What is a bad beat in poker?

Poker.Org Staff
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Posted on: August 16, 2022 2:49 pm EDT

No matter how skilled you are at the poker table, you know that losing is just part of the game. Taking a bad beat may be the most upsetting and egregious way to end a game, but all poker players go through it from time to time.

Read on to learn about bad beats, what they are, and how to recover from them.

What is a bad beat?

A bad beat is when you have one of the statistically strongest poker hands possible but it still turns out to be the losing hand.

Bad beats are commonly depicted in high-stakes cash games and poker tournaments in movies and television shows because they offer heightened drama. However, what is actually considered a bad beat hand is usually fairly subjective. 

For example, newer poker players who are overly confident in their hands may believe they had a bad beat, but in fact their hand was never particularly strong to begin with.

In order to have a true bad beat, you need to have what would be considered a winning hand in most situations and still lose because of a statistical improbability. When another player turns their weak hand around with luck and snatches the win at showdown, you can honestly say you suffered a bad beat.

Are bad beats common?

Every player has a bad beat story or two to tell, so it would seem like bad beats in poker are common. The thing is, most bad beat stories are examples of overconfidence and misunderstanding the odds, rather than an actual bad beat situation.

Discovering you’re the losing player at showdown is never fun, especially when you went all in on what you expected to be the winning hand, but experienced players know that true bad beats aren’t all that common.

Online poker players feel like they suffer more bad beats than in live poker rooms, but the frequency just seems greater because you’re playing much more quickly online than you would in a live game.

Examples of a bad beat in poker

Now that you know the definition of a bad beat, let’s takes a look at an example of a real bad beat in a game of Texas hold’em:

You start the game with a pocket pair of Jacks (J♣J♠), which we know is a great start for your hole cards. The dealer reveals J♥10♥10♦ on the flop, and you now have a full house. That may lead you to assume you’ll have the best hand of the game — and you bet accordingly.

The dealer reveals 8♦ on fourth street and 6♦ on the river. You go into the showdown believing you have a big payout coming your way. Then your opponent reveals they’re holding 9♦ and 7♦. They lucked into a straight flush even though their pre-flop cards were unimpressive. That’s a bad beat with two capital Bs.

Other examples of bad beats include losing four of a kind with Kings to four of a kind Aces or having a full house that loses on the river to a higher ranking full house.

What is a bad beat jackpot?

A bad beat jackpot is a secondary jackpot prize that’s awarded to a player who has a bad beat. Not all casinos or poker rooms offer bad beat jackpots, but they do help take the sting out of your unexpected loss.

To win a bad beat jackpot, you usually need a qualifying hand like four of a kind or a straight flush. For Hold’em games, the winning and losing hands typically include each player’s hole cards to trigger the bad beat jackpot.

Bad beat jackpots come from communal contributions. If the bad beat jackpot is triggered, it is divided among all the players dealt into the hand. The player who lost the bad beat hand usually gets 50% of the jackpot, the player who won the hand gets 25%, and all of the remaining players get an equal share of the last 25%.

Every casino or online poker game has its own qualifications for triggering the bad beat jackpot, so we recommend that you brush up on the house rules before you play.

How do you get over bad beats in poker?

Winning a bad beat jackpot definitely helps soften the blow of losing when you expected to have the winning hand, but even without this consolation prize, you need to be able to deal with an unexpected loss gracefully.

Players who have very emotional or angry reactions to their bad beats develop reputations, especially when they play in high stakes games like the World Series of Poker. It’s important to be able to graciously take a loss, not only for your image, but so you can go on to play well in the next game.

Here are a few important things to remember about bad beats.

Bad beats happen to everyone

Even if you’re lucky so far, you’ll eventually have a bad beat. They’re a part of poker. Unless you plan to end your poker career, you should learn to take them in stride. You may have missed this big payout, but the next one is still waiting for you.

Lucky wins are the flip side of bad beats

Bad beats have to happen to one player for another player to experience a seemingly impossible win. While most players hope to win based on their strategy, everyone also loves a lucky break.

Most new poker players come to the table hoping for a lucky win because they simply don’t have the skill or experience to win any other way. Most of the time, those players won’t luck out and their pot contributions will help pad your pockets when you have the winning hand.

The best poker players still have the advantage

Even though bad beats happen, luck is no substitute for skill, strategy, and experience. Take your unfortunate loss and focus your energy on the next game.

Conclusion

Bad beats are a painful experience for any poker player, but they’re not quite as common as most players would have you believe. Experiencing a bad beat is a statistically small possibility. It will happen to you eventually, so it’s important to not let it shake you.

Whether you’re playing a high-stakes tournament or in an online poker room, look for opportunities to play with a bad beat jackpot. Even if you lose, this perk gives you a chance to take home some cash winnings and soften the sting of losing against all odds.

Featured image source: Flickr by World Poker Tour used under CC license