What is a ‘bad beat’?

In poker, specifically Texas Hold’em poker, a ‘bad beat’ occurs when the player who is the overwhelming favourite, statistically, to win a hand, loses to an opponent who, initially, holds an inferior hand but, more by luck than judgement, draws one or more cards required to snatch victory.

One example of a bad beat would be a player who holds a pair of tens, or ‘pocket tens’, going ‘all in’ against, and losing to, an opponent who holds a pair of fives, or ‘pocket fives’; mathematically, the player holding pocket tens should win four out of five, or 80%, of such hands. Another example is the so-called ‘runner runner’ bad beat, whereby a player who is, statistically, unlikely to win a hand after the flop draws the right card on both the turn and river cards to complete a winning hand. A frequent example of this type occurs when a player draws running cards to complete an inside, or gutshot, straight; a gutshot draw on the flop offers an 8.5% of making a straight on the turn card and a 16.5% chance of making a straight on the river card.

A bad beat may be a damaging experience, financially and psychologically, but worse still is an extraordinary and, thankfully, rare bad beat known as a ‘cooler’. A cooler occurs when an extraordinarily strong hand, such as four of a kind, or ‘quads’, played correctly, loses to an even stronger hand, such as a straight flush. Bad beats, including coolers, are a painful, but nonetheless unavoidable, part of poker. From the point of view of the person suffering a bad beat, an unexpected loss, or a series of such losses, may cause a loss of confidence, but should really be treated as a temporary downswing, rather than a reflection of the ability, or strategy, of the player.