasoned player, especially on nights when bad beats seem to “steal” money that seemed a near-certainty.

Bad Beats: When Poker Goes Sour

As mentioned above, bad beats can come in a variety of ways, but they generally share the common characteristic of the best hand being beaten. A bad beat goes beyond a simple case of losing a race or a 60/40 spot however, occurring only when the chances of winning are very high.

Bad beats can be divided into three main categories:

  1. Unexpected Loss – This form of bad beat happens when a player has a very strong holding but runs into an even stronger, but unlikely, hand that they lose to.
    An example of unexpected loss might be when an over-pair loses to a hand that called out of position then flopped two pair.
  2. Unexpected Win – In an unexpected win, the player is far ahead of their opponent, but the opponent finds one of just a few cards they need to win the hand.
    An example of an unexpected win might be when one player shoves with a weak hand, and a second player calls with strong holding like a big pair, only to lose to running cards.
  3. Cooler – In a cooler, both players have very strong hands, but one is significantly stronger than the other. The cooler turns into a bad beat when the weaker hand “gets there” for the win.
    Good examples of coolers are when dominated hands like ace-queen get there against ace-king, or when kings crack aces.

While proper understanding of probability theory makes it clear that even in cases where the odds are very much in your favor, all outcomes are still possible, it can still be difficult in the moment to handle a loss when the player was 90% to win.

While seasoned players can usually handle the swings well enough, new players in situations like that can find real emotional difficulties dealing with the variance. Even seasoned players can sometimes fall victim to bad beats when they come fast and furious.

Dangers of Tilt

While poker is a game of probabilities and the best players understand that, it can still be easy to fall into the pattern of letting bad beats affect mood. The main issue is that once a bad beat gets under a player’s skin, it can lead to frustration that further impacts their play.

The emotional tilt that can result can have serious impacts on your game and win rate. Maintaining emotional neutrality is crucial in poker in order to make the best decisions in the moment.

Emotional tilt can easily lead to more aggressive or reckless play that leads to further losses. This can often lead to a downward spiral of Loss > Frustration > Poor Strategy > Mistakes > Bigger Bets > Bigger Losses.

Address Tilt by Taking a Break

Perhaps the best way to address tilt at the poker table is by taking a break. Walk away for some time or the rest of the night, and don’t go back to the poker tables till you’ve cleared out the emotional tilt.

One option might be to check out some of the other Novibet casino games on offer to clear your mind a bit from the poker bad beat. Spending some time studying can also help clear a player’s head after a string of bad beats is another good way to help clear out tilt.

Nobody likes to lose, especially when big money is at stake. Taking a break and learning how to handle the inevitable variance in the game can help players lose less money, less often.