Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Deal With River Suckouts

dealing with river suckouts and bad beats
Did that fish just hit his lucky 3 outer against you again? Are you tired of all the river suckouts? How many times will these BS sites like Jokerstars keep rewarding them for their bad play!

These are just a few of the battlecries that you regularly hear from people who don't quite get how this game works yet.

Poker is a game that regularly turns what appear to be rational human beings into complete lunatics. Go to Google right now and type in "river suckouts" or "jokerstars" and see for yourself.

This really isn't a bad thing overall though. It is in fact direct evidence, exhibit A, as to why poker will always be so profitable. There is a certain segment of the population that just can't handle this game. Yet they keep playing anyways. The very definition is insanity.

This doesn't have to be you though! Even if all the river suckouts have you close to entering the loony bin, in this article I am going to explain why they happen and how to deal with them better.

Poker is a Cruel Hearted Bitch

The real core of the problem lies in expecting poker to be "fair" or that after a certain while it "owes" you something. Much like everything else in life, this clearly just isn't the case.

Poker is simply a game of mathematics and odds. It is a cold hard bitch who does not care about you or your feelings.

Anyone who has ever been through a lengthy downswing will know this. I have been through several that lasted over 100k hands myself. This is the equivalent of a month or two of regular play online or a year for somebody who plays live, where I literally could not win a hand to save my life.

I am not going to lie, I was close to losing my mind on all of those occasions. And the biggest reason why was because I could not accept the fact that the bad beats, suckouts and coolers really could keep continuing for weeks or even months on end.

I felt like after running bad for awhile that I had paid my dues. Haha, funny joke poker gods! Now give me what I am owed. Give me the higher set or the aces over kings for once. Let me hit a flush draw once in awhile instead of it always being them.

But of course this simply isn't the way that the game works. That fish who has been getting lucky against you all night will still hit his gutshot straight draw against you by the river exactly 16.4% of the time over the long run.

To put it another way, this is roughly 1 out of every 6 times. Let's be real, there is nothing really that amazing about an event happening 1 out of 6 times is there?

It is going to happen of course. And it can and will happen several times in a row on rare occasion. So why do so many people lose their minds when stuff like this occurs?

Our mistake is thinking about our recent history of bad luck against a particular player or even just our recent bad luck in general. And then thinking that somehow that history has some impact on the present hand.

Which of course it does not.

Poker does not owe you anything. Poker has no past and no future, only a present. Poker is cold hard statistics and odds and that is it.

Suckouts are Actually a Good Thing (Really)

Obviously nobody likes to lose a pot when they had the best hand or the best odds to win. But suckouts are an inevitable part of this game and they are actually a good sign as well.

I recently interviewed mental game expert Jared Tendler here on my blog and I think he put it best:
"They’re unavoidable [suckouts/bad beats] and frankly they’re evidence of quality play. If you’re not taking bad beats, it means you’re not playing well enough to be a favorite."

And I would actually take this one step further by pointing out that frequent suckouts are also evidence that you are playing in good games.

As I mention all the time on this blog, if you are not playing in soft games against bad players, there is simply no way that you are going to win big in this game. 

When you are on the receiving end of lots of bad beats and suckouts, then this is the surest sign of all that you are playing against the right kind of opponents. 

Change the Language of the Game

The very language that we use in this game is often at the heart of why we have so much trouble accepting losses when we had the best hand as well.

Just think about terms like:

  • Suckout
  • Setup
  • Bad Beat

All of these phrases are pejorative in meaning. They make it sound as if somebody has personally harmed us or if the game itself is conspiring against us to fail.

And so therefore these phrases tend to just reinforce the negative ways of thinking that we all have when things go bad for a really long time at the poker tables.

They also aren't an accurate depiction of reality. Nobody "sucked out" on you. They just hit their mathematical equity in the hand.

You were not "set up" to fail when you ran your trips into a full house. Actually this is just a common occurrence in poker. Situations like this are often the very reason why we play big pots and everyone will get their fair share of being on the winning and losing side in the long run.

And finally, nobody "bad beat" you. Seriously, who came up with these bizarre terms in the first place?

