Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Deal With Bad Beats in Poker

Dealing with bad beats in poker
Controlling your emotions at the poker tables is the number one key to your success. Sure, you can always get a little bit better technically by improving your understanding of the game and learning how to play optimally versus specific player types.

However, the big leaps and bounds in your winrate will be found by improving your mental game. You know, that aspect of poker that even in 2016 almost everybody still ignores. You can find countless books, videos or forum posts that will tell you how to play AK better out of position.

But there is scant little information anywhere about how to react to getting 2 outed for a stack a few times in a row. Or chasing a big fish around only to get destroyed when all his flush draws and miracle gutshots hit.

Reacting correctly to situations like these though are where bankrolls and made and lost. They are where poker careers fail or succeed.

So in this article I am going to address the topic of how to react to bad beats in poker. And more specifically, how to deal with multiple bad beats in a row.

What is a Bad Beat?

Let's start off first by asking ourselves what a bad beat really is. A bad beat by definition is simply losing a hand of poker when you were the statistical favorite. And really what is meant here is losing as the statistical favorite when big amounts of money go in the middle.

A lot of people confuse bad play with bad beats. They are far from the same thing. For instance, calling off big bets on the turn and river when a major draw came in and your overpair is obviously no good anymore is in fact just bad play.

In this article I will be talking about situations where the large majority of the money went in when you were the statistical favorite in the hand (i.e., you had more equity in the pot than your opponent). This is what a bad beat is.

Bad Beats are a Mathematical Certainty in Poker

I think the first thing that we need to understand about bad beats is that they are a deeply rooted and fundamental part of the game. Somebody almost always has equity in the pot. Often they have a lot of it in fact.

As we can see in the example above, even if all the money went in on the flop, our opponent here, who currently has just 6 high versus our aces, still has 37% equity in the pot. He will win the pot more than 1 in 3 times.

It doesn't take a math genius to then realize that losing 3 of these in a row would not be something unheard of. In fact in the fast paced world of online poker where we are playing thousands or even millions of hands this will be a common occurrence.

Now don't get me wrong. Winning 3 of these in a row is a lot more common. Or winning 2 out of 3. The point here is that we should not be shocked when we lose a few times in a row even with a hand like AA since our opponent often has big amounts of equity even with a simple flush draw and a backdoor straight draw like in the example above.

How Should You React to a Single Bad Beat?

So with this understanding in place we can begin to think about bad beats in poker more from a detached, logical and mathematical perspective. We can think of them in terms of numbers instead of some mortal affront to our very being.

Even if the fish hit a 10% gutshot the facts are that 10% will come through on rare occasions. Instead of reacting with anger you should train your mind to think in terms of these numbers instead. That 10% (or 20% or 30%) is simply going to come through from time to time.

This is what you signed up for when you chose to play this game. Poker is very much gambling in the short term and there is no guarantee that you will win the pot just because you got the money in good.

I prefer to view bad beats as a tax that I have to pay for my long term winnings. I know that they are a mathematical certainty and I also know that they are why I can profitably play this game.

The reason why is because if the fish (bad players) lost every time they got the money in with poor equity, then they would go broke at lightning speed and eventually just give up.

The fact that they can get lucky on occasion though allows them to get some small wins from time to time which keeps them depositing. If poker were a game of 100% skill in the short term like chess then the bad players would quickly lose interest and go find something else to blow their money on.

How Should You React to Multiple Bad Beats?

I think that most of us can process a single bad beat though at least on some level and brush it off. The problems start (i.e., tilt) for most of us when the bad beats start piling up in quick succession.

We have all been there. Aces have lost 5 times in one session. We have lost every flip, every 60/40, we have been 5 outed, 2 outed and on and on. This is the stuff that can drive people nuts. This is too much tax to pay.

The "tax system" in poker is simply not fair sometimes. Sometimes you will be required to pay much more than your fair share. But as I said before, in a game where we knowingly sign up for short term gambling what is "fair?"

