How to Handle Bad Beats

If you can’t learn to handle a bad beat, you will wind up losing more than just your chips.

Judging by the threads on the General Poker forum, lots of players have a hard time handling a bad beat. At any given time, there are two or three threads asking for advice on how to avoid going on tilt after a perceived “bad beat.”

If you are going to lose control every time someone hits a two-outer on the river to win a hand, you are not going to have a fun, profitable, poker career. Learning to control your emotions is a key to your ultimate success (or failure) as a poker player, especially in multi-table tournaments.

There is nothing worse than investing several hours in a tournament, getting close to the final table and losing 70-80% of your stack to some idiot who risked his entire tournament life by chasing a flush or a straight, despite the fact that you were betting aggressively after the flop and turn. So many times I have seen players lose a hand like that and just shove the next hand out of anger.

I admit. I have done this on numerous occasions, and I am more than old enough to know better. One of the secrets to a long and happy marriage (I’ve been married 28 years) is to never go to bed angry. The poker equivalent is never to go all-in angry. Another secret to a long and happy marriage is to not let your wife know you like to play poker before you get married; fortunately for me, online poker didn’t come around until I had been married for a dozen years or so. But that’s another story.

Tips for Handling a Bad Beat

One of the things I do when playing online tournaments is to keep track of how many times I hit a card on the turn or the river to win a hand. Knowing that I have done this to others helps me understand the cards are not against me; it’s just poker.

Another step I take if I find myself upset about a losing hand is to get up from the computer and take a self-induced break. I’ll get a drink from the refrigerator, take out the trash, brush my teeth – some quick little chore that will get my mind off the knucklehead who just called an all-in after the turn with pocket 4s and hit a set on the river to beat my top two pair.

This is where your time bank can come in handy. Don’t click the sit out button, just let your time bank expire. If you are deep in the tourney, you may have as much as 90 seconds or 2 minutes of time bank, which means you can take a 3-4 minute break and probably miss no more than 2 hands. When I feel settled again, I’ll sit back down and resume playing.

Many players force themselves to tighten up for a few hands and only play monsters, like AA/KK/QQ or AK/AQ, until the urge to shove all their chips into the table passes. This is not a bad strategy, but if you are not in the right frame of mind, regardless of what your cards are, your odds of making a bad decision are still higher.

The pros at the World Series of Poker almost never show emotion – one way or the other (except for Phil Hellmuth or Mike Matusow, of course). They will stoically take a bad beat or slowly rake in a big pile of chips after a huge win with basically the same expression. They know that losing control generally precedes losing all your chips.

Luck runs both ways. It is not skill when you hit a two-outer on the river, and it’s not luck when your opponent does the same. It’s just poker. The quicker you learn to handle your emotions after a bad beat, the more quickly you will become a profitable player.

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