The other person simply had a certain amount of outs (cards that would allow them to win the hand) and this translates into a mathematical percentage. Their mathematical percentage to win happened to come through in this particular instance.

Keeping Your Sanity When You Seem to Run Bad Forever

Now of course no matter how many exercises in logic, mathematical analysis or semantics that I write about here will not change the fact that poker is an absolutely brutal game sometimes.

I was just reading the "rumours" that Tom "durrrr" Dwan may have lost a 20 million dollar pot earlier this year in Macau by running middle set into top set and is now teetering on the brink of busto.

This makes me sad if true although I am sure he will rebound. He is a great player and someone who inspired me a lot back in day.

Poker really has no heart and no soul. And what's even worse, nobody else cares about your results either. Nobody wants to hear your bad beat stories and nobody is going to hold your hand when you hit that soul crushing downswing.

This is a seriously cutthroat business and one of the most individual (selfish perhaps even) pursuits you can be involved in.

I personally see this as a positive though. I have never really been a fan of team sports or working for somebody else. I would much rather get all the glory for my wins and take all of the blame for my losses.

So I see poker more as a personal challenge than anything else. And since poker is a game played against other people I see it as an opportunity to make better decisions and react better to adversity than everybody else.

As the mental game expert Tommy Angelo famously stated, this "reciprocality" is indeed the cause of all profit in poker.

Poker is the Greatest Life Coach You Will Ever Have

After more than 10 years in this game I still have a deep passion and respect for it. And this is not because of all the money I have made playing poker or the writing career that has also flourished because of it.

No, it is because this game taught me many powerful life lessons at a relatively young age. Especially when I went pro for the first time fresh out of university at the age of 24. I had to learn things like work ethic, emotional control, self discipline and perseverance on the fly.

When you rely on this game to pay the bills you tend to learn stuff like this real fast or else you starve. You stop all the complaining and making excuses and you just grind hard every day. You hustle and you succeed.

And frankly if you can build the mental fortitude to handle this crazy game over the long run, then you will probably be successful in many other areas of life as well.

Embrace the madness and the adversity that poker will bring your way. You will get mad and you will get frustrated at times. Don't even bother trying to be perfect. Take time off if you need it. The game will always be there when you return.

However, see poker as more of a personal challenge to better yourself and react better than the next guy. Control the things that you can control and let other people lose their minds while you quietly rake in their chips.

Let me know in the comments below how you handle bad beats, river suckouts, coolers and the like in this game. Do you have any tips on how to keep your wits about you when things go bad?

Lastly, if you are new here make sure to check out my Start Here Page (and my free newsletter below) for all of my best strategy advice on how to start crushing the micros!

river suckouts pokerstars


  1. Hey Nathan,

    good post as always.. and good timing:)



  2. Top stuff again Nathan , your writing style is excellent for the reader

  3. Never express emotions in the chat box!

    Great article as always :)

  4. Hey Nathan,

    This article could not have come at a better time, you literally just saved my poker career. I have been in a HUGE downswing, and through poor bankroll management and super awesome mega tilt, i busted yet another bankroll because "I was the superior player, and these damn fish just kept getting lucky!" I'm sure if we all posted our hand histories during these downswings of doom, we would all weep for one another..... But this article opened my eyes even further then your great books have.

    GL at the tables folks and in the immortal words of Mike Sexton, " May all your cards be live, and your pots monsters!" Because I know mine will be ;) HERE FISHY FISHY FISHY!

    1. Glad I could help and I hope it turns around for you soon at the poker tables :)

  5. GJ Nathan. I was wondering if u had some really fucked up moments in your life where everything was going wrong and how that was affecting ur game.

    1. Thanks Arthouros. Ya for sure, if things are really bad in my personal life I will take a break from the game for awhile.

  6. Nice article, all true. I just recently got over a 40k stretch downswing and can't remember how many times I've been cursing because of those river suck outs. The thing that lightens my day the most is watching the fish fighting over each other on the chat box about who is luckiest piece of s**t xD

    1. Ah yes, fish on fish violence haha. Thanks Jorge and glad you are running better now!

  7. High nath your articles are brilliant and I've got your books,personally I stop playing for a few hours after a really bad beat or 2,I've found the frustration from a beat leads me into losing more via tilt.
    A question on another article I was hoping you'd answer IS being a top pro or mid pro purely down to there ability to read cards/ranges better than everyone else or is there success somthing else.
    Sorry I got off topic there but meaning to ask this for a while, keep grinding.....

