The Truth About Poker Bad Beat You Need to Know

The Truth About Poker Bad Beat You Need to Know

What Is A Bad Beat In Poker?

A Poker Bad Beat is a term for a poker hand during which a player with what appears to be a better hand still loses. It’s when you were way ahead in the hand but still lost the hand by the river. For instance you flop a straight and lose to a flush on the river. It most frequently occurs where one player bets the clearly stronger hand and their opponent makes a statistically poor call that wins with continued dealing to finish the hand.

When Texas Hold’em was first created it was just the flop. This only worked for a while because the good players would continuously beat the bad players, which led to the bad players going broke or quitting the game (sometimes those two go hand-in-hand).

Calling All Fish!

poker fish

In order to get the bad players to return to the game, the turn and the river were added. If you ask me, they could have just added the turn and called it the river to see where things went. Maybe if that happened, the game and the poker hands within it wouldn’t be so crazy. But human beings don’t always think logically, so they added both the turn and the river.

Their thinking was that by adding the turn and the river, it would allow the bad players to get lucky sometimes. They were most certainly correct on that. The good players will still win over the long haul, but it’s not always easy. Okay, it’s rarely easy. I won’t say it’s never easy because sometimes that is the case.

If you have a fish or two at your table, the game can be easy. These are people who will call your all-in with middle pair on the flop when you already have a flush, or someone who will call a $900 all-in on the river with a pair of threes on this board: AKT76. That one recently happened at Harrah’s Cherokee, but I was only a witness.

Since the game isn’t always that easy, especially in a Texas Hold’em poker tournament, we won’t focus much on the fish. It requires very little instruction to beat those folks. If you’re up against moderate to strong players, you’re going to need some poker strategy for dealing with bad beats, or to even avoid bad beats.

A poker bad beat doesn’t just have the potential to set you back financially, it can also set back your confidence. It can lead to you playing too fast and making poor decisions, which then leads to bleeding chips. At that point, you have to patch up the wound before you bleed out. You never want to bleed out in the game of poker. That means you went broke.

Bad Beat: Bleeding Out

maurice hawkins poker

Funny thing with poker, though. When you go broke, it doesn’t mean you’re out. As long as you posted some serious poker tournament stats during your run, or all of your runs, someone will likely invest in you. All you have to do is ask for a stake on a staking platform, through social media, or someone you know in the poker world.

If you’re not afraid to do this, it already means that you never have to worry too much about bad beats. Why? Because as long as you’re a good player, you will always find money so you can get back on the felt. If there is ever a business where you should just keep going no matter what, its poker.

Look at Maurice Hawkins as an example. He has 13 WSOP Circuit rings. Some people wonder how he does it. I know how he does it. I have played with him, and I listen to him. He doesn’t fold often, and when it gets late, he will purposely put himself in 4-5 all-in situations. It doesn’t matter if he’s ahead or behind. His thinking is that it takes 4-5 of those hands to win a tournament.

In other words, if he gets lucky and can rattle off 4-5 in a row, he’s got the ring. If he wins three in a row and loses the next one due to a poker bad beat, no big deal. He has already accumulated enough chips to cover that loss. He can then build his stack up again. If he never gets it rolling, or if he suffers a poker bad beat early, he will go right to the cage and re-buy so he can try again.

This is how Maurice Hawkins gets his rings. It’s a brilliant strategy because no one else does it. He doesn’t pay attention to GTO, EV, Small Ball, or any of that. Plays his own game, and that’s why he succeeds. He also talks a lot of trash to his opponents in an effort to get them off their game so they will make bad decisions, but that’s a story for another time.

A Different Approach

You might be thinking that if you want to win, then you should do what Maurice does, but that’s a bad poker strategy. You’re not Maurice. I’m not saying he’s better than you. I’m saying he is Maurice, I am Tyler, and you are you. In order to win in a poker tournament (or cash game) and be successful, you need to be you. This is one of the most important poker rules to remember: be you! I’ll tell you what works for me.

When I’m on top of my game, I control the size of the pot in order to see all streets without it being too expensive. This allows me to evaluate the entire story prior to making a decision. Basic poker strategy says you don’t want to let your opponent see the turn or the flop when you’re ahead. I agree, but most of the time, this isn’t an option.

Most of the time, you’re up against someone who won’t fold a draw or middle pair. You can get your opponent to fold middle pair if you go all-in, but you’re not going to bet 100 big blinds on top pair. If your read is off and your opponent has a set, see ya! Your Texas Hold’em poker tournament is now over.

In order to give yourself the best chance at preventing a poker bad beat, keep the pot small. This doesn’t mean you should be min-raising every time, just don’t let the pot get out of control. If your opponent is an aggressive poker player, then you have no choice. Let’s eliminate that scenario for now.

