Copyright 2005 Full
September 19, 2005
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Poker Lesson: How
Bad are the Beats?
Author: Steve Brecher
While playing on Full
Tilt Poker, I have said that there are three topics I won't
discuss in table chat; politics, religion, and whether online
poker is rigged. That's because many people's opinions on
those topics are hardened and not amenable to friendly or productive
Away from the table, I'll venture a couple of comments
about improbable events in poker. While not direct instruction
in the tactics and strategy of play, these comments may help you
take "bad beats" in stride -- and that, in turn, is
an essential part of poker maturity.
First, let's consider what most would view as a
typical "bad beat" -- a lower pocket pair winning against
a higher pocket pair in hold 'em, such as KK beating AA. When
those hands share one suit, the chance of the worse hand winning
is about 18%. The chance of the lower pair winning twice -- that
is, the next two times that such hands happen to go against each
other -- is about 3%. If in one session of play, a lower pocket
pair beat a higher pocket pair twice, that might seem a little,
well, weird to some players.
Consider another situation involving chance. When
two dice are thrown, the chance of rolling "snake eyes"
(1-1) is about 3% -- about the same as a lower pocket pair beating
a higher pocket pair twice.
Suppose there were 600 craps tables using standard,
unaltered dice with nine players around each table -- a total
of 5,400 players -- and these tables operated for a three-hour
"session." How many players would observe snake eyes
being thrown at least once? The statistical expectation result
is not important. The point is that it's easy to intuitively see
that a large number of players would.
Further, do you think some players might see snake
eyes thrown several times in an evening -- say, three or four
times? (That is equivalent to six or eight poker "bad beats.")
And if some of those players would be inclined to report their
observation on forums and in chat, then it might seem to some
as if the dice were "fixed."
Let's go back to poker.
Recently, I played a hand of No-Limit
Hold 'Em on Full Tilt Poker. An opponent four seats in front
of the button open-raised pre-flop. It was folded around to me
in the big blind, and I called. I semi-bluff check-raised the
flop, continued with a semi-bluff bet on the turn, was raised
all-in, and called the raise. I made my draw on the river. After
the hand my opponent chatted:
opponent: ur horrible steve
opponent: why the [****] did u call that?
opponent: horrible that this site rewards that
(Confidential to opponent: I know these comments
were made in the heat of the moment after a big loss and don't
necessarily reflect your considered view.)
Let's take a look at my call on the turn. I held
Ad Td; my opponent held Kd Kc. The board was Qd 9d 7h Jc.
With my opponent's actual holding, I had 16 outs
to win the pot on the river, making me a 1.75 to 1 underdog. Of
course, it could have been worse for me against other holdings,
but even the worst case for me would have been to be up against
K-T (a made straight), and then I would have been only a 3 to
After my bet and the opponent's all in-raise, I
was getting pot odds of 3.7 to 1 to call, so the call is clearly
correct. But it seemed to my opponent -- and to at least one observer
-- that I made a bad call, and that my winning with a 36% chance
to do so when I called was a bad beat for my opponent.
The moral of this story: While "bad beats"
(low-probability events) do occur, sometimes a closer examination
of a poker hand can change first impressions and allow you to
continue to play with a cooler, clearer head.
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