And this hits to the very crux of the problem. When we lose a bunch of pots in a row as the statistical favorite we view this as being unfair. We take this personally. We think that somebody is screwing us over or out to get us.

But once again, from a detached, logical point of view this seems silly. I have played over 8 million hands of online poker. I have seen some of the craziest sh stuff on earth. But I wouldn't still be playing this game if anything was truly amiss in the long run. I can simply check my Pokertracker 4 database to verify this.

There is a reason that nobody takes the "online poker is rigged" idiots seriously. It is because they have no statistically significant evidence to support their conspiracy theories. Those of us who have actually played massive amounts of hands online (millions) can clearly see that they are wrong. But the illusion of the short term can be overwhelming for some people.

So it all goes back to what we talked about before. Bad beats are a mathematical certainty in this game, and although rare, it only follows that they will sometimes happen in very quick succession.

Take a Step Back

Given enough bad beats in a row anyone will go on tilt. Beyond all of this effort to think from a detached, logical and mathematical perspective there is a deep yearning in all of us to win. Nobody likes to lose. Even the fish.

And a bad beat is almost like a double slap in the face because you worked so hard to get your opponent to make a big mistake against you and then he gets rewarded with your money for his bad play.

This is literally unheard of in any other profession, sport or anything. And when it happens multiple times in a row it can drive anybody crazy.

So this is why I think it is important to take a step back when something like this happens. Many online poker sites have the option now to simply sit out on all of your tables at once. If you feel your blood pressure rising then just hit that button and get up and take a walk somewhere.

It is really important to escape from the heat of the moment and try to process what just occurred on some sort of rational level. Even if you cannot process it, the biggest key is preventing yourself from making the big mistake of playing while on tilt.

This is what destroys bankrolls and dreams in this game. Many people do not even realize that they are doing it. But all those little bad calls and silly bluff attempts add up in a big way.

Winning at Poker Is Not Easy (It Never Was Meant to Be)

If winning at poker was easy, everybody would be doing it. Who doesn't want to ship stacks while sipping cocktails from a tropical beach in Thailand? The reality of professional poker, or even just winning poker in general, is much different than what most people think it is.

And one of the biggest reasons why many people fail to achieve success is not because they lack the technical knowledge. Most people these days have a reasonable understanding of how to play a simple TAG game.

The real reason why they cannot break through is because when several bad beats happen in a row a switch flips in their head and they go crazy. Usually it is just minor tilt in the form of some hopeless calls or a silly river bluff raise.

But as I mentioned before, all of this adds up in a big way. In an era when the games are tough you cannot afford to be making these kinds of mistakes. This is the difference between winners and losers in today's games.

Step away from the tables when multiple bad beats in a row happen and calm yourself down. Quit for the day if you need to. But do not allow tilt to ruin your results in this game. The games will always be there tomorrow.

And in time you will learn to deal with multiple bad beats in a row better. I do believe that inexperience is often a factor. When you play a lot of poker there is a certain point where you will become almost numb to it because you have seen it all before countless times.

When I see people complaining about their bad luck in this game often they are talking about sample sizes that are so insignificant that it is laughable. It is a lack of experience and a belief that results should come quick and easy in poker that is their downfall.

This isn't the way that poker works. This game isn't easy. It was never meant to be. And that is very much a good thing.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with bad beats in poker is hard and there are no easy answers. It is probably the most difficult part of this game in fact. You outwit your opponent and then get rewarded by shipping your stack to them. It is absurd, ridiculous and almost feels downright insulting.

But it is also a necessary component of the game. The bad players would quickly leave on mass if they couldn't get lucky on occasion. We all have to pay that tax.

But of course on occasion we will have to pay much more tax than normal. But what is normal in a game that is based on short term gambling? Words like normal, fair etc. are a myth in this game. Poker does not owe you anything. This game is a cruel hearted bitch that will rip your soul out at times.

The vast majority of people can't handle it.

This is actually a great opportunity for you to rise above everyone else and ultimately get better results though. You cannot allow your emotions to control your decisions at the poker tables. This is the difference between the small amount of big winners in this game and everybody else.

