The best way to deal with bad beats is to experience a lot of them

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Jeffrey | Poker and Life, Poker Articles

Submitted by Rakewell, this article belongs to the Poker and Life series.

I recently read another long post on Rakewell’s PokerGrump blog and liked the way it touched on the subject of why we tend to remember our bad beats better when we are on the receiving end and how it becomes easier to deal with bad beats the more of them you have experienced. In addition Rakewell again draws parallels to situations that on the surface have nothing to do with poker, which I really enjoy and therefore also want to share with the readers of this blog.

In the original Star Trek series episode “Mirror, Mirror” several members of the crew get switched, via one of those frighteningly frequent transporter malfunctions, into one of the many parallel universes which is almost but not quite like our own. In this one, doppelgangers of our heros are on a ship identical to the Enterprise, except that they are all selfish, power-hungry, violent, and cruel. Oh, and they tend to wear goatees and/or have facial scars, sure signs of all that is wicked.

In this mirror universe, each crew member is required to carry a small device called an “agonizer.” In case of infraction of the rules of military conduct, a superior officer will take the offender’s agonizer, activate it, and apply it to his body for whatever length of time is deemed appropriate to the occasion, resulting in unspeakable pain being inflicted. For the most serious offenses, such as mutiny or assassination, the guilty party was put into the “agony booth,” which we must assume was unfathomably worse than the little agonizer device. As Mirror Spock coolly notes, “The agony booth is a most effective means of discipline.”

Yes, there is a poker connection here. I’ve had more than my fair share of cold-deck situations over the past week, and it has brought back to mind a bunch of painful memories. I remember keenly:

–the first time I drew to the low end of a straight, got there, and only then realized what a bad spot I had gotten myself into.

–the first time I flopped trips and lost it all to a guy who had flopped a full house.

–the first time I had a full house and lost it all to a guy who had quads.

–the first time I had an ace-high flush and lost it all to a guy who had a straight flush.

–the first time I misread my hand, thinking I had the nut straight, when I actually had nothing, and called off all my chips, only to be thoroughly embarrassed when I turned over my cards and saw what I had done.

There is something about the pain of these moments that sears them into our souls. Mike McDermott observes in a rueful voiceover in “Rounders”:

In “Confessions of a Winning Poker Player,” Jack King said, “Few players recall
big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with
remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.” It seems true to
me, cause walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I
can’t stop thinking of how I lost it.

I recall that once when I was a small child my mother was preparing to do some ironing. The iron was standing idle on the ironing board. She was out of the room. I wondered whether the iron was on or off, so I did what seemed like the logical thing at the time: I reached out and touched its surface with my index finger. It was on. I cried, of course. When mom came to see what the fuss was about, and I told her that I had burned my hand on the iron, she asked, “Why did you touch it?” I thought that was the dumbest question possible. “I wanted to see if it was on.” Of course.

It must have been somebody with a similar childhood experience who coined the expression, “Once burned, twice careful.”

Some things do get better with time and experience–and some build-up of scar tissue. These days I am never as shocked at the kind of situations I listed above as I was the first time they happened. (Fortunately, I still haven’t experienced the really horrendous beats–things like quads being beaten by a straight flush, or the low end of a straight flush being squashed by the high end.) Just the other day at the Rio I had 6-7 offsuit in the big blind, so I took the flop for free. I loved seeing it come 8-9-10, two-suited. I bet, got raised by the button. It was early in the session, so I was relatively short-stacked, and moving all in was a no-brainer. Of course I knew that it was possible he had one of the two hands that had me drawing nearly dead (7-J or J-Q). But on the other hand, he would raise me and be willing to call my reraise, probably, with any two pair or trips, and maybe something like a pair and flush draw, or a combined straight draw/flush draw, or even just the nut flush draw with no pair. It was not one of those situations where my all-in raise would get called only if I was beat. But this time he did, in fact, have the J-Q. The only way I could win was with a runner-runner flush or split the pot with a runner-runner J-Q, neither of which happened. Sigh.

The point, though, is that I have become considerably more callused to this sort of thing, and because I anticipated the possibility of being shown the nuts, it didn’t stun me and send me reeling the way that those earlier stories did when they occurred. It’s not that it doesn’t hurt. It does. But my skin is thicker than it used to be, and I have learned to expect the unexpected. With anything short of the nuts, I’m braced to take whatever hit may come, and even with the nuts I’m mentally prepared to see my opponent turn over the same hand for a chop, when that is a possibility.

Before I started playing in real-money games online, I spent quite a bit of time with Wilson Software’s simulator. It was, I suppose, useful in getting me used to the mechanics of play, and giving me some feel for what starting hands were likely to end up winners and losers, but I honestly can’t remember a single hand I ever played on it. I think it’s because none of them actually cost me anything. If I got knocked out of a tournament, I could say, “Oh well,” and be in another one ten seconds later, with nothing lost–and nothing learned, I’m afraid, whether it was a bad beat or a bad play.

Simply put, if it doesn’t hurt, it’s a lot harder for the lesson to sink in. I’m sure there’s some biochemical reason for that, related to neurotransmitters powerfully stimulating certain loci in the nucleus-of-whatever deep in the brain. But you don’t need to know the physiology to recognize the truth of it.

Of course, the magnitude of loss it takes to inflict the kind of pain necessary for a long-term memory of the event to form will vary according to your means and past experiences. I remember reading a poker magazine story about Phil Ivey. His wife was just learning to play poker and was doing microstakes online. Phil came home on edge because he had had an unusually deep loss–a few hundred grand, as I recall. His wife was upset at her day, too; she told him that she had lost something like 70 cents, which is a lot when you’re playing $0.01/$0.02 games. Talk about different pain thresholds!

Mike Sexton said it well during an episode of the World Poker Tour a couple of years ago, when somebody got knocked out of the final table on a one-outer: “If you don’t like a little pain once in a while, poker is probably not your game, because as you can see, you’re gonna get it.”

Who needs an agony booth when you have poker?

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4 Comments to The best way to deal with bad beats is to experience a lot of them

The Good Poker Sites
January 31, 2009

whenever I hear someone complaining, I tell them it’s just likely to get worse and the beats will just get uglier. This way when it happens, he wont be disapointed.

Steve Brogan
February 1, 2009

While I hate to have bad beats, in this day of fast play and people not folding you better get used to them. Nice article.

Start Wall
February 1, 2009

whenever i play online its always frustrating when your straight gets beat by a flush and it seems to happen to me everytime

February 2, 2009

Hi Start Wall

If it happens to you every time, you might have a leak in your game.

Best Regards


Mark’s last blog post..List of all online poker sites

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