Let’s say you on the button with:

ace of clubsqueen of hearts

and everyone folds to you when the big blind is 1000. You raise to 3000. The small blind folds and the big blind calls. The big blind can be holding anything because it’s a standard big blind defend.


queen of spadesten of clubsten of diamonds

The big blind checks. You bet 3000. The big blind calls. Now you have to wonder if he has the ten. It’s either that, a straight draw, or a small pair. A middle pair is somewhat possible, but he probably would have raised pre-flop because he would have seen your button raise as standard with any two cards and would have thought he was ahead.


jack of hearts

The big blind checks again. This is a better sign than him betting. You bet 5,000. He calls.


ace of spades

The big blind checks, but you’re not sure if it’s a trap because you have bet the entire way and he would hope for you to bet if he hit the straight. All he needs for the straight is a king. You check behind to play it safe. There is no sense in betting here because you’re only getting called (most likely raised) if you’re beat. This is a very important chip preservation spot.

He says, “Good check” and tables:

king of clubsnine of hearts

giving him the straight. That is a poker bad beat, but not really. Let’s evaluate what happened here so you can see that we avoided a true poker bad beat by keeping the pot small and checking on the river.

You were way ahead pre-flop and did the right thing by betting three times the big blind from the button. You could have made it four times the big blind, or even bigger to scoop the blinds, but you want to play the hand when you’re ahead and in position. He also might have called anyway, which would have ballooned the pot. In that scenario, you would have felt more pain.

You were also ahead on the flop, but you couldn’t be 100% sure because of the two tens. If he had a ten, he would have played it the same way. However, you have to bet there to find out where you stand. A call is a red flag because it makes it more likely he has a ten for three of a kind.

It’s a better sign if he raises on the flop because it makes it less likely he has a ten (at least 90% of poker players are trying to deceive you in these spots/only brilliant players will play off of you knowing that). The other possibility was a straight draw, which we now know was the case.

So, if we had bet bigger than we did, we would have definitely been called if he had a ten, and it’s still extremely likely we would have been called by a straight draw. A few great players would fold to a bigger bet on that flop because they would know they could already be drawing dead, or because they don’t want to fade a full house draw even if they hit their straight. The only way a bigger bet on the flop works for us is if our opponent has a queen with a weaker kicker (obviously going to be a weaker kicker since we have the ace).

The turn is an interesting card because he already displayed interest on the flop and the turn could have made him a straight. With that turn card, it’s very likely he’s hanging around regardless of his hole cards. There aren’t many poker hands he could have in that spot where he would fold. You bet small to control the pot and to read the entire story. He called again. We now know we are in trouble, or potentially in trouble.

If you had bet bigger here, would he have folded? That all depends on the player and stack sizes. But you’re assuming we already knew he had a straight draw. We didn’t know that for sure. We could have been drawing dead to a full house. Or he could have had trips.

The ace hit the river, giving him a potential straight. There is no sense in betting at this point because we would only be called or raised if we’re beat. You correctly checked, which saved you chips, and your opponent revealed the winning hand.

A lot of poker players would play this hand differently, but if you ask me, we lost the minimum. If we had bet big at any point, we could have suffered a poker bad beat, especially if we jammed it on the turn and he called. However, with the board paired, that would be a terrible jam on our part. That would have been an ego jam. This is very much against our winning poker rules.

Would you read a book and stop in the middle to decide if you like it or not? Wouldn’t you rather know the whole story first? When I control the pot and see the whole story—completely ignoring ego and what others think of me—I win a lot more often. If you happen to disagree, then you’re likely about to change your mind. There are two well-known poker players who use very similar methods for avoiding a poker bad beat.

Top Poker Tournament Earners

Two other players that take a similar approach to the game are Daniel Negreanu and Erik Seidel. This is more so the case for Erik Seidel, but they both lean toward pot control and seeing how the story plays out because they know their biggest strength, which is reading ability. A standard poker player who just plays by the book has little to no reading ability because they’re remembering how to act in specific situations based on their studies. This is also why they end up whining about a poker bad beat so often.

Would you rather be someone who whines about a poker bad beat after a tournament or would you rather be on this path…

Top 10 Earnings for Poker Tournaments:
1. Daniel Negreanu $34,333,815
2. Erik Seidel $33,198,641

Final Thoughts

Stop playing by the book or you’re going to be just like everyone else. Not only will your play be the same, but so will your poker bad beat stories. Nobody wants to hear them! If you slow down and control the pot, you will still suffer some bad beats, but you will suffer much fewer of them and stay in the game longer. This approach fits much better for a poker tournament than a cash game, but it can be applied to both. See you at the WSOP!


Poker Bad Beat – FAQ

What is a bad beat in poker?

It’s when you were way ahead in the hand but still lost the hand by the river.

What is the bad beat jackpot in poker?

A bad beat jackpot is a huge payout for cash games in most poker rooms. If you lose with a monster hand, such as Quad tens or better, you could win a share of a jackpot that’s at least tens of thousands of dollars.

How do you deal with bad beats in poker?

Great question. You ignore it and move on. Same thing as being an athlete after a bad play.

How do you overcome a bad beat in poker?

At least 90% of poker players can’t overcome a bad beat. This is one area where you can separate yourself from the pack. If you can just tell yourself, “It Happens” and move on, you’re going to be seen as unflappable and dangerous.

Author: Henry Brown