If you found this article helpful then please do me a favor and share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter below!

Poker bad beats and how to deal with them.


  1. Bad beats as a tax that pays for my long term winnings - that's a mindset changing perspective.

    1. This perspective has helped me. Glad you like it too!

  2. Thanks man! Very good and very helpful!

  3. I treat bad beats like a downturn in the economy. When multiple bad beats occur that's a signal for me to do something else and come back later. ;)

    1. Haha, I suppose that could work as well!

  4. Among thoughts I liked most are: "a lot of people confuse bad play with bad beats" (inexperience factor), "this is what you signed up for when you chose to play this game", "I prefer to view bad beats as a tax that I have to pay for my long term winnings", "this game isn't easy. It was never meant to be", "you cannot allow your emotions to control your decisions". Rien n'est étroitement que la proportionnalité actuellement la vérité ))

    1. Thanks Taras, glad you liked this post!

  5. You couldn't have explained it better. Ouch!

  6. Just found you after taking a year break from online poker, and just now getting back into it. Glad I did and nice post! Tilt is one of my biggest enemies in this game, and the tax thing is a great way of thinking about it.

  7. Great post Nathan, the best part for me was the "This game is a cruel hearted bitch that will rip your soul out at times". I just saw a guy complain on a twitch stream about how he lost 5 times in a row with Aces and it just gets old and annoying tbh. Keep doing what you do! Take care!

  8. Hey there,
    I like where you came from in this post.

    For me, it took a long while to realize I was not going to win every pot. Many of your books and posts reinforced that. I also agree that with playing SOOO many more hands online than in a b/m poker room, you increase the amount and times you are going to get a bad beat.

    I don't even call it a "bad" beat anymore: It is just losing a hand. You are going to lose hands. You are going to be outdrawn by fools drawing a double gutter. Just remember the past sessions where you crushed this guy for his stack in the same kind of hand.

    Hell, I will will even laugh out loud when some fish sucks out on me. I find it funny now.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. I think the term "bad beat" is silly as well. It implies a negative connotation when it is just a natural part of the game. I think I might start calling them losing hands as well! Thanks.

  9. glad you mentioned the riggies. I was going to post that the proper way to deal with bad beats is to post a montage video of your losing hands (or sessions) on youtube and declare it as proof that whatever site you're playing on is rigged so the fish always win or so huge pots get made to maximize the rake.

    while I am grateful that so many foolish people play poker, I wish they could stop declaring their idiocy at the top of their lungs.

    great post as always, Nathan.

  10. But how do you find motivation to keep going? The last couple of days have been brutal, AA's cracked everytime, set over set, etc.

    I'm at the point that i know exactly what my opponent is calling me with, and I call out loud how he is gonna beat me, and it happens, everytime.

    As you said, you do become "numb" from it, but it's not an enjoyable experience.

    1. The motivation is the long term. I know that I win in the end.

  11. Hey BlackRain

    Been a long-time reader of the site and I'd like to say thanks for all the help and advice, since implementing your tips (250k+ hands ago so representative ;) ) I've upped my winrate and just feel more confident in what I'm doing generally. Again, thank you.

    I have a couple of questions, you've mentioned again and again that people tend to over-think and over-study for the micros but also that it's important to read and learn about poker, besides your own books on the micros are there any other books, blogs, articles that you would consider 'required reading' or helpful for the micros? I'm keen to learn but whenever a book starts an example with 'Villain has $250' I'm kinda like... well what the hell does this have to do with me? Ya know?

    Also, (and sorry for the mega post!) recently I've had a couple of hands where opponents have called my preflop raise oop and then lead out with a pot sized donk bet on the flop when I've hit my top pair good kicker. How would your approach differ if Villain is unknown, passive, tag and a donkey?

    Thanks again man and keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks R!

      I don't really read too many other poker books these days. It seems that there is a big push towards GTO theory right now and in my opinion this approach is harmful to your winrate against the weaker opponents who you often encounter at the lower stakes.

      I have discussed donk bets before in this article.