    1. Thanks Matthew! Not sure I would give the best answer to your question because I do not consider myself to be a "top pro." I play at the micros and always have for the most part. With that said I think that reading ranges (and knowing how to react to them most profitably) is one big part of being an elite winner at higher stakes. There are many other aspects though such as tilt control, game selection, technical ability and work ethic.

    2. It's really hard to read ranges when you play against some maniac fishes with stats like 89/46 with continuation bet at flop near 100 (and they exist, you know, even worse if possible). Just be patient, swallow your pride, wait the right hand and take all their money away.

  8. I have been loosing online for ten years,about $200 per week equals $100,000.Still cheaper than what I would have spent on restaurants and booze.This year I have been winning consistently.Secret is I now only play LIMIT,and have been winning about $150 per day.Should get half my lossess back this year.YIPPEE.My new motto is ONLY AN IDIOT PLAYS NO LIMIT.

    1. Wow, that is amazing Ray! I am glad that you found the game that works for you :)

  9. Hi Nathan, you are perfectly right, downswings are part of the game and if you play good poker they will eventually end you'll start profit again, quickly recover your losses and make good money. Nevertheless they still hurt so much, fuck you bloody river! :(

    1. Haha, for sure. Fish gotta get lucky sometimes though or else they wouldn't keep coming back and bringing their money with them.

  10. Great post Nathan. I consistently find something to "take away" in your articles.

    To your section on the math of poker, I would also add that most players that complain about beats really don't have much of an idea how slim the odds and edges are in poker. Against even semi-competent players, no hand scenario you can come up is worse than a 3-1 dog. And post-flop it's hard to find many scenarios where you're just outright dominating - the edges are actually quite slim in 99% of situations. That's why "any two cards can win" is such a popular saying, you're rarely dominating that much in NLHE.

    As a player, I've also tied that to the importance of being suited. Sure, it "only" adds 2% edge to most hands but that's a HUGE addition, all things considered. The people that complain about bad beats are (usually) the same ones that poo-poo the importance of being suited.

    Keep up the great work with the articles.

    1. Thanks Dennis and I agree! A game like PLO is even crazier. Having 60% equity is like the absolute nuts in that game! It's all long run though no matter what format you are playing.

  11. Perfect timing: I just lost a flop all-in with 66 vs AQ on AA6xQ. However, I did not even tilt much. I have seen this AQ fill-up before. It's a common event as you mention in this post. I love, that it's a proof, that I am playing in the right environment. If he had looked into my post-flop stats, he should have read my raise as a set or better.

  12. Hi
    I hope y r fine man and good luck at the tables..
    i have a question.i play 0.01-0.02 9 max cash only in pokerstars i have played 130.734hands and my bb/100 is 8.39...
    im multitabling 24 tables..i know i have leaks in my game and i ll try to fix them as i can...
    what do you think about my winrate..i know there is room for improvance but i dont know how mush..
    do you think 10bb is possible or even higher?

  13. Hopefully I can add some value to the comments section here and explain to your readers a simple action I take when I'm on a big downswing that is truly powerful. It usually turns things around as quickly as possible but more importantly it keeps me playing my "A game".

    When I'm getting beat up on by variance I drop down in stakes. This allows me to continue my very aggressive style of play w/o worrying about my bankroll getting trashed. Moving down in stakes usually gives me 3 buy ins to 1 buy in at my normal stakes. It allows me to continually pull the trigger in spots where I have to bet big or get it all in w/o damaging my mental game. Playing baseball at a very high level growing up taught me that when you're in a "slump" at the plate it's VERY important to keep your cool & understand that you have to stay aggressive in the batters box. Ya can't clam up and second guess everything you do or that slump is going to last a whole helluva lot longer than it should. Essentially this is what moving down in stakes helps me accomplish.

    Great article my friend & keep up the good work! We're all ears :)